While form & concept's doors are temporarily closed for the safety of our visitors and staff, the gallery is making all exhibition texts and curatorial statements available online as part of our new virtual exhibition guide. Read on for an inside look at the group show Consilience.

  • Consilience

    Curatorial Statement

    “Brian, everything isn’t everything,” the renowned fiber artist Sonya Clark once told Brian Fleetwood. Clark was one of Fleetwood’s MFA thesis advisers at Virginia Commonwealth University, where his experiments with unconventional sculptural materials sometimes perplexed his instructors. “But everything kind of is everything, if you think about it,” Fleetwood would respond. “You and I aren’t the same thing, but we’re both people. People aren’t the same things as cats and eagles and fish, but we’re animals. You just keep reducing, and we’re all connected.”


    This radically inclusive idea—that old taxonomies are arbitrary, and that they can be endlessly redrawn to form unexpected links—informs Fleetwood’s artistic practice and teaching efforts. It’s the reason that this exhibition evolved from a solo display of Fleetwood’s work to a group show featuring former teachers and students of the Santa Fe-based artist and professor. “We aren’t the same thing, but we’re all a part of everything,” he says.


    Fleetwood teaches at the Institute of American Indian Arts and maintains an active studio practice in mixed-media sculpture and craft jewelry, but he originally pursued a career in the sciences. Consilience is a term that encapsulates the artist’s intersectional ethos. It signifies the interweaving of principles from different disciplines, something that he has been up to since the earliest days of his artistic career. “If a thing is true, all fields, regardless if it’s the hard sciences or the humanities, will eventually converge,” says Fleetwood. 


    Follow this dimensional timeline of Fleetwood’s life, populated by the artists who have mentored him and learned from him. Stories from a recent conversation with Fleetwood highlight the confluence of forces that have shaped his remarkable artistic voice.


    - Jordan Eddy

    Consilience Co-Curator

  • Chris Ramsay, Oklahoma State University, 2002-2005

    Chris Ramsay

    Oklahoma State University, 2002-2005

    Chris was my jewelry teacher at Oklahoma State University. I went to Oklahoma State for ecology and evolutionary biology. I was doing an art minor because what I wanted to be was a scientific illustrator. I wanted to do the drawings of fossil reconstructions. As part of the art minor, I had to take a design class, and Chris was my teacher. That class was the first time I did any soldering or metalwork. I don’t do a whole lot of traditional, silversmithing-style jewelry anymore, but I was really fascinated by those processes.


    A lot of Chris’ work deals with the way things are connected, or interdependent. These globes are about endangered species and the human impact on the environment. Chris does make jewelry objects, but his main practice is making these sculptural objects using jewelry techniques. Even though his work isn’t necessarily about the body, it’s about the complex and nuanced way that things are interconnected, and the fact that ignoring those connections is to the detriment of everything.


    I changed majors because I was so fascinated, and then when I took a jewelry class and started making this work that went on the body, it just really clicked for me. I’m on the autism spectrum, and there’s always been this disconnect between my mind and body. For me as an artist, jewelry is a way for me to deal with that, to understand that connection between mind and body a little better. If it wasn’t for Chris Ramsay, I wouldn’t be making jewelry. I don’t know what I would be doing, but I certainly wouldn’t be making jewelry.


    - Brian Fleetwood,

    Consilience Co-Curator

  • Kenneth Johnson, Apprenticeship, 2006-2011

    Kenneth Johnson

    Apprenticeship, 2006-2011

    Kenneth and I are members of the same indigenous nation of Muscogee (Creek). After I graduated from Oklahoma State, I worked for a small native tribe in Northern Oklahoma, the Kaw Nation, in their environmental department. I got an internship there, and we did things like water testing for the tribe and managing their tribal lands for culturally important species. 


    After the internship ended, I moved to Santa Fe and ended up working for Kenneth. I apprenticed with him for almost six years. It was a great atmosphere, but we also worked incredibly hard. It was a joy to work that hard. We were doing interesting work, and Kenneth was so kind. His wife would feed me dinner, and his kids are so sweet and great. It was a really fantastic experience, and I seriously upped my technical game.


    Kenneth is almost entirely self-taught. He got his start making hair ties out of stamped coins and selling them in Old Town Albuquerque. He’d make a little money, and invest it back in his practice. I think that sort of discipline is one of the things that Kenneth taught me. That’s why I became a teacher, is because of Kenneth’s mentorship, and his guidance and kindness.


    - Brian Fleetwood,

    Consilience Co-Curator

  • Mark Herndon, Institute of American Indian Arts, 2009-2011

    Mark Herndon

    Institute of American Indian Arts, 2009-2011

    I left the apprenticeship with Kenneth to enroll at IAIA. I wanted to get a BFA, so that I could get an MFA and teach. What Mark taught me was that jewelry could be whatever you wanted it to be. As Mark’s student, I would ask, “Hey, would this work?” I don’t think he ever said no to me. If he didn’t know, he would say, “I don’t know, but we can try it.” That sort of experimental, process-based attitude led to the weirder stuff that I do.


    Mark’s work is experimental, but also highly technical. Doing the pattern-raised vessels is very, very difficult work. There are people who have seen his work and they’re like, ‘You can’t do that, that’s impossible.’ The layers want to pull apart when you form them like that. I think it’s a testament to Mark’s persistence and commitment to the idea that if it doesn’t work the first time, he figures out a way to do it. 


    That experimental approach to process really sort of tweaks those science parts of my brain. Basically everything that I make is an experiment. I remember being in grad school, and my advisers being like, “Well, you’ve done all this work, but you don’t have anything finished,” And I’m like, “Yeah, but you don’t understand all that I learned!”


    - Brian Fleetwood,

    Consilience Co-Curator

  • Susie Ganch, Virginia Commonwealth University, 2011-2013

    Susie Ganch

    Virginia Commonwealth University, 2011-2013

    While I was at IAIA, the Radical Jewelry Makeover project came through, which is where I met Susie to begin with. People in the community donate old jewelry to the project, and that jewelry is repurposed into new things. Being introduced to that idea of ethical practice, being aware of the connections and influence you have on the world as you’re working, has led to the work I’m making now. I’m thinking about how things are connected in unexpected ways. 


    When I graduated from IAIA and applied to grad school, I applied to five or six places. When Susie got my application, she called me and said, “I don’t know who else is accepting you, but we will do whatever we can to get you to come.” I got acceptance letters from everyone else, but they were just form letters. The fact that Susie was excited to have me was really what led me there. 


    Susie really introduced me to installation. It dawned on me, the relationship between jewelry and installation. