Jodi Colella works with a broad range of materials to create provocative, tactile works that often include public participation. She has exhibited at Danforth Art, Fruitlands Museum, Wheaton College, Helen Day Art Center, Museums of York, World of Threads and Textile Museum, among others. Her awards include 2016 Thailand Residency at ComPeung, 2014 China Residency at Da Wang Culture Highland, 2013 Artist-in-Residence Fruitlands Museum, Pollack-Krasner Fellowship Vermont Studio Center, and Somerville Arts Council Fellowships 2015, 2012.
Jodi has been featured in Huffpost Art & Culture, Artscope, The Boston Globe, Harvard Crimson, 500 Felt Objects, TextileArtist.org, BU Arts & Science Magazine and The Worcester Telegram. She is a member of New England Sculpture Association, Arts & Business Council of Boston, Surface Design Association, The American Craft Council, and International Sculpture Center.
She received a B.A. from Boston University and studied at Massachusetts College of Art and School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. She teaches fiber workshops at The Eliot School in Jamaica Plain MA, The De Cordova Museum School in Lincoln MA, at Surface Design Association National Conferences and at several private venues. Jodi has taught nationally at Society for Craft in Pittsburgh, SDA’s Confluence in Minneapolis, plus many local venues. She lives and works in Somerville, MA.
Joyce Brown: What materials do you work with and what's your creative process?
Jodi Colella: Currently, the materials I seem to be using the most are textiles, found objects, and a needle and thread. I love to work with all fibers, anything from aluminum window screen to angora wool from a rabbit to paper and more.
I come from a place of traditional handwork technique. That's where I usually start when making my structures and playing with materials, but then it goes somewhere else. Sometimes it involves treatments like bronzing techniques or encaustic wax processes that I've adapted. It depends on a little bit of whimsy and what feels right for what I'm trying to create at the moment.
My process will vary depending on the project. Right now I'm immersed in a project that has a March 2017 deadline, so I have the benefit of having enough time to do research. I can think about my concept and then respond to materials I have around me. That's one strategy. Another approach is letting myself be lost. Sometimes I don't know what to do next, so I'll go in my studio and just get my hands busy. After a series of experiments, I usually end up creating something that feels right. It's a very instinctual, materials-based approach to get at what's going on inside me.
Joyce: What types of themes do you pursue in your work?
Jodi: When I think about the span of all my work I'd have to say human nature is a common theme. I had a residency in China a couple of years ago, and I began thinking about ideas of loneliness and the human impulse to want to belong. I do solo work where I create objects about very personal experiences, and then I have collaborative work where there are participatory exchanges with the community to create installations. All of this has to do with human relationships and our capacity for loneliness and our need to be accepted.
Joyce: How do different materials and textures help you convey messages and emotions?
Jodi: It's usually a combination of elements that help me get the point across. For example, golden glitter may be received one way while rusty, dirty things will be received another. The juxtaposition of the two can be interesting. Sometimes it's the material itself, and sometimes it's how I manipulate the material by pulling it apart or stitching it up. The result just needs to feel like what it is I want to get across.
Joyce: What’s the story behind your stuffed "beasts”?
Jodi: During my residency in China, I had a very concrete experience of what it felt like to be an outsider. It cemented for me a lot of what I had been thinking about regarding the human desire to belong.
One day, I had to venture into Shenzhen by myself to look for a needle and thread because I had seen some embroideries that were inspiring me. To my surprise, most things manufactured in China are designed for export, not for local consumption. It took me 6 hours to figure out where I could buy a needle and thread. I was in the fabric district, but I never left a one block radius. I had to figure out how to find the right building and the right floor with the vendor who had the needle and thread. That experience prompted me not to go out for materials very often, so I decided to use what I could find around me just like folk artists and indigenous people do.
CHINA SAMPLERS I, II | Found threads, 1960s Mao propaganda magazines, dimensions vary from 7x9 to 9x12 inches – 2014
I used to go for walks on paths through the mountains with factories hidden behind the trees. At first I didn't think much about the factories, but I noticed they threw their trash out in the street. When I walked closer to see what was in one of the piles, I discovered a mound of thread all bunched up and tangled. I decided to take bags of it and sort it out, and that's where I got my thread. I found a local vendor selling women's shirts, and that's where I got my fabric. I needed something for a foundation to stitch on, so I used a bag of rice. I ended up turning the rice bag into a little folk icon of an ant.
I've had a lifelong interest in folk cultures and indigenous art. Especially figures and objects that are pure expressions of emotions and personifications of belief systems. My experience in China is what inspired my "beasts" and what prompted me to go in this direction when I got home. I started thinking of them as little icons of my experiences.
Joyce: What's your dream project?
Jodi: I admire the skill-based arts that are deep-seated in tradition and culture. I'd love to work with classical artisans, or masters in any field, to learn their craft. I could apprentice at a Della Robbia factory, or an indigo dyeing community in India or Japan. I could learn glassblowing in Murano, Italy, or examine taxidermy in a natural history museum. My idea is to learn something foreign from what I know and then apply my sensibilities to it.
This idea is bigger than a dream project and more like a larger than life fantasy, and it's nice to have the opportunity to say it out loud. I hope that someone out there might be interested in a collaboration, too.
Joyce: What's your favorite thing about displaying your work for others to see?
Jodi: I like to have fun! I like to get the point across with a sense of humor, but there's also a dark side to what I like to do. I had a show recently, Beastiary, with my new work, Nature of the Beast, and observed people's reactions to the pieces. At first glance, people are attracted by the lush surfaces — they think it’s something familiar, and at second glance they see it’s something strange. They waffle between the two appearances trying to reconcile what they're looking at. People want to know what the pieces mean. They will stand for a long time peeking inside the heads and mouths to see what's in there, or they walk around and around checking them out from all angles. Engaging people is what I hope to do, and I'm thrilled when it happens.
Joyce: Tell me about Fiber Lab. What is it?
Jodi: I also teach, and Fiber lab is something that I created for people who have completed some techniques classes and think they want more. They get to use my studio space and supplies, and they can borrow my books and tools. I mentor them. Everyone in the group works individually, but they are very supportive of each other. Every time we meet, I have something happening in the background, like weaving or dyeing or wire wrapping. If they're interested, they can participate, if not, they don't have to. What this does is expose them to materials and processes that they might not have access to on their own because the cost may be prohibitive in some cases.
They learn a lot from me, but I learn a lot from them as well because everybody approaches it so uniquely. There's no curriculum necessarily, and the openness allows for artists of all levels to participate. I can help them not only artistically and conceptually but professionally as well. It's just been a great experience, and I think I'm filling a bit of a void for people who don't need to take techniques classes over and over, but want to belong to something bigger.