Meet the Makers – Jenie Gao

Jenie Gao

Tell us about yourself.
I’m an artist specializing in woodcuts, ink drawings, and allegorical storytelling. The purpose of my work is to challenge existing perspectives, to understand how the things we may not immediately see impact and shape the things we do see.

I also have a work background in commercial printing, education, and lean manufacturing (eliminating waste in business). My experiences across industries and in both “traditionally” creative vs logical roles has made me a firm believer in different disciplines working together to inform and help one another.

I spent the beginning of 2015 traveling to do two art residencies in Argentina and Chile. I’m now back in Madison with new work and new stories that challenge the way we see ourselves and the world around us.

What are you presenting at Maker Faire Milwaukee?
I will be making prints with the print clubs of UWM and MIAD in the Printmaking area! I will likely have a large woodblock with me.

Why is making important to you?
To me, the process of making is a way of giving back. Any time we create something new, we also take something away from somewhere else, so the making of something meaningful is always an act of reciprocity. As an artist, I believe that art is nothing without dialogue. Stories do not exist without context. Making is a way of processing and understanding the world around us. It is because we can observe and learn from the world around us that we can conceptualize and realize something new.

The Golden Cage

What was the first thing you remember making?
A drawing of a cat with chunky legs. I was three years old. I decided that stick figures sucked, because real animals and people aren’t stick figures.

Clearly, XKCD has since proven me wrong, at least about the sucking part.

What have you made that you are most proud of?
That’s always changing, but most recently I am proudest of the illustrated woodcut book I made in Buenos Aires earlier this year. My work has always been based in stories. This one specifically is about a homing pigeon who leaves what he knows (the all-too-familiar pigeonhole) in the pursuit of some greater purpose and what he ends up learning along the way.

I love this project for several reasons, but perhaps the most important isn’t so much the work itself but the dialogues I was able to have around it. I carried a draft copy with me during my travels through Patagonia in Argentina and Chile. I didn’t speak Spanish before my trip and was slogging through the highs and very low lows of learning a new language as I explored this region. Luckily, I’m stubborn as hell and forced myself to think in Spanish, only read Spanish books, and talk to lots of people who were thankfully patient with my toddler-speak. I was in a city called Bariloche almost 2 months into my trip and told a new friend whom I’d been hiking with that I’d show her my book at the hostel. It so happened that when I did bring out the book that night, we were sitting at a packed table, where some people only spoke English and others only spoke Spanish and only a few understood both. I didn’t want to exclude anybody, so I had to tell the story in both languages as I turned page by page. I think I about gave myself a migraine, but it was a moment when I deeply felt the power of language either to exclude or include and the joy of finally being able to accommodate for others when so many other people had made that effort to include me when I didn’t understand.

You can read more about the book project on my blog.

Wood Block Print

Given an unlimited budget, what would you make?
I would put together the best dream team I could to build a school of creativity and hands-on workshops that teaches business principles; creative problem solving; the beauty of process (through art and other creative means); and the importance of questioning the purpose and value of what we do, in work or otherwise. I’m an idealistic person at heart, but I hate seeing how often well meaning initiatives and organizations fail because they lack the pragmatism to support their intended vision. I don’t believe that creativity only happens in chaos, or that logic is only for the linear thinker. And while it sounds cheesy, I do believe it’s possible for organizations of any sort to be beautiful inside and out. I also believe that business sense is something anyone would benefit from, whether they choose to work for themselves or for someone else. It starts with the kinds of dialogues and mindsets we encourage. It starts with how we teach and invest in the people in our communities. It starts with making information not only physically available but also mentally accessible, which means not perpetuating the archetypes of starving artists, useless degrees, getting a job just to have one, or that keeping busy–whether for the right reasons or not–is a virtue.

And since it’s an unlimited budget, I would further distribute it to people who equally love lifelong learning, have better ideas and stronger skillsets than I have, and the perseverance needed to champion their ideas and build dream teams both to grow and sustain these kinds of beautiful businesses.

Once all that was off the ground, in the hands of smarter people than myself who continuously teach others to be able to sustain and to grow as well, I would spend the rest of my life writing and illustrating lots of books. And baking pies and inviting friends over to eat these pies. And probably adopting lots of stray animals and playing matchmaker for them and my friends. So in the end, I would use an unlimited budget to make a sanctuary/matchmaking service for animals and people who like pies and books.