Jill Sylvia

Artist, San Francisco // October 2011
Luckily I don’t need a lot of space for the work that I do- just having a desk does the trick.

Jill’s workspace is in her Inner Richmond home, in a corner by the windows in her meticulously organized bedroom. Everything is ordered— the rows of books, the stacks of ledger paper, the rulers, the tweezers, the X-acto knives. Jill really knows how to make a small space work for her. Her ability to bring together a room in a manner that’s highly systemized and manages to marry functionality with interest is impressive. It’s also indicative of her creative process and the questions and ideas that come up in much of her work. Almost allour conversations during our visit, whether we were discussing Jill’s work or just aspects of everyday life, rotated around an axis of ideas that seem central to Jill’s make-up, artistically and otherwise: the nature of work and how we categorize and value it, the intersection of impracticality and practicality, and how we understand and quantify something in a re-contextualized form. It was interesting to hear Jill talk about her workday— all the hours and hours she spends at her desk, doing such detailed, painstaking, and repetitive work— and how her work with ledger paper essentially takes practical material to an impractical end. But that when framed by the art world, this work and material takes on a new and different sense of worth. Jill immerses herself in an incredibly reflective practice, full of meta-cognition and self-monitoring— she’s engaged with the tangible aspects of her work and purpose, but also hyper aware of the things that cannot be pinned down: the voids, the losses, the futility, and the truly unbodied nature of time, effort, and worth. A few days ago Jill wrote me an email and said she looked up the word “accounting” as defined by the AICPA (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants), which states that “accounting” is: The art of recording, classifying, and summarizing in a significant manner and in terms of money, transactions and events which are, in part at least, of financial character, and interpreting the results thereof. She said if you just take the part out about money, that’s what all artists are doing. I think she’s right. I love that she kind of hijacked the definition for “accounting” and made it matter in a different way. Obviously, Jill isn’t limited by context.

When people ask you what you “do”, how do you answer?
I say that I’m an artist, but it usually comes out sounding more like a question.

Do you have a day job? What is it? What does it mean to you?
I’m currently making art full time.

What mediums do you work with? How would you describe your subject matter? What themes seem to occur/reoccur in your work?
For the past seven (nearly eight?) years I’ve been working exclusively with ledger paper. I’m interested in exploring ideas about serial structure, currency, our financial architecture, capital as an ungrounded sign (the dematerialization of capital), and “value” in general.

What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
I just started reading Alan Beattie’s False Economy. I always start my workday (Tuesday-Friday) watching/listening to The Daily Show & The Colbert Report. I listen to radio & books on tape while I work (right now: Sarah Vowell’s Unfamiliar Fishes).

What are your biggest challenges to creating art and how do you deal with them? How do you navigate the art world?
I guess my biggest challenges are time and endurance. Since my process is so labor intensive and time consuming, meeting deadlines can be stressful. My process is also very repetitive, and honestly, there are times when it’s tough to stay engaged and produce at a rate that I feel like I should be producing at. I deal with it by taking breaks from the work.
I’m not sure about navigating the art world— I try not to think about it too much these days.

What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
Luckily I don’t need a lot of space for the work that I do- just having a desk does the trick. I work from home. Half of my bedroom serves as my studio space. It would be nice to have a studio away from home so I don’t feel like a shut-in, and I think it would probably be healthier to clearly separate work time & personal time, but costs are prohibitive. I try to give myself rules about when I’m working and when I’m not.

Has there been a shift or change in your life or work that has led to what you’re making now? Do you see your work as autobiographical at all?
I was in grad school when I started doing the work that I do now. It had been the first time in a while that I had the luxury of going to the studio everyday and getting to just make work which got me thinking about the nature & meaning of “work” in general. I then started exploring the differences between my work and the work (more practical work) of other people in my family by utilizing what I saw as their “materials.” Eventually I took up my dad’s ledger papers. Before I was old enough to know what these papers were actually for, I knew them as my dad’s “work papers.” So yes— I would say there’s an autobiographical aspect to the work, or maybe it’s more of a collaboration with my dad?

Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
Once I finish the piece that I’m working on now, I’ll be starting a new series that I’m excited about. It will be a series of “Reconstructions” (the pieces where I glue the excised bits back onto a piece of matte board- almost like a mosaic). I’ll be taking all the different colored bits that I’ve accumulated— whites, yellows, greens, pieces with traces of my dad’s handwriting in red and blue ink— and using them to create “images” of tulip fields. They’ll be compositions with a sky and ground made up of rows of tulips in different configurations (or at least that’s what the compositions will be based on). The idea comes from a period in the Dutch Golden Age known as “Tulip Mania.” It was one of the first recorded economic bubbles during which the prices of (and demand for) tulip bulbs reached astronomical highs and then the market collapsed.

What are you most proud of?
My family and close friends.

What do you want your work to do?
Just exist, I think.

How will you know when you have arrived?
When I figure out where I’m going?

Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
I’ll have a couple pieces at the Aqua Art Fair in Miami in December (with Eleanor Harwood Gallery). I’ll have work in a group show called “Busywork” at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art in March, and I’ll have a solo show in September 2012 at the Eleanor Harwood Gallery.

To see more of Jill’s work: