“I have faith that the process will lead me to where I need to go”

Michelle Jaffe creates participatory installations utilizing sculpture, sound and video. Jaffe’s projects Neural and Wappen Field are fiscally sponsored by NYFA and her work is currently on view in Come to Bed!, a three-person exhibition curated by Roya Sachs. You can check out the show on view at Bosi Contemporary through April 25. Jaffe generously took the time to join us for a conversation about her work and practice. 

NYFA: Congratulations on your work, Neural:
Cleave – Like Alice
, now on view at Bosi
Contemporary’s three-person exhibition Come
to Bed!
.  In this installation, you draw upon sound, drawing, and found
objects to create an installation literally centered on a queen sized
bed.   What guidelines were you working within for the exhibition and
how did you draw upon your practice to create such an intimate environment?

MJ: Neural:
Cleave-Like Alice
is part of
a larger body of work called Neural:
. I recorded Neural: Cleave as a sound work in 2013. I recorded
myself extemporaneously speaking about things I knew intimately; about personal
experiences I felt could illuminate pathologies of society at large. Neural: Cleave-Like Alice accentuates the dream like quality of
stream of consciousness thinking. Some of the other compositions are more
social or political.

Bosi Contemporary suggested my sound work to Roya Sachs when she began
discussing her proposal for the Come to Bed! Exhibition. I composed and
prepared several of my recordings for Roya to hear [and] we had a great studio
visit. I further honed the composition to meet the criteria of the just waking,
in between dreaming & consciousness states of mind. [Roya] encouraged
me to think about what kind of very personal environment I might create around
my bed- how I actually live at home and how might I bring that into the gallery

Neural: Cleave-Like Alice sound work became the core work
anchoring my installation in the show. The drawings & environment grew from
there. I would not have made any of the drawings that are integral to this
installation without Roya and Bosi asking me to make them. Till that point, I
was only thinking about the sound as a 4-channel work, acting as an ephemeral
sculpture in the space itself. To fully integrate this sound work into a
bedroom experience, I had to figure out how to make these drawings deeply
personal. What happens in the bed: a private world for sleep, dreaming, reading, and sex. I chose to incorporate super meaningful passages of writing from
favorite authors in the suite of nine collage drawings. The 47 calligraphic
drawings are all about the line and being fully in the moment. Why calligraphy
in 2015? The line does not lie. It is the Zen of being fully present. Being
inspired by Asia makes sense: I was exposed to Chinese and Japanese art as a
very young child. That sensibility infuses my understanding, at least visually.
These drawings feel like a coming home to me and are very integrated into my
private world.


NYFA: Your
work utilizes both physical materials- metal, plastic, textiles- in sculpture,
as well as ephemeral mediums, such as sound, to craft space.  Your
interest in “shelter, both psychic and architectural” is evident in
environments that engulf your viewer. What
is your creative process like? 

MJ: My
creative process is intuitive. I allow myself to follow my intuition about what
I need to explore next. I have faith that the process will lead me to where I
need to go. Often that inquiry takes me in directions that make me very
uncomfortable. At the beginning of a new body of work I don’t fully understand
the breath or scope of the project. 

ideas for making art with physical materials, video and sound generate in the
same way or from the same source?  

MJ: Yes, I always choose
the medium that I think makes the most sense for the ideas I wish to

NYFA: How did you gain experience working
with diverse materials that range from tangible to ephemeral?

MJ: I throw myself into the
world, the medium- I just learn it and figure out how to make it work for me.
It takes a huge amount of time. People complain about how hard it is to spend
time with me. This is why.

NYFA: What creative intersections emerge as a result of your background? How do you sustain your desire for
intellectual exploration?

MJ: I am immensely
curious about everything. I read a lot: science, neurobiology, politics,
fiction. I am steeped in art history, I travel whenever I can, I go to museums
everywhere I go, I see lots of exhibitions, performance, dance & music. I
think it is about making connections between things. I try to bring deeply nagging
humanly universal questions into the work.     


NYFA: You joined Fiscal Sponsorship at NYFA in 2008 with your project Wappen Field and again in 2013 with a new
project, Neural. What sorts of opportunities has
fiscal sponsorship supported that might not have otherwise been possible? 

MJ: Grants from NYSCA (New York State Council on the
Arts) and tax deductible fundraising. Fiscal sponsorship vets and validates a
project. The process for applying the first time was so rigorous, that it
taught me to research, budget & understand my project thoroughly, so that I
truly knew where I was going and how to build it. It was also elastic enough to
change elements of the project when that was right for it and would make it

addition to fiscal sponsorship, you were accepted into NYFA’s Artist as Entrepreneur
Boot Camp
in 2010. What influence did the program have upon the business
aspects of your life as an artist?

MJ: The
Boot Camp experience gave me a greater sense of community, created meaningful
relationships, and introduced me to people I would not have met otherwise. I got a much better understanding of my audience,
networking, speaking to people about my projects. It gave me courage
to reach out in ways that I may not have before.  I found the legal council and the information regarding
copyright law exceptionally helpful. Hearing the heartfelt experiences of
Michael Royce, Executive Director of NYFA and Dave Schroeder, Music Associate
Professor at NYU, tell us about their career paths, was so memorable,
inspirational, fun & entertaining. They made an indelible impression on me.

NYFA: What strategies do you use for finding a sustainable balance between
rigorous studio practice and an active business?  

MJ: Honestly I still struggle with balance,
as I find it all exceptionally demanding. However I am now much more at ease
with networking. I feel much more comfortable with people than I used to. I can
talk about my work more easily with others. I have found a way to do this with
integrity, in a way that is natural to me, and is an extension of my interests
and inquiry.  I have a better sense of my audience.  I understand how
people’s interests can be genuinely aligned and mutually beneficial to each

Come To Bed! is on view at Bosi Contemporary until April 25, 48 Orchard, New York City, Gallery Hours: Tuesday- Saturday 11 AM – 6 PM

Would you like to find out more about Michelle Jaffe’s work or how you can help fund her project? Click here.

Want more information on NYFA’s Fiscal Sponsorship program? Click here.

– Interview conducted by Madeleine Cutrona, Fiscal Sponsorship Intern

Images, from top: 

Neural: Cleave- Like Alice, Installation view, Image Courtesy of Michelle Jaffe, 

Neural: Cleave- Like Alice, Installation view, Image Courtesy of Michelle Jaffe, 

Wappen Field, UICA Grand Rapids, MI, Image Courtesy of Michelle Jaffe

Amy Aronoff
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