JO ANN FLEISCHHAUER

How can a work of art fit in a public building and how can it dialogue with citizenry? Is that a political action?

Today we want to introduce you the big and controversial theme of Public Art, through an interview and a virtual studio visit with the multi media sculptor and installation artist: Jo Ann Fleischhauer. She is living and working in Houston (Texas) where she is doing a lot of research about fascinating architecture and the intimate connection with the history of the place. She travels all over the world to discover new environments, original places and hear new stories. With her installations Jo Ann puts under a new light symbols of the past, elements of our collective memory. She created extraordinary interventions with Parasol Project (Historical Foley House, Houston Texas, 2006), and Through the Torn Paper Screen (Romiti cantina, NanoGagliato, Calabria, 2012).

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In this way old, and sometimes usual, places establish a new dialogue with the contemporaneity. We met Jo Ann and she talked about her brand new project, so we suggest you  scroll down and discover her magic world made by books, history and moved by science.

Your first project, last project and future project: how would you describe them?

Most of my projects respond to architectural structures and often, historical structures that have an innate story to tell. I’m attracted to “unintended art spaces” to use as the infrastructure for the installations: under a highway overpass, a storefront window, a historical African American “row” house, an abandoned Victorian house, the entryway corridor to a new nanoresearch facility, and an old oil and wine cellar in southern Italy.

My most recent project addressed a clock tower in a historical square of downtown Houston. We just completed installation two weeks ago.

Each project is dictated by the site and the ideas that come from immersing myself in the location. I’m very research oriented. I do a lot of reading and conceptualizing. I’m kind of a book nut. They are piled everywhere in my house. I don’t work in a specific material. The ideas determine the materials and processes that I use. I am always exploring new processes and working with the artisans who have the expertise in what I am trying to achieve. As the installations grow more complex and broader in scale, it entails seeking out new information whether it is through books or working in the workshops of the experts.

My interests lie at the intersection of art, architecture and science. I’m fascinated by the science, the connections between art and science, the similarities and differences of how a scientist and artist approach an idea. But the poetry is always paramount. I’m curious and I love science but I don’t want to be a scientist.

What do you find inspiring and how would you describe your lifestyle?

Inspiration comes from a variety of different places. I can’t pinpoint something specific. Sometimes it’s something I see. Sometimes it’s something I read. And it starts the ball rolling. I read books fiction nonfiction journals magazines internet and that leads to somewhere else until there is a layering of the idea conceptually and visually.

My lifestyle… I like to feel familiar and safe. But I like to explore and discover. I’m a Gemini so there is always the twin thing going on. Not necessarily conflicted but always two sides or two feelings. I’m married to a plant scientist. I have a son. I’m a vegetarian. We have two dogs and a cat. We live in a small bungalow close to downtown Houston. I have a studio in an old warehouse downtown, where sixteen other artists work.  It’s close to the jail. I work in my house as well as my studio. Our house always has projects in process. There are books and papers piled everywhere. I run. I work all the time. I don’t like to cook. Dinner to me is a necessary inconvenience. I love movies. I love books. I was born and raised in New York State. I’ve lived in Maine, California, New Zealand, France and Texas. I’m from the Northeast transplanted to Texas. I’ve been in Houston for 22 years. I never thought that I would ever live in Texas. I live in a small neighborhood in a big city. I’m five minutes from downtown but our neighborhood has giant oak trees everywhere. Houston has great universities, museums, movies, theatre, ballet, restaurants, and great coffee. I’m an artist and a mom. It’s a bit of a quirky combination that makes my lifestyle untraditional and always different…

What would you probably be today if you hadn’t followed your dreams of doing what you do, or what is your actual dream?

I wouldn’t be anything different. I’ve always wanted to be an artist. I have always made things. Used my hands. Well… When I was seven I wanted to be a “ballerina” but my grandfather told me I couldn’t make any money so the irony is I became an artist because it was so much more “lucrative.” I don’t know, maybe because my work utilizes architectural spaces, and I love architectural materials, and I have 12 million books on architecture, maybe, I would go to architecture school. Maybe… Maybe not… I like being a sculptor working in the realm of architecture without the constraints of being a “real” architect.

Artists and events: can you tell us the most interesting thing that you’ve found in your career until now?

I’ve always worked in an isolated environment, alone in my studio, and there is a part of that kind of working that I love, and still do. But as my projects became broader, I started to work and seek out people working in other disciplines, and it was a totally different and enriching kind of experience. I’ve watched and worked with scientists making notations in their notebooks. Recording lab results. Writing down ideas for their next experiments to artisans making chalk notations on a piece of wood veneer- using an incredible skill and aesthetic eye to match one piece of thinly sliced wood to another.

Each chalk notation was a part of a specific language that I tried to learn and grasp. My encounters with all of these individuals, learning their processes, having the opportunity to ask millions of questions gave me opportunities that I would have never encountered alone in my studio. 

The place where you were born, the place where you live, the best place where you traveled with your work: can you tell us something that only you know to describe them?

The places and the people… Have made me who I am. Whatever that means in the grander context. I was born in Brooklyn, NY. I grew up in a small town outside of Buffalo, NY. I went to school in Maine and then California. I experienced my first home as an adult in Wellington, New Zealand. I live and work in Houston, Texas. I had my child in Houston. I’ve traveled from Boston, to California, to Tacoma, Washington, to Calabria, Italy with my work.

It’s hard to pinpoint an adjective or feeling about the places that I lived. They happened at different times of my life and have influenced me. I would describe them differently now than when I was living them in the moment.  Now it’s part of a filtered memory, then it was sharp and immediate.

Places I never imagined that I would live or stay, like Houston, became my home.  I travel, I work on projects in other places but I’m always happy to come home to Houston. And of course, home could have very easily been another place. Another city. But all the characteristics of my physical environment, the people who live here and whom I have made friends with make this my place.

All of these places, people and events have made and continue to change me. You start as someone and each new place, each new person adds a layer.  And the experiences aren’t always great. Or earth shattering. And sometimes they suck. But sometimes they are stellar.   And I hope that I’m a more complex human being because of them all.

Text by: Carolina Gestri