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BFA 2020 Interview Series: Jenna Compagnucci interviewed by Lily Gilston

Jenna Compagnucci


Artist’s Statement:  As an artist interested in psychology and the human condition, I draw inspiration from human traits and behaviors that aren’t typically viewed as acceptable. In western culture we uphold a specific standard of beauty along with a particular set etiquette. The series “Caged”, is in response to these ideals. Three sculptural headpieces made from corset boning and nails are made to be worn as high fashion pieces and to be displayed suspended in the air as art or artifact pieces to be viewed. “Caged” showcases a type of dangerous surface beauty. Inspired by historic methods of torture and fashion; the viewer is lead to contemplate constriction, obstruction, self- restriction, and subtle violence. To ponder the consequences of the methods in which “beauty” is marketed to a mass audience and to examine the psychological and physical disturbances imposed on the viewer individually. We tend to view beauty on a peaceful and docile preface, whereas some individuals weaponize this factor and profit from it. I tend to think about how people obsess over designer and luxury to show their status. People need things or to look a certain way to fit in or rise above; anyone who does not meet this criteria is a black sheep. Pain is beauty and beauty is pain applies to this work on levels that reach psychology, physical well-being, and perception.

Lily Gilston:  First, tell me a little about your work. How would you describe it?

Jenna Compagnucci: My work generally has a macabre feel to it. It’s not something that I set out to do, it just always happens. I think there’s a good mix of old and new, danger and beauty, the dramatic and the real. The Caged project I feel exhibits all of these things. I looked to how historic torture methods are mirrored in historical fashion trends. How in the present, the very same thing is happening. The only thing is that now I feel it starts out as psychological and then manifests physically. (or maybe it has always been this way) I looked to the work of late designer, Alexander McQueen. The high fashion garments were often accompanied by headpieces or mouthpieces that obstruct, restrict, or constrict the face/head. McQueen got me thinking about the extremes that come with fashion and beauty as a whole. I wanted to create head cages that could be worn as a fashion accessory but also stand on their own as sort of an art artifact. My intent was to make something seemingly beautiful and outlandish but at the same time dangerous.

Jenna Compagnucci

LG: When did you decide to be an art major? How did you decide you wanted to be an artist?

JC: I initially decided to be an art major in 2006-2007 when I started at community college. I took up Illustration and Advertising Design. I found that advertising was too sinister for my liking and I had started branching out from illustration within two semesters. I took a break and went to cosmetology school. After I had my license for a while I realized this was something that I couldn’t see myself doing forever for a number of reasons. In 2017 I started up at TCNJ as an Art Education major. Due to complications, I switched to Fine Arts and haven’t looked back. I never had to really decide if art was for me because it was always there in my life in some capacity. I was always making things or drawing up plans for projects. I started with clothing design and production when I was little because my grandmother did that on the side. I had other family members who were painters, sculptors, and musicians so I also had that to be exposed to. I’ve always thought that even if my career isn’t art related, the drive to make art will always be there.

LG: How do you get into your “zone,” your creative headspace?

JC: I’m pretty scatterbrained, but I see this as a good thing. I think this is what allows me to work on multiple project at a time. I’m most comfortable in my little studio nook at home working. I need to work in a controlled chaos. There’s usually music and the tv blaring and my cat trampling over what I’m doing. I usually write instead of sketch; keywords or phrases and if I have any reference material or images, that will also be displayed off to the side. In the spirit of controlled chaos, I don’t end up preplanning much of anything, I just get what I need (noise and all) and go.

LG: Which studio class has been the most valuable to you and your growth as an artist?

JC: I’ve had about five studio classes that I honestly can say have really impacted my work and the way I work. 4D was the first time I had ever messed with video and since it was an intro course I got a good mix of a lot of things. Photo 1 was the first time I had ever used a professional camera (I had used my phone up to that point). Video 1, because I was able to hone in on what I was interested in regarding the subject. Printmaking was a big deal for me, it made it so I could get back to my illustration and design roots. And last but not least, Studio Lighting; I was able to focus on how to better my photography skills. It was also a huge help that my instructors for each of these courses let me run with my ideas fully.

LG: Duality appears to be a very important part of your conceptual work (beauty and pain) and your process (organized chaos). Which is more important to you, process or content? (Or both, or neither?)

JC: I think that each plays an equally important role in the work that I make. The way my brain works I need the chaos to get into a rhythm. The duality of the subject matter that I find interesting kind of mirrors how I experience life. I often experience bouts of anxiety/depression and then become eerily jovial. A lot of artists that I know, who go through similar phases tend to work in similar ways. I don’t think that I could produce the work that I do if I didn’t have just one or the other honestly.

LG: You mentioned how The Caged project makes historical references to both fashion and torture. If you could travel back in time, which era would you choose and why?

JC: It’s hard to pick an era to time travel back to based solely on the fact that I’m interested in unusual happenings and practices. I tend to lean toward the point in the 19th century where occultism began to emerge more so. Spiritualism and parapsychology came into play at that point along with it, which are a couple of things that interest me.

Jenna Compagnucci

LG: So much has happened in the last month. How have your plans changed?  Have you adapted your working process based on current conditions?

JC: I’ve been able to continue on with Caged as I would have even if the current events hadn’t taken place as far as production goes. I’m used to bringing my work back and forth since I commute. It’s been easier on me actually. Now that I don’t have to travel I get more done. The only issue I am facing currently is how to document the cages as an art artifact/ gallery piece. I planned on shooting them two ways, to be worn and then suspended in a space of their own. It’s been difficult finding a space to have them front and center.

LG: And finally, In one word, how would you describe the core of your practice?

JC: Intuition would be a good descriptive word for the core of my practice.