An Interview With: Jessica Sallay-Carrington
Photo: Eric Tschaeppeler
Jessica Sallay-Carrington is a Montréal-based (Vancouver-born) ceramic artist whose work explores the nuances of gender, sexuality, and identity in the modern world. She received her BFA in ceramics at Concordia University in 2014, and has produced art internationally since 2013, attending residencies in Italy, Denmark, and Greece, as well as different locations around Canada and the USA.
A large body of Jessica’s work consists of the beings she lovingly calls her “creatures,” a menagerie of anthropomorphic animals who have been liberated from the bonds of gender labels, body ideals, and the male gaze. Erotically posed and engaged in acts of shared and self-love, these mythical beasts openly explore their sexuality, their hybridized bodies signifying the diverse spectrum of personal identities. By harnessing the symbolism of animals to expose hidden aspects of human sexuality (and, indeed, the stories we harbour about human sexuality), Jessica’s creatures are joyful, unashamed emblems of gender equality. And when she’s not making creatures, Jessica also sculpts beautiful vulva cups, based on models of her own body, or those of people who have commissioned the functional, personalized ceramics (learn more about the vulva cups here). In short, in all that she creates, Jessica is dedicated to celebrating the strength and uniqueness of the body and the self.
ineffable had the chance to sit down with Jessica and talk with her about her creative process, inspirations, and themes. Read the interview below.
“Stroke My Hairy Legs” (2016)
“My Body My Choice” (2017)
When did you start creating art?
Since I could hold something in my hand. I come from a family of artists, so we were [always] making paintings and drawings. I started doing ceramics when I was nine or ten. I was doing classes with this woman, Suzy Birstein, who is now a good friend of the family. I talk to her all the time for ceramic advice.
What artists have inspired you throughout your life?
Beth Cavener is one of my favourite ceramic artists, and Tricia Cline, and Frida—oh, and Bjork. Those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head, but a lot of badass lady artists are pretty influential [to me].
In addition to artists, is there anything else that influences your art and style?
I’d say people who redefine femininity; people who push the boundaries of what it means to be feminine, and what that means in our society and culture today.
And [having] lots of sex with people [inspires me]. I’m a very sexually open person [who’s had] lots of sexual adventures, and I’m really open in talking about things like that. I’m inspired by hearing stories and telling stories about the strange [sexual] situations you can get yourself into.
“Eating Out” (2016)
Have you always enjoyed depicting animals in your art?
Yes. I have always made animals, and in the last four or five years, they’ve started to get more anthropomorphic. The more sexual I get, the more anthropomorphic they get.
What materials do you use?
All clay. I do a little bit of embroidery, if I’m travelling—it’s an easy road trip thing to do—but mostly just clay.
“Bits and Pieces #1” (2015) / “Bits and Pieces #2” (2015)
What was the first creature you ever created?
My first sexy rabbit was a little fat rabbit with a red corset, [and] I made it [sometime around] 2010. That was my first sculpture similar to the style I do today, but before that, I’d been making creatures—animals, at the very least—since I was ten or eleven.
What themes or messages does your work convey about gender and sexuality?
That gender doesn’t have to be this box that everybody goes into . . . There isn’t just “men” and “women” and “male”/“female” things; you can be female with male attributes. There’s all sorts of spectrums of trans and non-binary identities, so I’m just trying to push the boundaries of what gender means. I identify as female, and I have a female body, and I continue identifying as female, but I don’t necessarily look very feminine a lot of the time. I push those boundaries by saying, “Look, I can still be female and not look feminine.”
I grew up always being “the boy of the family,” and now I’m very much embracing that. And I’m trying to portray it in my art, with creatures [that have] body hair, for example . . . They’re super proud of their hairy armpits, and [they have] lots of pubic hair and leg hair. And it’s about sexual pleasure for her own happiness. So much about sex is for the male gaze, so the sex and masturbation [I portray] is for the pleasure of the creature—usually the female creature.
From your point of view, what’s the philosophical importance of conveying human sexuality through the bodies of hybrid animals?
[Animals] are less direct. If it’s humans fucking, then it’s humans fucking. But if it’s an animal element, then there’s another level. For example: I do a lot of rabbits. I live with rabbits, and they’re my favourite animal—I haven’t figured out exactly why, but it’s always been like that. [Rabbits are] at the bottom of the food chain. They’re prey, and everybody eats them, so people assume rabbits are these cute and cuddly things. They’re submissive, [and] you can control a rabbit super easily, but they do have this more aggressive side; it’s very hidden, but if you piss off a rabbit, they grunt and make sounds.
Yeah, I’ve seen Watership Down.
Yeah, yeah, we’ve all seen that one [laughs]. So there’s this general assumption of a weakness based on their species. If I make rabbits, I’ll sculpt them in very powerful positions, because it’s not what you’d normally expect. And I [often sculpt] them as female humans, [because] there’s this assumption where women are seen as weaker than men—or they’re [seen as more] submissive, in various ways, because of being female. So I’m trying to play around with that assumption.
“Unshaven” (2016) / [back view]
What kinds of reactions do people have to your art?
It depends on where I am. In Montréal, there’s the, “Oh, that’s interesting,” and a bit of shock and awe, but not really too much. But then when I was in Rome, I was working in a studio that was owned by the Polish Catholic Church, so my art got a lot of people going, “Oh . . .” I’ve also made art in this small town called Parrsboro, Nova Scotia—I did a residency there—and I watched quite a few little old ladies walk into the gallery, quickly look around, and really quickly walk out.
I had this really great conversation, actually, with someone in Nova Scotia. He was looking at the rabbit sculpture with the penis and boobs, and he was just like, “I’ve never seen art like this before. It’s weird, because . . . I masturbate, and you masturbate, and we all masturbate, but we don’t talk about it, and I’m looking at a sculpture that’s masturbating, and now we’re talking about it.” And it just completely blew his mind. I was just sitting there, like, “Yes, that is why I do this!”
What do you hope people will take away from an encounter with your creatures?
More openness about talking about sexuality. Because it doesn’t have to be something that we’re not supposed to [talk about]; like, many people think, “Oh, you’re not supposed to talk about the fact that you have a lot of threesomes,” or it should be “hush-hush.” But I think it’s something that we all experience—maybe not threesomes, but sex is something we have all come from—an act of sex is why we’re on this planet, and most people have sex at some point in their lives, and so I don’t think we should be so ashamed of it if we get enjoyment out of it.
“A Touch of Menstruation” (2016) / “Self Love” (2015)
Do you have any shows or any projects that we can look forward to in the near future?
Yeah. In terms of a show, maybe something with Centerfold—they organize these events in Montréal. I just submitted a bunch of work to have an online show. And then I’m just building a permanent space—not sure when that’ll be happening, but hopefully in the next few months. And next week I’m getting together with some friends to organize a show about genitals, sex, erotic art, that kinda thing, so [I’ve got] many things in the works, but nothing concrete as of yet.
Interview conducted by Hayley Evans
All images © Jessica Sallay-Carrington, reproduced with permission.
Photo: Eric Tschaeppeler