‘Bugs, Blessings & Barriers’: Jordanna Kelly’s Solo Show at the Central Bank

The act of making art is often framed to and by many of us as a joyous extracurricular, a hobby, something therapeutic. While for many it can be this pleasant and easy experience, for those who consider themselves artists in the sense of being art-workers, it is a labour of love. It is perhaps therapeutic more in the sense of physiotherapy – hard work, blood, sweat, and tears, but the end goal is gaining a full range of motion, a freedom you hadn’t anticipated but undoubtedly require. Art making is at once brilliant for mental health, but also the catalyst for a very specific kind of mania. This is the way that Jordanna Kelly, the 2016 winner of the Central Bank of The Bahamas’ (CBoB) Open Category Competition, perpetually finds herself making and working.

Paper folding for Kelly’s solo show ‘Bugs, Blessings & Barriers’ in progress.

Kelly is known for having, as she admits, a very involved process of making. This is evident in the meticulous nature of her current work ‘Discarded Pearls’ (2016) currently on show as part of the 8th National Exhibition (NE8). Beer bottles are filled with layers of sand collected from beaches throughout the archipelago and displayed alongside macro-shots of the sand, documenting the variety within each shore of the islands. It is a process that is at once scientific, methodical, and, quite frankly, a little torturous.

For her solo show, however, she has perhaps reached levels of commitment to the hand-made production of her work that borders on the masochistic. Thousands of sheets of paper – and I must stress, this is not hyperbole – have gone into the series of wall-based and installation works for ‘Bugs, Blessings, & Barriers’ which opens at the Central Bank Gallery on March 3rd from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm. It all unfolded starting with the origami as a starting point, something that she revisited from her days at College of The Bahamas (COB). 

Work in progress for ‘Bugs, Blessings & Barriers’ made using five sheets of paper.

A work that she feels will have the most presence in the space is an interactive installation called ‘Shower of Blessings.’ This will be a 6ft x 6ft pedestal, and by stepping onto the platform, the audience becomes the artwork in a sense. The idea of the viewer becoming the viewed, of the audience becoming a vital part of the visual of the artwork is referred to as ‘relational aesthetics,’ a term coined by French critic Nicolas Bourriaud in his 1997 text of the same name. It creates work that is an experience, work that isn’t complete until the viewer becomes part of it. It is a way to take away some of the power from the sanctitude of art, to allow you to touch and cross the distance that we so often achingly must obey as regular gallery-goers.

Jordanna Kelly, ‘The Stinger’ (2017), paper on linen-covered canvas board.

The audience will be invited to step onto the pedestal and utilise a sculptural umbrella prop from her days at COB. “The umbrella acts as a barrier, but it also has holes cut out in shapes of flowers and other beautiful things. I’m trying to say that sometimes it’s good to let your walls or barriers down, to let some of these things inundate you and to get a little wet. Sometimes through the negative things, if you share what’s happening you can receive positivity. We hate the rain, but it makes the flowers grow.”

Close-up of ‘The Stinger’ (2017) by Jordanna Kelly

The idea of balance and appreciation of your past struggles as you move into new spaces in your life is the main idea that Kelly wants to impart. It is fitting, given the laborious nature of the work. Papercuts and paper burns (this is an actual observable phenomenon just by looking at her fingers) are the trials she must go through, stints of working from 7:00 am til 1:00 am the next day: all these things give way to works that are bright, beautiful, colourful, intricate, and delicious to the eye to partake in. She has given us what we want, but without wanting purely to satisfy – it is beautiful work with the purpose of being enjoyed for certain while providing us with a moment of gratefulness for our tribulations of the past.

Jordanna Kelly, ‘Fight with Goliath’ (2017), paper on linen-covered canvas board.

“Some of them are flowers that are 1.5cm but made of 5 sheets of paper, and others are one sheet of paper but made using 38 folds. They are labours of love. For the entrance, there’s going to be an installation of an overhang suspended above everyone’s heads holding 5000 hand-folded paper flowers. I want it to be something a little overwhelming. You won’t be able to see them for what they are as you enter, but when you move upstairs and get on the same level, you’ll be able to see the flowers in greater detail.”

Close up of ‘Fight with Goliath’ (2017) by Jordanna Kelly

Hindsight and the way it engenders an appreciation for the things that shape our present is the notion Kelly wishes to leave us with. Just as her wall-based works are collaged layers – some dark, some light – that create a single cohesive image, she wants us to see our lives as a collage where the darker elements are entirely necessary to add depth and perspective to our respective bigger pictures.