Jason York's Pearl Relocation Program

Jason York's Pearl Relocation Program


Pearl Box (Suspended Pearl), 2012, silver, pearl, 1.5 in. cube. Granulation, formed, and fabricated.

Jason York describes his Pearl Relocation Program as the “most challenging battle with materials and process” he’s ever fought. Yet the series of luxe little boxes, formed by fusing together tiny metal spheres, bear no evidence of such a struggle. Instead, they surprise and delight with their inventive presentation of pearls, inviting us all to revel in the place where precision meets precious.

York will be on hand this Friday night, July 13, for a reception at the Appalachian Center for Craft (North Windows Gallery) in Smithville, Tennessee, where his solo show, “The Pearl Relocation Program,” is on view through Monday.

You’ve been working on the Pearl Relocation Program for a couple of years now. Tell us a little bit about how it began. What are some of the ideas behind the series?

The Pearl Relocation Program began as a combination of two things. The first was a challenge in materials/process. I became interested in making three-dimensional forms using granulation – fusing tiny spheres of metal together. I’ve only seen one other artist do this and I was curious to see if could accomplish the same feat. The other was trying to strike a balance between what I really enjoy making – boxes designed around their contents – and what I thought had a reasonable chance at selling. As this body of work isn't concept driven, I was hoping that it would at least pay for itself through sales, and fortunately it did.

Has it evolved or changed in any way over time?

It did evolve throughout the process. I made the first few boxes with a combination of copper and argentium silver granulation. I enjoyed the contrast of color between the two materials and the warm hues of the copper complemented the colors mauve and pink pearls quite well. After logging hours on these, however, I questioned their marketability and began experimenting with polished silver. It completely changed the dynamic of each piece, and at this point the work began to inform the work. The making process of one piece would tell me what should happen with the next. The pieces became more and more about the material and its appearance, and less about the pearls.

So is the series done now?

I sure hope so. There’s a reason you almost never see hollow forms made out of granulation. This was the most challenging battle with materials and process that I have ever encountered. In the end, I would have to say that the material got the best of me. It won. Although I love the way the pieces turned out, I have zero desire to ever make another one of these.

Another group of your work (In Loving Memory of … Memory) also plays with boxes, chests, and the like – vessels or vehicles for presentation and/or containment. What draws you to these objects?

I can't say for sure why exactly it is that I’m drawn to objects and their containment, but I have been drawn to small containers for as long as I can remember. There’s just something that feels right about interacting with something that has its own designated place. I like the idea of an object informing its container. I really enjoy showing people a box that I have made and seeing if they can figure out what is held within simply by observing the details on the vessel itself – which is more evident in the series In Loving Memory... of Memory. It’s a fun challenge to tell a story with subtle details and a great reward to see people interact with it and try to unravel its meaning.  

And, on a technical note, I find handmade mechanisms extremely gratifying. When a piece comes together, and you open and close it for the first time, hearing that faint click or snap of the catch is an ultimate reward.

An example of this affinity for small containers is the Toenail Treasure Chest.  When I was a kid, I found a little green bottle in a local river. I saved it for years, pondering what I could put in it to give it “importance.” One day I started putting my toenails in it – as temporary suitors until I thought of something better. Three years later, I had a bottle full of toenails. Once you have a bottle full of toenails you can’t just get rid of them; years of rigorous collecting will make you keep anything no matter how menial. The toenails themselves had become the treasure, more than the bottle. As an adult, I decided that they needed a more important place, so made the Toenail Treasure Chest.

In your artist's statement, you mention “the freedom and satisfaction involved in making items that, sadly, many people never take the time to experience.” Can you say a little bit more about that? Was there specific experience or moment in time that led you to that conclusion?

I recognized that notion in graduate school – although I was probably subconsciously aware of it for much longer. I just started to become more aware that people were becoming less connected and involved with the world around them. People don't seem to interact with the physical world like they used to. I see my generation (and younger ones) walking around with their sunglasses on and their headphones in completely zoned out, unaware physically of anything but the sounds coming in from their iPods.

In making, instead of zoning out, you get zoned in. When I make, I reach a place where I become abundantly aware of everything I am doing and exactly how the material is responding down to a microscopic scale. I am in complete control of what is happening to the piece, and what it becomes. Without making or creating I'm not sure how a person reaches this state. It doesn't matter if it’s cooking, writing, building, or making art. When you create something you have envisioned, you get an enigmatic rush that the masses will never experience.

You completed your MFA in 2010 at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Now you're down in Tennessee. Tell us a little bit about your time so far at the Appalachian Center for Craft.

The Appalachian Center for Craft has been great. I’m now entering my third and final year here and it has been very rewarding; it has been such a great opportunity to build my portfolio and gain teaching experience. The facilities are also some of the best I have seen and the location is absolutely beautiful. There are residencies in metals, fibers, ceramics, glass, and the woods department is currently accepting applications for the 2012/2013 academic year.

It can be difficult to work here in the summer though, with places like the “Love Colony” cliffs and Cummins Falls calling your name for a swim.