STORIES FROM PAFA
Ash Garner (MFA ’20) Uses MASS MoCA Residency to Challenge Perceptions
Ash Garner (MFA ’20) is a Philadelphia-based artist who works with soft sculpture and site-specific installation. She recently participated in a Career Services Artist Residency Panel, sharing with current students her experience following graduation at The Studios at MASS MoCA Residency. In this residency, which is funded by PAFA, she began working on a project that analyzes her relationship to the rural and the urban with a focus on queering the perceived binaries between the two. Here she describes the opportunity and how her upbringing has influenced her work.
I grew up in the countryside of Central Pennsylvania where there are a lot of stigmas surrounding the idea of the city. In contrast, I have lived in Pittsburgh, PA and am currently living in Philadelphia, PA. In both Pennsylvania cities, there is a lot of generalization that happens when considering the rural. I’m interested in creating work that challenges these perceived binaries and examines dominant cultures within both.
While at the residency, I worked through initial ideas for this project by making a smaller version of what will eventually be a herd of Pennsylvania-shaped Holstein cow soft sculptures that incorporate text. Ideally, I would have these soft sculptures exist outside in the urban landscape, creating a dialogue around perceived biases of what does or does not belong in a particular area. I have the first cow in progress in my studio now.
Working in North Adams, MA has been very relevant to this project in that it’s a very rural/urban city. Being there gave me the time to work through ideas, and the unique space to reflect and research. While at the residency, I was also given the space to learn how to screen print and crochet with the help of local artists at Common Folk Artist Collective. I really enjoyed working with such a generous and supportive group of artists at MASS MoCA and at Common Folk.
Attending my first two artist residencies this year—Chautauqua School of Visual Arts Residency and The Studios at MASS MoCA—has reinforced the fact that community is very important to me and my practice, as well as staying active in that community (wherever that might be). After graduating in early 2020 near the beginning of the pandemic and all the isolation that was to follow, these residencies offered me the opportunity to connect with artists in “real-life” again. I not only met other artists and communities, but also was able to build foundations for relationships that will grow with time as we navigate our creative lives together.
Following these residencies, I plan to use the work I’ve made (and am making) to apply to open calls, future residencies, apprenticeships, and other professional opportunities. Having the time to focus on my work allowed me to re-focus on my goals and provided me with the energy to act on the steps necessary to achieve them.”