Thursday March 31, 2022 | by Andrew Page

CONVERSATION: Jason Chakravarty and Jennifer Caldwell's exhibition at the Mesa Contemporary Art Center in Arizona makes personal observation public

Titled "Head in the Clouds," Jennifer Caldwell and Jason Chakravarty's museum exhibition at the Mesa Contemporary Arts Center offers a range of narrative glass collaborations, including many that mix neon with cast, sculpted, and blown-glass to explore personal observations including ruminations on pandemic life. Their signature porthole forms are there, as are 1,000 cast-glass cranes, which reference a story the artists recall from their childhood of the Japanese idea that folding 1,000 origami cranes would bring good luck. Another work presents neon rain clouds with cast-glass raindrops, each featuring a diver's image inside. There's a gumball machine, and even a beekeeper with built-in wifi. The Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet caught up with Caldwell and Chakravarty to ask them about new directions and how their collaboration has been evolving.

Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet: Your exhibition title "Head in the Clouds" has a number of possible meanings -- can you talk a bit about the title and why you chose it for this work? 
Jennifer Caldwell and Jason Chakravarty: The title has felt relevant given the timeline throughout the entirety of making this body of work. We were notified of the opportunity before "Covid-19" was a household name, and shortly prior to the pandemic. As with much of our work, our experiences and what we are reading and seeing going on around us highly drives our narrative/s which feeds the process in that moment. In the past couple years, we all learned a new way to see art, a new way to travel, and more importantly a new way to define relationships with others including friends and family. Even for us, happy hour manifested into trips kayaking with friends as materialized in the piece Forget Me Not. Overall, the pandemic forced us to be more introspective and detached.

Glass: I understand this work is the product of a multi-year collaboration. Can you talk a bit about how this came about, your working together, and what made it so compelling that you created an entire body of work together?
Caldwell and Chakravarty: We first met in 2012 in Ohio where Jennifer spent a week as a visiting artist at a studio where Jason was employed. We did not interact much during her residency but Jennifer had some ideas for casting. This began a series of emails on technique and even led to us working together at Corning casting for two weeks. We realized that our work was missing the dynamic element the other had to offer. In 2014, our personal and professional lives came together and we included our collaborative work in a sea-themed group exhibition at the Tacoma Museum of Glass. Since then, we've completed over 100 works and installed a half-dozen solo collaborative exhibitions.

Glass: Can you talk a bit about working with neon versus sculpting with glass -- what does the mixing of glass process, and neon and solid glass, accomplish together that is different than what could be accomplished by either one alone?
Caldwell and Chakravarty: We take pride in our diverse use of glass. Exploring ways to use glass and discovering new ways of viewing glass is one of the silver linings of our "day to day". When we first began down this road, Jennifer was interested in expanding her scale in flameworking, and Jason was eager to find a lighter aesthetic to casting. Now, we very often look to different processes to find the solution that falls in line with the narrative. Kiln-casting, decals, and even sand-blasted imagery gives us an ability to capture photo realism. On the other hand, sculpting on a torch or in the hot shop alludes to the romanticism within our narratives. It adds life through a subjective lens.

Intuitive Perception is an installation consisting of five neon clouds and solid glass sculpted drops falling from them. The image of a female diver descending is magnified when looking through each glass drop. The light captures the viewer's attention and invites the viewer in for a closer look. The neon adds life to this installation while the imagery beckons.

Glass: How has the collaboration evolved over time -- what is different about this latest work than how your collaboration began?
Caldwell and Chakravarty: Collaboration has become easier over time. We have each taken on responsibility for specific roles and have come to rely on each other to complete nearly all our work. New work, commissions, etc are always discussed together. The biggest change with the exhibition at Mesa Arts Museum was we let go of some of the responsibility with process and accepted help. One installation included 1000 glass cast origami cranes. The raw glass was entirely supplied by Lacey and Gaffer Glass. These cranes hung from large clouds fabricated from aluminum sheets. The aluminum and the CNC cutting were provided by Russell Youngs of Blue Media. Letting go can be difficult as artists. We are trained and taught to work independently. As Jennifer and Jason are reminded of our own mortality, we have become more open to asking for help.

Glass: Do you still pursue individual careers in addition to the collaboration, or has that become the focus for both of you? 
Caldwell and Chakravarty: Neither of us actively seek individual opportunities. We complete pieces together, at all levels, based on our individual strengths. If it's on the torch, Jennifer is most likely making it. She is also the 'go to' if a gallery or collector really needs to plan out something with someone with patience. If it requires casting, the hot shop or cold working, then it's likely that Jason is doing it. 

Glass: What is the significance of this museum show, in particular? How is it different than a gallery show?
Caldwell and Chakravarty: We saw the Mesa Arts Museum exhibition as an opportunity to try out new techniques, introduce new processes to our collaborative work IE neon and focus on work with zero concern of marketability.

This was our first collaborative solo museum exhibition in Arizona. Having spent half his life in Arizona, Jason felt necessary. The work for this exhibition consumed the better part of two years. Simultaneously though, galleries still needed work and we still needed income to survive. Our relationship with our galleries and the work that they do well with has become formulaic in some regards. Subject matter and aesthetic dictates what can go where, whether a product of the audience or the geographical location.


Through April 3, 2022
"Head in the Clouds"
Jennifer Caldwell and Jason Chakravarty

Mesa Contemporary Arts Center
One East Main St
Mesa, Arizona

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