“Swollen Flesh” — to some this may sound more like a surgeon’s dictation than a sculpture. But this artwork by Jenna Livingston led her to an experience afforded very few students and a bus ride few would be brave enough to attempt.
Jenna is a member of the CMYK Community and an art student at MSUB. In a clay and 3-D sculpture class, Jenna was tasked with creating 50 nonrepresentational objects inspired by a randomly assigned word. Her word: SWOLLEN.
As Jenna created pieces for this assignment, she described how the project started to embody issues of race, health and age. She strived to make the clay represent distended skin in a “non-pretty” way. The clay figures could, in a subtle way, speak about beauty. “Lots of art is too bold” when tackling issues, Jenna says. “I didn’t want race or aging to be obvious or in your face, but it’s in there.”
After many drafts and trial runs, she had molded 50 fleshy spheres, squeezed and bulging from their perfect form. The project received rave reviews and Jenna's professor urged her to submit her piece to a student juried exhibition. “Swollen Flesh” was selected for display in a gallery at the National Council for Education of Ceramic Arts. The gallery exhibited fewer than 100 works chosen from more than 500 submissions. Jenna’s sculpture was in the company of only 16 undergraduate students' pieces.
In March, Jenna boarded a bus to Pittsburgh to embark on a multi-day, multicultural adventure. Her bus delays and seatmates provided entertainment, unease and anecdotes alike. Countless hours on a bus with a sassy driver and sleeping next to strangers are good and terrible adventures Jenna will never forget.
At the gallery Jenna enjoyed her anonymity, standing within earshot of her exhibit and eavesdropping on observers’ opinions and feedback. The reactions lifted her spirits, inspired her, and strengthened her resolve to create. She said it was lovely to see people, without buy-in or pretense, genuinely enjoy something she had poured herself into.