My artistic practice is hybrid and conceptual, extending across traditional media boundaries. Whether my work takes the form of hand-embroidered canvases presenting words on linen, scripted narrative video, performative reading, conceptual text-based graphic images, illustrated maps, artist books or critical essays about other artists, it all relates conceptually to the intersections between art and language, image and text, us and the surrounding landscape. Holding it altogether is my focus on two things: the sheer physical presence of words perceived in various contexts and the ability of language to suggest and sustain conceptual ideas within those contexts. Whatever form it takes, my work examines the power of language to shape a person’s worldview, the way we map our perception of the world around us by the language we attribute it, and the role that language plays in establishing the social environment we make for ourselves.
In each project, I use a close examination of specific events to generate philosophical discussions about meaning. What if the sun defied expectation and never set (Endless Day)? What if loved ones in books could come to life (Talking Book)? What if we were asked to defend our own skepticism (Ad Infinitum)? How does language shape our perceptions (Hot Air, Sincerely; Definitions; Desert Maps)? What if our language took on physical weight and form (Because snow never melts on Antarctica)? Can we map what is knowable in the world (Searching for Ludwig Wittgenstein, Lake Eidsvatnet, Skjolden, Sogn, Norway)? The questions of how we know what we know, what informs our decisions, how images express ideas and feelings, and the way the problem of language relates to all of this, come up repeatedly throughout my work.
Artist Bio / CV
Jan Estep has an expanded creative practice that comprises critical writing, creative writing, and a range of visual media including sculpture, video, drawing, and embroidery. Trained as both a philosopher—PhD, Washington University in St. Louis, 1993—and an artist—MFA, University of Illinois at Chicago, 1997—she approaches her work using a range of analytical and creative means. Her research interests include early conceptual art, philosophy, Wittgenstein, and the relationship between art and language. Her recent artwork focuses on the use of text within visual contexts to sustain dialogue and conceptual ideas. Language mapped onto natural and built landscapes also figures prominently. She has exhibited her artwork at Art in General, Dumbo Artist Space, and New York Arts Gallery, New York; Donald Young Gallery and Bodybuilder and Sportsman Gallery, Chicago; Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis; Franklin Art Works, Soap Factory, and Midway Contemporary, Minneapolis, among others. A number of her artist books and projects are available at Printed Matter, Inc. Since 1998 she has also published over 70 critical pieces in art magazines such as Afterall, Frieze, Modern Painters, InterReview, and New Art Examiner, and in exhibition catalogues by Whitechapel Art Gallery, London; Hayward Gallery, London; and Kunsthaus Zurich, Switzerland. From 1997-2002, she was an editor of New Art Examiner, serving as senior editor from 2000-2002. Estep received the Arts Practitioner/Writer Fellowship at Stanford Humanities Center/SiCa, 2008/09; McKnight Fellowship for Visual Artists, 2006/07; the Jerome Artist Residency at Art in General, 2005; and a Jerome Research and Travel Grant, 2004. Originally from West Virginia, and for many years based in Chicago, Estep moved to Minneapolis in 2002 where she is an associate professor of art at the University of Minnesota.