Jeni Hansen Gard grew up in a small bed and breakfast in Grand Haven, Michigan. She has an integrative art practice that focuses on using the ceramic vessel as a catalyst for bringing people together, often asking participants to reconsider their relationship to food and each other. Using this combination of craft and engagement as an avenue to pursue her research interest in ethnobotany (the human plant relationship), she is working to challenge our current food system and instead help build an equitable and sustainable future. Her community-focused approach to ceramics and education led her to become a founding member of the Socially Engaged Craft Collective, a craft and social practice organization. She received her MFA from Ohio State University and MA in Art Education from the University of Florida. Jeni was the recipient of the MJ Wood DO GOOD residency at Red Lodge Clay Center and recently completed residencies at the Archie Bray Foundation, Denison University, and Wesleyan College. Currently, she and her partner, fellow ceramicist, Forrest Sincoff Gard, are Resident Artists at the Mill Hill Community Arts Center in Macon, Georgia. They also run Gard Clay Studios, a collaborative studio for their research and where they make a line of functional wares and have a small artist residency program. To learn more about her work, visit jenihansengard.com.
As a Socially-Engaged Craft artist, I use the ceramic vessel to explore our ecological relationship with plants as food through growing, cooking, eating, and sharing meals. Using craft as a premise, my work draws on a critical understanding of human relationships and the merger between art and life. I design civic projects that focus on the meal, personal food choices, food as a form of communication, and the ceramic vessel as a transmitter and artifact. Using an object-based process in the ceramic arts, and a community-based, socially-engaged art practice I make functional objects intended for use in everyday life and orchestrate the parameters surrounding their use by engaging participants. This human involvement is what distinguishes my work from traditional pottery and brings it into the sphere of Socially-Engaged Craft.
My studio work is a consideration of form, function, pattern, and color of the ceramic vessel. My work exists as physical objects as well as social projects in which the vessel serves as a catalyst in creating a food dialogue. I am attempting to turn viewers into active participants by inviting them to become users, and thus extending the value of the individual object outward toward the community. The individualized design of these handmade objects, even within sets, is a way to focus people on a specific experience and to create mindfulness in eating. There is value added in both the aesthetic of handmade dishes, the experience of eating in this format, and the benefits visually, socially, and nutritionally of making certain choices. Through use, the vessel has the ability to elevate the food we consume and asks the viewers to reconsider what they eat, who they eat with, what they eat from, and how food affects our bodies. After use the vessel remains imprinted in our memory as a carrier of stories. Even after use, the vessel remains as an artifact and carrier of memory and story.