ABOVE: Green 397 (2017).

SPEAKING: Jake Ford 

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Through colorful, engaging, and undeniably genitalic artwork, Jake Ford asks viewers to shed, at least temporarily, the social constraints that dictate one’s behavior. Doing so can “open people up to meaningful emotional connections that would otherwise be seen as socially inappropriate or out of place.” Ford utilizes shapes and forms that seem at home in a biology textbook—sea slugs, jellyfish, bacteria—yet are inexplicably human. Kevin Warth sat down with Ford at houseguest during the installation of Liminal Form, an exhibition curated by Warth that features the work of Ford and S.N. Parks.

KW: What does it mean to be an artist in Louisville?

JF: A big part of being an artist in Louisville is the idea of community and everyone’s willingness to help each other out. Everyone says Louisville is a big city with a small town feel, which I totally see because everybody knows each other. Even if you don't know someone personally, you've heard of them and know their work. It's great to be there for other artists when they need help or just to bounce ideas around. To me, that's what Louisville is all about: supporting each other and helping each other out because it's not the easiest thing to be a part of the arts community.

KW: Let's talk about the evolution of your work. I think you've stayed in the same conceptual realm, but there's always a sense of growth as time goes on. You’ve continued to explore things in similar conceptual territory, but have looked at different aspects throughout your career. I’d like to hear you discuss how you started in college, then presented Form Follows Function at Huff Gallery in 2017, and are currently exhibiting Unveiled at Quappi Projects.

JF: Throughout college I created work that is immersive and changes your perception while you interact with, enter into, or wear it. I started with wearable work and in 2015, I made this animal head that you can put on; there were lights, music, and it was scented on the inside. Then, I started to evolve and moved into performative works where I or other performers actually wore the costumes. I started to cloak the body and turn it into something alien and uncomfortable, but I also referenced the playful aspect of stuffed animals and toys. I'm combining my studies in Psychology and Biology while thinking about child development and the development of gender identity. You construct all these things around yourself and display yourself in a way through clothing, tattoos, piercings, or however you decorate your body—I want to get rid of all that and focus on simpler life forms. I look to things in nature such as hermaphroditic organisms, sea slugs, and jellyfish. They all go through really interesting changes. They can act as a metaphor for our own identity and gender representation. I've always held onto those same themes, but I was a little more confined in my own openness towards sexuality and sexual orientation in college. After graduation, I was meeting and hanging out and having new experiences with different people. It opens you up a little bit and makes you realize that there's a lot more out there in the world. I fell in love with drag shows. Now I've come to come to the point where I'm looking at the biology and neuroscience behind the concepts I explore. There's strong evidence that there’s more than just two genders or sexes, so this research has been interesting and opened up a new world to me.

KW: What else do you read when you’re researching?

JF: Most of my research is done through online psychology and biology journals. I also watch documentaries like Our Planet or Planet Earth just to get ideas and then I'll do a little bit more research. “A Cyborg Manifesto,” Judith Butler, and queer theory have all been interesting as well.

KW: To reference some specific works in Unveiled, you’ve gone back to the idea of performance suits in Slug Hug and Pleasure Limb. How do you hope to activate your audience with these?

JF: I've always been interested in the interaction between audience and artwork, as well as the way that I was able to interact with the audience. I wanted to do that again, but also give the audience a way to play a little bit more. Instead of just making a more passive sculpture, I was trying to get to a point where I could be the intermediary and I could say go up and say, “Hey, do you want to touch it? Do you want to play with it?” When someone puts a piece on, they have a chance to do whatever they want with it. It's a performative object, but it's also an introductory space to where people can have visceral feelings with the work while interacting with others. It’s a playful, fun environment that hopefully opens people to different experiences.


Engage with Ford’s artistic practice further at http://www.jakefordart.com.

Through June 15th, his artwork will be on display in Liminal Form at houseguest. More information can be found here: www.houseguestgallery.com

Kevin Warth
Contributor and Managing Editor for Ruckus

Horny Sea Puppies (2015).

Death and Pleasure (2017)

Kori Meion (2017)

Artist with Pleasure Limb (2019)

Installation of Unveiled at Quappi Projects, 2019.

 Performance with Horny Sea Puppies, 2015