A! Magazine for the Arts

Jan Hurt stands in the center of her "Sun" which is her inspiration for "Cosmos: Mapping the Universe."

Jan Hurt stands in the center of her "Sun" which is her inspiration for "Cosmos: Mapping the Universe."

Jan Hurt's creative journey is a tangled one

January 28, 2015

The creative journey for Jan Hurt, co-curator for "Mapping the Cosmos,"has not been without snags. In late December, she got an unwanted Christmas gift; her partially completed installation for "Mapping the Cosmos: Jan Hurt and a Constellation of Artists" collapsed around her. When she was standing inside her sun, the project fell, leaving more than a hundred beaded strings tangled and hanging from a brass ring.

"It was probably lucky that it got tangled when it fell," Hurt says. The collapse and subsequent time spent untangling gave her some ideas of how to solve transportation difficulties.

"I'm going to gather sections of the beads and use ribbon, because it's slick, to tie them. I'll tie the strands as high and as low as I can. Then I'm going to get a big square of cardboard, punch holes in it, lower the ring, move all the beaded strings to the center and twist tie them."

This wasn't the only problem she had moving her piece. "It's 40 inches in diameter, and the door to my studio isn't. I 'built the boat in the basement,'" she laughs and says that's a "typical artist kind of thing."

Hurt's "Sun" is composed of a ring that supports beaded strings containing 61 names of sun gods throughout history and around the world. Flames cover the ring, and a heart is suspended inside a cage representing ribs. The bottom of the cage is at the level of the ring. "Initially I thought I'd have the cage in the center, but then you couldn't see the heart because of the flames," she says.

Hurt says that her piece is still evolving. "The interesting thing is you have a clear concept in your head of where you want it to go, and then comes the engineering. As they say, 'the devil's in the details.'" She's working with Miles Polaski from Barter Theatre to get a heartbeat to accompany her piece.

"It should be interesting, but it's going to be a booger to install," she says.

She's been working on this piece since early 2014. One of the most difficult parts was the ring that all the other pieces connect to. She tried copper tubing, but it was too flexible and wouldn't hold its shape. After trying several other options, she had a metal fabricator create the ring to her specifications. The ribs of the cage that holds the heart is a planting basket

"I thought I wanted a much larger one; and then I got them, and they were entirely too big. The proportions were all wrong. Fortunately, I ordered everything, and one of them worked."

Once she got the right cage, she had to cover it. "I thought about different coverings," she says. "I wanted people to be able to see the heart."After trying rice paper and a variety of other ideas, she chose a transparent fabric.

The beads gave her more problems than just their tendency to tangle. "Initially I hung the sun god names on gold thread and was going to intersperse strings of beads. After I hung them, I decided I should have beaded the strings with the sun god names and had to take them all down and bead them. Then I'll glue them down and attach the flames."

Her original idea was to suspend her artwork from the ceiling by monofilament. "The idea was I wanted it to be suspended invisibly, but monofilament is plastic so it catches light." Her piece needs to be supported in four places that meet together in the center above the top of her piece and attached to the ceiling. "Then I thought I could use black chains and the S-hooks, and it would disappear in the purple gallery. The chain would be much easier than monofilament. When I used to fish, we'd tie a knot and then burn it so it wouldn't come undone. Burning knots isn't feasible with this, because it would cause a conflagration, and my Sun would really be the sun.

"I'll figure it out when I get there. That is one thing about installation;it almost never goes like you thought it would, but it goes," she says. "We should probably video the process of the installation," she laughs. "It ought to
make the funniest video."

Hurt's piece stands in the center of the Universe in the "Cosmos" exhibit at William King Museum of Art, Abingdon, Virginia.

Loy McWhirter joins "Mapping the Cosmos"