Jimmy Kuehnle

A Conversation with Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle Artist Jimmy Kuehnle

Interview conducted by Alison Caplan, Akron Art Museum Director of Education

Jimmy Kuehnle: Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle, 2016, Akron Art Museum installation view. Photography by Shane Wynn

Jimmy Kuehnle: Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle, 2016, Akron Art Museum installation view (exterior). Photography by Shane Wynn

You develop your works on a computer. What is it like to not fully experience them until they reach a gallery or museum?

When I come to the gallery to install, it really feels like I have been walking around the space for a long time virtually in the computer. I know the places and can recall them. It is a strange sensation in the beginning to have most of my memories of the place be digital memories. As I work on the installation actual memories of the physical place replace former digital memories. At first, designing with the computer made it difficult for me to realize form. Now when I look at photos taken from site visits I get frustrated that I cannot spin the photo around to see behind objects in the way I can when I am modeling in a 3-D program. The main downside of not seeing the work before installing is I can never be really sure if it absolutely fits or if everything will work as designed. A really fun yet challenging aspect of one off site-specific work is that every time is the first time for all projects. This challenge adds to the potential joy I receive from installing the work since I see the work for the first time just like the audience.

What’s your studio like and what are the main tools you use to create your work?

I use a double needle industrial sewing machine set up in my attic. I can roll out the fabric and make simple pattern pieces ready to sew. When deflated the fabric does not take up a lot of space so I can store large-scale work. When I need lots of extra space I collaborate with local institutions to use available space and facilities on a temporary basis. For more complex shapes I use a digital projector to project the pattern shapes directly onto the fabric pinned on the wall. Then I draw the pattern pieces directly on the fabric with a sharpie and label it for later sewing in my studio.

Jimmy Kuehnle lowers fabric for Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle from his second-storey studio in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo: courtesy of the artist.

Jimmy Kuehnle lowers fabric for Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle from his second-storey studio in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo: courtesy of the artist.

Why did you choose red for the color of Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle?

Red makes a very bright environmental ambiance that attracts viewers’ attention and it is warm and pleasant to be around. Museums often have stark whites, grays and cool colors and the red provides a nice contrast to potentially sterile environments.

Artist Jimmy Kuehnle visits Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle, 2016, Akron Art Museum installation view (interior). Photography by Shane Wynn

Artist Jimmy Kuehnle visits Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle, 2016, Akron Art Museum installation view (interior). Photography by Shane Wynn

How did the Akron Art Museum’s architecture and collection influence the work?

The Akron Art Museum has very angular and eccentric architecture without a lot of right angles. As I designed the two appendages on the lobby inflatable to go up and down I referenced the museum’s exterior cloud forms and the form of the walkway on the second level. In addition, when the up-and-down movement is at a slightly bent state it intentionally mimics the Claes Oldenburg sculpture installed in the lobby.

Jimmy Kuehnle: Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle, 2016, Akron Art Museum installation view (interior). Photography by Shane Wynn

Jimmy Kuehnle: Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle, 2016, Akron Art Museum installation view (interior). Photography by Shane Wynn

What role does humor play in your artwork?

Life is a pretty absurd thing if you stop and think about it. It can be overwhelming and depressing to consider the inconsequential nature of all the things that you or anybody that you know may do. Therefore concentrating on the more pleasurable aspects of life including joy and humor is a better use of resources in my opinion. Also, museums can be places where most people whisper and don’t scream and shout. I really like that aspect of museums since it provides a great place to contemplate and really study a wonderful work of art. At the same time I like to question traditions by making something more playful that allows for audiences to laugh and giggle together. Hopefully the humor in the work will make human connections between each of the audience members and the piece.

Artist Jimmy Kuehnle visits Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle, 2016, Akron Art Museum installation view (interior). Photography by Shane Wynn

Artist Jimmy Kuehnle visits Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle, 2016, Akron Art Museum installation view (interior). Photography by Shane Wynn

Can you tell us about the polyester material your sculpture is made out of? How did you ended up working with that material?

The inflatable is made with a lightweight polyester material that has a coating on it. I began working with nylon when I first made Inflatables. As I started to put work outdoors for long periods of time, I needed to use fabric that would stand up in ultraviolet light. The polyester fabric is very similar to the nylon but the main difference is that it does not absorb moisture and has more UV resistance.

Some of your work incorporates performance and even this piece has time based elements—light and movement. Do you feel like your performative practice and sculptures are closely related?

I really enjoy performance-based work because of the spontaneity and the action involved. I can interact directly with the audience and change things on the fly based on the situation. Conversely working with a sculpture can be rather static compared to the performances. When I first started making installation work I wanted it to be interactive so the audience would still have a new novel experience even if it did not have a performance component. The recent Inflatable installations have intentional kinetic actions so people can see the work change over time and relate to it as a living creature that changes just like they do. Blinking lights give even more sensory experience and show the viewer that things do not exist just in a static place or moment in time but everything exists on a continuum.

Jimmy Kuehnle, You Wear What I Wear, inflatable suit, 2009

Jimmy Kuehnle, You Wear What I Wear, inflatable suit, 2009, photo: courtesy of the artist

Any surprises when creating or installing the work? There was one point when you were lost inside a sea of fabric and you stayed pretty cool and calm. Is that a usual occurrence? Our installation crew was struck by how visually appealing the works are on the inside.

The inside of inflatables is visually captivating and aside from the inflation process is my favorite part of inflatable sculpture. It can be difficult to safely allow the audience to go inside inflatables to experience the surreal environment so I design installations to simulate that experience. The inflatable in the Corbin gallery changes the viewer’s experience of a normally simply shaped exhibition space. Since the work is thoroughly planned out prior to fabrication there are not many surprises. The site-specific nature of the work means that unknowns always exist until the piece is fully installed. In the Akron installation we added sandbags to keep portions of the installation in place and I sewed more internal structure into the lobby piece after doing a test fit. During those sewing adjustments I left a pair of scissors in the inflatable that I had to fish out later and temporarily got lost in the pile of fabric. The crew in Akron helped me overcome any and all unexpected situations that came up during installation.

Jimmy Kuehnle: Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle  in the process of being installed at the Akron Art Museum in August 2016. Photo: courtesy of the Akron Art Museum

Jimmy Kuehnle: Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle in the process of being installed at the Akron Art Museum in August 2016. Photo: courtesy of the Akron Art Museum

Jimmy Kuehnle: Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle is on view at the Akron Art Museum through February 19, 2017.