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  December 2009
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Jen Harmon Allen, Changing of the Guard, 10 x 7 x 7 feet, 2001
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Jen Harmon Allen . . . from page 1

Fortunately, taking the reigns is something Harmon Allen is well-trained for. She grew up in Connecticut with an academic father who wanted all nine of his children to experience a "euphoric" education, as Allen put it. From 1991 - 1995 she studied sculpture at Wellesley College, where she became accustomed to being a Mormon in an ultra-feminist school. There she enjoyed excellent teachers, demanding course work, and, because it was a wealthy college, few limits to what she could pursue. When she eventually made her way to BYU for an MFA, she had to adjust to a different mentality and atmosphere.

"I was so used to being proactive at Wellesley," she explains. "Before, if I wanted opportunities I had to be on top of everything." At Wellesley Harmon Allen was the model session coordinator; she participated in figure drawing sessions every week, she studied art in Italy, and later applied for money to travel to Indonesia to teach English to high school girls. She learned later that her classmates at BYU thought her to be intimidating because she was so used to a competitive environment and having everything mapped out. She remembers many visits to Bruce Smith's office at BYU, where she asked a lot of questions about the course work. "I realized I was pounding on the door, and they weren't used to students being so aggressive."

There was one surprising thing about BYU that Wellesley didn't provide -- a broad spectrum of artistic styles. At Wellesley Harmon Allen was mostly entrenched in classical art, but at BYU the door started to open, with Henry Moore and other artists who abstracted the figure. "I was very excited that teachers such as Brian Christensen were interested in contemporary art, and that's why I stayed. That is where the light went on and that's when I began to push the figure into a contemporary backdrop."

A self-proclaimed, impatient person, Harmon Allen creates work that agrees with her nature. She likes bronze, but doesn't have the patience for it. "One of my main goals is to try and make a sculpture that's self supporting as quickly as possible. In school I would weld a piece of steel on a base and make two- feet tall figures out of plaster and they would be fresh and expressive – and look like plaster." Her education at BYU moved her from focusing on the figure that sits on a pedestal to losing the pedestal entirely and hanging pieces from a ceiling. "I want to evoke the presence of the figure but without being so blatant about it," she says.

Harmon Allen was very prolific with her graduate work. She'd create ten figures in one semester and then switch gears, throw much of her work in the dumpster and proceed to do something completely different. She admits to having a love/hate relationship with her sculptures – when they're done, she wants them over with. Because her ideas are always ahead of her current work, she doesn't like lurking sculptures. "People would see pictures of my old work and say, ‘What’s that?’ and I wouldn't really remember. Getting it out was more important to me than preserving what I had." Harmon Allen continues, "As I've matured, I've learned art isn't just a by-product and I should take the time to keep it around." She does have old bronzes stored in her garage, but in a way, she sees them as ghosts and wishes they would leave so she could move on.

What's ironic is while Harmon Allen threw away completed figures, she held onto fragmented bits. "Everything I created was so voluminous that I needed to pare things down, but at the same time I would save anything that didn't work out right." She saved fragments from molds and other unsuccessful pieces and tried to create something out of them. This led to a big hanging installation at BYU's Harris Fine Art Center where she hung over 70 legs from the ceiling – an idea inspired by Cornelia Parker's installation where she suspended burnt logs in fragments from a ceiling.

Harmon Allen began to create fetish-type reworkings of broken pieces, such as wax figures with missing heads and other parts. Adding new pieces to the broken ones, she resurrected them into new objects. It started out just for fun, but people really took notice. Maybe it's because she has a hard time letting things go until she’s learned everything she has to learn, but this idea that nothing is ever really broken or gone is something she’d like to develop and re-examine in the future.

During December, Harmon Allen's installation "Leap" will be at the Rose Wagner. In continuance with the thought of her previous installation at BYU, she will hang approximately 200 legs in varying stages of a leap. Harmon Allen, who was a dancer growing up, was intrigued by the possibilities the Rose Wagner's curved walls offered -- allowing for more space behind the objects and the chance for interesting shadows.

"It got me to thinking about the movements of a dancer; the action of preparing for the leap with crouching legs," says Harmon Allen. "I love how one part of the human body can express so much and how it's an automatic signifier." The legs will be crouching at the bottom and as your eyes move up they will culminate into a leap. The subtler idea behind the obvious dance movement is the acknowledgement of symbolic leaps that come at surprising times in our lives and the monotony of waiting for things to happen.

The installation at the Rose may not reveal Harmon Allen's experiences with motherhood or keeping a comfortable home, but it does shed light on the self-journey she has taken with her husband, who continues to deal with the physical pain that accompanies rehabilitating from a stroke. "Even though he is the one dealing with it," Harmon Allen explains, "I feel like we take these tiny steps together. We can look back and see dramatic changes, but at the same time, every little step is a leap of faith. We just keep going forward not knowing where we'll end up, but hoping that things will work out."

Harmon Allen is undeniably tied to the figure and the power and expression of the body being a three-dimensional form in space. While the hanging limbs and the plaster they're made of do possess a raw quality, there's a warm spirit of hope behind her work; a poetic gesture of faith and a suggestion that fragmented pieces and unfinished offerings hold a significant purpose.

With her second child due in February, Harmon Allen has a variety of unfinished projects and challenges ahead of her. She's planning for more exhibits in 2010 and hopes to pursue projects of a more permanent nature. Harmon Allen loves being a wife and caring for her children, but she also feels a desperate need to preserve her academic thoughts and artistic goals amidst all of life's distractions and struggles. Perhaps focusing her artwork outside of motherhood helps her do that.

