Jacquelin Heichert

How do you do ....?
Print media student wants to know how - and why - people do the things they do

Liz Crompton l Photo: Concordia University Liz Crompton l Photo: Concordia University

When you enter an elevator, do you make eye contact with other passengers? Stand in the middle or head for a side? Make small talk if they're not occupied?

Jacquelin Heichert wants to know. Truly.

Heichert is fascinated by how people perform everyday tasks such as entering an elevator, waiting in line or doing laundry. It may seem minor, she says, but these situations can be a window into the way people experience and conceptualize society and their place in it.

"That's ultimately what I'm interested in: how people do things and why they do those things," says Heichert, an MFA in Studio Arts candidate concentrating in print media.

Heichert explores the gap between public action and private thought in everyday life through print media, sculpture and bookworks. Her work has evolved from the concept of the community recipe book: she taps her family and friends for submissions on different topics, which end up in such works as The Everyday Scenario Survival Handbook, The Usual; A Create Your Own Adventure Story and The Arm(w)rest.

In the latter, for example, she investigated people's theories, attitudes and general behaviour when it comes to using an armrest in public places, such as on a train or in a movie theatre. In an installation comprised of sculptural armrests and sound pieces, some respondents said the armrest is neutral territory and no one should use it, while others thought taller or bigger people should have the right of way. But some see it as a possession, and stake their claim to the armrest as soon as they sit down.

Bringing such topics into the open not only highlights individual philosophies of space, people, politics and ultimately cultural practices, rituals and value systems, says the artist, but it also allows others to relate and share their own strategies and rationales.

The dinner table

Heichert's passion is clear now but it took the Stouffville, Ontario, native until near the end of her undergraduate degree in fine arts at York University to find her way. "Everyone had a niche and I didn't know what I wanted to do. I had good grades, but I was struggling."

Then she took a book works course in the print media department. Working with books and the conventions embedded within them "just made sense with the way I thought," she notes. The final piece clicked into place when she plugged into the power of family - specifically, the picky eaters amongst them.

"That's where my artistic practice stems from: sitting at the dinner table with the whole family and taking note of how differently everyone eats their meal. I ate best for last, my mum was a proponent of chaos theory, and my grandfather ate his meal proportionately with one bite of meat, one bite of potato, and one bite of vegetable," she says. "At the end of the meal he'd say 'Well, look at that. I did it well.'"

The Matrix of Choice (2012), a kinetic wooden sculpture called the Choice Spinner, highlights the suspension of time in making a choice. Image courtesy Jacquelin Heichert. Click to enlarge. The Matrix of Choice (2012), a kinetic wooden sculpture called the Choice Spinner, highlights the suspension of time in making a choice. Image courtesy Jacquelin Heichert. Click to enlarge.

Inspired by this, Heichert created Strategies of Consumption, a recipe book on how to eat food rather than how to make it. "That was the defining moment for me. After I realized that kind of subject matter was viable, art wasn't a struggle anymore."

Indeed not: she's amassed a number of awards, grants and residencies in recent years, and her work has been shown in juried and solo exhibitions, including internationally. She's also looking forward to a residency in Vermont in early 2014. By then she plans to have finished her thesis - which is about the watching paint dry.

Heichert will find a way to make this interesting. Truly.


Jacquelin Heichert has a solo exhibition scheduled at La Centrale Galerie Powerhouse in Montreal in early 2014 and at Centre3 for Print and Media Arts in Hamilton, Ontario, later in the year.

Story by Liz Crompton. Posted on July 11, 2013

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