In Conversation with Jodi Lightner

On March 25, 2015, as part of Toucan's new "In Conversation" series, Mark Sanderson had a conversation with Jodi Lightner, Assistant Professor of Art at Montana State University-Billings. They talked for about an hour and half, including some questions from the audience. The conversation covered a broad range of topics, including Jodi's childhood and education in Kansas, her desire to become a teacher, how she ended up in Billings, and the nature and meaning of her work as an artist. Her work's relationship to the idea of structure in general and architecture in particular was of interest to Mark. A bit of that portion of the conversation is transcribed below.

 

MARK

Since I was trained as an architect, I know that an architect has program constraints, we have gravity to contend with, we have very real world things to deal with. As an artist you have a blank page. While there is something on the design side of things where we have to ultimately meet a client's needs, as an artist, it seems, you can do, well, anything.

JODI

I know, right.

MARK

On one hand that's amazing, that's the greatest freedom in the world, yet on the other hand it's got to be ... crazy-making. Or maybe that's just me.

JODI

I think that's the definition of a studio, right? Crazy-making. Everyone deals with it differently. I give myself projects. I'm ironically very structured about a lot of things. I give myself due dates. I have brainstorming sessions. It's like a business of one. I lay out what I want to do. And when I vote, I always win.

MARK

Which is the nice thing about working for yourself.

JODI

Yeah, company parties are a little bit dull, but other than that.... But, yes, I do have it very structured, where I know what I'm working toward and where I want to go with it, but I allow a lot of detours, actually, and a lot of choose-my-own-adventure routes within it, but I keep my project going in a certain direction, building what I'm building toward. I have several large projects that are always on. And whether or not they are active, they are still going. I flip between projects a lot of times, too, depending on what's coming up and where I'm trying to go with it. I think the key to maintaining a studio practice is less about passion, and more about perseverance, persistence, and conviction. And you keep those things in the forefront, and you know that this is satisfying and fulfilling, and that you're not going to give it up, and that your work will continue no matter how much work it is, no matter how many times you vote against yourself.

MARK

And you're an artist because you make art, so if you're not making art then you are no longer being an artist.

JODI

Right.

"Montreal Accessory" by Jodi Lightner. Acrylic and ink on mylar and panel. 12 in. x 24 in. 2012.

"Montreal Accessory" by Jodi Lightner. Acrylic and ink on mylar and panel. 12 in. x 24 in. 2012.

MARK

Your work is very architectural, and I find that kind of fascinating, obviously.

JODI

And I don't have any architectural background.

MARK

I know, so where does that come from?

JODI

It comes from those crazy family trips where all we got to see were historical homes. I believe this firmly. Structure is something, I've mentioned that before, that is important to me. Not just the structure in how I build my days, or spend my studio time, but also in the environment. I see these structures as metaphors for relationships and for how life operates. And they are things that people build. People design and build these architectural places that we operate within. And then there's all these architectural elements that interact within them, and then the elements that we put inside of them. And I see that as a metaphor for life, and for interpersonal relationships and intrapersonal relationships, and they've all become these symbols for me of what's happening in the world. Sometimes it's a very broad statement and sometimes it's very specific. But the architecture, you know, I think that we all get drawn to certain things, and I've always been drawn to the way things are put together.

MARK

You said you always wanted to be a maker.

JODI

I wanted to be a maker.

MARK

Architecture is one of the great making things that humanity does.

JODI

It is. There are huge impossibilities addressed by architecture. Historically, currently.

MARK

Is your work a representation of architecture, is it saying something about architecture, is it entirely its own thing that is influenced by architecture?

JODI

I think it's using architecture.

MARK

Ah...

JODI

It's using it as metaphors.

MARK

I get it.

JODI

That's the way I see it.

MARK

I like that.

 

The schedule of upcoming "In Conversation" events is on the EVENTS page of the Toucan website.