Leap by Jen Harmon Allen

Leap , featuring 170 pairs of plaster legs showering down the balcony entrance wall in various stages of dance jumps, will be at the Rose Wagner Art Center through the month of January. Showing concurrently will be new paintings by Salt Lake artist John Sproul. Jen Harmon Allen is represented by Coda Gallery in Park City. See more of her art at her website.

South Side Rising
More Artistic Development on Salt Lake's South Side

In November's PasteUps we suggested that Salt Lake's south end might be accruing enough mass to become a critical component of Utah's visual art scene. News this month from new arrivals and long-time residents bolsters our projection.

Later this month Signed and Numbered will be closing their downtown location and reopening in in Sugarhouse. Owner Leia Bell says they decided to close their Broadway location after Slowtrain, their landlord, doubled the rent on their basement space. The shop, which has featured monthly exhibitions of work by local, national and international printmakers, will close on December 24th and reopen on January 2nd, 2010 at their new location -- 2100 South 2100 East (next to Blue Plate Diner). In their Sugarhouse location they will concentrate on their framing business, which features their handmade line of FOXY FRAMES. Bell will keep a presence downtown, however, curating a show quarterly at Ken Sanders Rare Books, which, she says, "is better for me because I will be able to spend more time planning them and making them perfect." Bell also plans on opening a satellite Signed & Numbered location at Kilby Court (750 South 330 West), opening in the evenings during the concerts.

Sugarhouse is already home to a vibrant group of printmakers. Nestled beneath the Avon sign on 10th East, Saltgrass Printmakers is celebrating six years in the community this month with their annual fundraiser. A unique series of prints, from local and international artists associated with the collective, are on sale with all proceeds to benefit the non-profit organization.|0| If you stop by you might check out the house directly to the west of Saltgrass, which is up for rent ($500) and is owned by the same family that owns the Saltgrass building and Rockwood Studios -- turn it into a studio and you'll be joining the bourgeoning scene in Sugarhouse.

Print by Paul Vincent Bernard at Saltgrass Printmakers
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The southside is already home to a number of artist studio spaces. Rockwood Studios (1064 East 2100 South), which houses over twenty professional artists, is having their Holiday Open House this weekend, Saturday December 5, 10 am - 5 pm. The south side is also home to Poor Yorick Studios and Spectrum Studios, both in South Salt Lake. They always draw crowds for their semi-annual open houses. In between the two is a lesser known building, Wasatch Plaza ( 2200 South and 500 East), also home to a number of artists. During the past Gallery Stroll Joshua Luther and Ike Bushman turned a nearby warehouse into another exciting venue. Hard to find and not much to speak of from the outside, the inside turned out to be a spacious -- if rough -- contemporary art venue, complete with video projection rooms, a spiraling word drawing and live music: the cummulative effect made all that attended feel like they were "in the know." Luther says he plans to hold more events in the space (keep an eye on our blog and we'll let you be "in the know" as well).

A block away from these you'll find Sugar Space (616 Wilmington Ave), a multi-disciplinary art space that opened in 2007. They recently announced that they have added added two gallery rooms to their now 2,500 square feet space. Sugar Space offers classes in theater, dance, aerial silks and trapeze, yoga, feldenkrais, hula hoop, contact improvisation, breakdancing, hip hop, thearapeutic dance, dancemeditation, kids creative movement, various art mediums and more. The gallery space now allows them to feature work by local artists. This month they are exhibiting work by Lisa Scopes Oliver and Terry Scopes, of OpenDoor Transformative Arts.|1-2| On December 4, they will be open for art viewing from 6-9 pm, during gallery stroll. Another open house and artist reception will be held December 17, 5-10pm. Sugar Space is currently seeking artists interested in showing at the space.

This move outside of downtown is a phenomenon you see in many cities. Artists and galleries generally move out of a downtown area because the rents become too expensive. They look to find areas where spaces are cheaper and the location is still accessible to the art-loving public (the irony is that they move in and transform the neighborhoods, which pushes the rents up and once again forces the artists to look for new locations).

Artists Julie Dunker and qi peng may be anticipating rising rents in Sugarhouse because they have located their new art venture even further south -- Holladay. On Friday, December 4, the two artists will launch The Livingroom, a contemporary art salon in -- yes you guessed it -- a living room (there aren't too many warehouses, vacant or otherwise, in Holladay).|2| The space is located at 2105 Fardown Avenue and the inaugural exhibit features work by Jon Coffelt and Matthew Choberka. Coffelt is a New York conceptual artist who will show his duct-tape on Tyvek paintings from his "Circuitry" series as well as selected pieces of scaled-down clothing from his "Memory Clothing" series. Matthew Choberka is an experimental abstract painter who teaches at Weber State. In his paintings, the artist expresses a masterful confidence in depicting the dichotomy between organic and geometric painting that hearkens to the "conflict" between abstract expressionism and geometric minimalism during the 1960's. The opening reception for the show is Friday, December 4th from 3 to 11 pm. The exhibit continues through December 19.

Don't let our enthusiasm for what is happening on the south end fool you. There's still plenty happening in downtown Salt Lake (check out our article on the Broadway scene on page 7). The most important event downtown this month is the Artists of Utah Holiday Office Party. And you're invited. The party, hosted by the Salt Lake Art Center, will be December 16, from 7 to 10 pm. Click here for more information.

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