Jessica Forrestal’s work is about stuff — and what happens to it after we’re done with it. It’s also what fuels her large-scale, black-and-white wall drawings of strange, clunky schematics that attempt to put all that stuff into some kind of mechanical order. An associate at the Pirate Contemporary Art co-op, she’s left her larger-than-life work on walls during artist residencies at the Firehouse Art Center in Longmont and the Children’s Museum of Denver (next on her residency list: PlatteForum), and even ventured into site-specific set design for an immersive dance performance. Beyond that, Forrestal just wants to keep taking chances and going bigger; learn more about the artist from her answers to the 100CCC questionnaire.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Jessica Forrestal: Stuff — all the stuff! The wheels, the signs, the wrenches, the advertisements, the bolts, the cups, the instructions, the scraps, the bags, the piles, and of course I love observing people with their stuff and the large conglomerates that decide what we need to have.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
I would like to invite Sarah Sze. I have a major art crush. While living in New York, I visited her show at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, and I could have lived in it forever! I would love to just pick her brain about her creative process, inspiration and projects. I would also invite my dad. He was the life of the party, and his laugh just brightened up a room. He was also one of my biggest fans, and he was always so jazzed about what I would tackle next. His vigor for life inspires me to keep creating. And this is more than three people, but I would invite my friends who became my family while living in Brooklyn. We challenged each other intellectually and artistically in a way that I have not experienced since I left NYC. I would love to dive into an art discussion with all of us together again.
Jessica Forrestal's installation process for "I See You, Do You See Me?" at the Children's Museum of Denver.
Children's Museum of Denver
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
The best thing about the local creative community is that creatives are open and approachable. When I returned to Denver in 2016, I was anxious about how to meet people and how to find my way in the art scene. But things evolved very naturally, and I met some really awesome people and got involved in residencies, collaborations and group shows. The opportunity in Denver is awesome!
I don’t want to say something is the worst, because it sounds a little rude, and I try to be as constructive as possible with criticism. But I would like to see more artists using their practice to challenge the status quo, challenge what is happening in our world and challenge viewers to take an active roll in their experiences. At times it seems like there is a heavy focus on creating aesthetically pleasing works that address numerous formal issues, but I really believe art can do so much more. We must go beyond “art for art’s sake.” Especially in today’s social, political, ecological climate, it is our responsibility as artists to address these matters in our practice.
How about globally?
Globally, artists have taken to social media, which has made it easier to exchange ideas and connect with artists from around the world. It has also made it easier to stay informed and engaged in the art world on a more global level. I am able to stay current with recent publications, show reviews and art happenings. I can follow what my peers are doing all over the world and virtually visit shows for which I cannot be physically present (although there is no real substitute for physically being there). However, on the flip side, there is perhaps too much emphasis placed upon the number of likes, tweets and website visits instead of providing solid art and critical thought and art news.
Jessica Forrestal, "Illuminate Me, Please" at ReCreative Denver.
Photograph by Wes Magyar
Are trends worth following? What’s one trend you love and one that you hate?
I think it's worth being aware of trends, but I cringe at the word. Social media has ruined the word “trend” for me. All I can think about is a bunch of people blindly following along without much critical thought. Nonetheless, I am impassioned about the trend to reduce the amount of plastic we use. I hate to call it a trend, because I feel like it simplifies and trivializes its importance. It seems that this idea is gaining more traction currently even though it is a decades-long issue. If everyone makes choices like refusing a plastic straw, using canvas bags at the grocery store or investing in a stainless-steel reusable water bottle en masse, we could see a change in the amount of waste with which we are having to contend. Just this week, I switched to a shampoo and conditioner bar. It never occurred to me that I could get those products in bar form and completely eliminate the need for those plastic bottles. But it took some time and research as a consumer.
As a society, it would be nice to slow down and fully consider what/how we consume and the consequences of that consumption. We have more power than we realize, and if the majority of consumers stop consuming plastic and seek out products that require less or no plastic, then corporations would be forced to meet the demands of the consumers.
I'm not sure I have the energy to dislike any trends other than how trends trend on social media.
Forrestal's set backdrop for Colony  by Kate Speer and Control Group Productions.
Photo by Wes Magyar
What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as an artist?
I just completed a drawing on the HVAC system that is on the front of the building at the Children’s Museum of Denver. It was definitely one of the most challenging and exhilarating installations I have done to date. Being outside, fifty feet in the air during one of the hottest June weeks on record is a memory that will not soon be forgotten. I love the challenge of crafting a drawing for a specific space, and the forty-foot-long drawing took a lot of problem-solving. I also had the support from some amazing staff members at the museum, which made the whole process even more rewarding.
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
I am so thankful for opportunities, experiences and experimentations I have in galleries, but I would also like to find a way to break out of the white cube. I have an MFA, which comes with certain preconceived notions or expectations. But I feel a great responsibility to challenge the typical path laid out before me. I have a few projects rolling around in my head that I am not yet ready to share, but I can say that I want my art to be an experience, a space and a memory. And I wish for it to be accessible to everyone, not just to those who visit galleries. Over the past few years, I have focused on making work I feel is important regardless of what the art market dictates. I want to push the work in a sincere direction, so I piece together other means of income to sustain my practice. Art is a commodity just like any other, which means it can be categorized and packaged for consumption. And just like any product, the powers-that-be cater to what sells, which might not necessarily be in the best interest of the art or those consuming it. So my bucket-list items relate to making something that challenges people, regardless of what that means for my financial welfare or for the trajectory of my career.
Photo by Andrew Han for Children’s Museum of Denver
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
I love Denver! I am worried about how quickly it is growing and what that means for our local economy, infrastructure, clean air, etc., but having such quick access to the mountains as well as the city is so great. The versatility Denver offers is unlike any other city’s. Sometimes I want to leave due to the lack of good public transportation options. I live just outside Denver, and it seems like there should be better and more efficient options than there are.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
I was really excited by Axis Mundi, the exhibit that Regan Rosburg curated in 2017 for the Biennial of the Americas. It was a sprawling installation that was a breath of fresh air for Denver. Her installation in the show, titled “Omega,” required people to take their shoes off and walk through 3.2 tons of small black plastic pellets that represented all the “disposable” plastic bottles that would be purchased in a little over an hour. Aside from experiencing those pellets between my toes, I spent quite some time observing how others interacted and perceived the space. It was thought-provoking, disturbing and wondrous all at the same time.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
I am an associate member at Pirate Gallery, and I will have a show in October 2018. I will be an artist-in-residence at PlatteForum starting in June 2019. I have some teaching opportunities as well. Other than that, I currently don’t have a ton on my calendar. I recently completed several installations that were just amazing opportunities! Now I feel like I need some quiet time in my studio to push my work before presenting it in public again. I need a balance of time to play in the studio versus time to produce work for consumption.
Details of Forrestal's finished mural at the Children's Museum of Denver.
Photo by Andrew Han for Children’s Museum of Denver
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
Let’s notice kids and how we can positively impact their lives. Let’s use art to teach critical thinking, problem-solving and empathy. Kids model what they see, so let’s show them the power of what art can do and give them the tools to view, talk about and make as much art as possible.
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Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.