Justin Chance’s Wool Quilts are Catchalls for Curiosity – ARTnews.com

My pieces begin as titles. Titles come to me when I’m washing dishes, or running, or showering. A recent example is Aloha Sadness (2023): I thought, That’s so dumb, but also so real. Aloha means goodbye, but also hello. I asked what would Aloha Sadness look like? I did a little research—looked up tiki culture, watched Lilo & Stitch, played that song “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride” in the studio.

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I’m driven by curiosity, and I can get interested in literally anything. I’m less interested in judging whether something is good or bad, right or wrong, than I am in asking, What is this thing? Why is this thing? Exhibitions are a helpful way of focusing my curiosity. I can point to one and say, “That’s my oceanography era,” or that’s my how-TVs-work era.

For me, “artist” is kind of like a catchall term. Takashi Murakami’s 2008 exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum drew me to art. He was making mugs, pins, paintings… I thought, Maybe I could do one of those. I’m also a writer, but there’s something about the authority of language that feels daunting, whereas in art there’s more wiggle room.

The title of my recent show at Tara Downs gallery in New York was “Live,” and I left it deliberately unclear as to whether I meant the noun or the verb. I wanted to permit the viewer/reader to take it however they want. There’s something beautiful about the state of not-knowing, and I want my viewers to feel curious. I never want it to be, “I’m the artist, listen to me.”

I started making my quilt works in 2013, hoping to combine my love for making with my interest in painting. I wanted to be able to physically pick up colors and move them around. I also love learning how things work, down to the molecular level. If you’re dyeing something, you have to ask, Is this a cellulose fiber or is it a protein fiber? Some pieces incorporate resist dyes using wax. Since wax is nonpolar and water is a polar molecule, the two materials don’t interact.

Recently I was Duolingo-ing Norwegian, and decided to make a Norwegian-language web drama called Svak. I wanted to write a script in Norwegian to explore the materiality of weakness; I’m weak in that language. The project was about carving space for curiosity without utility, learning just for the sake of it.  

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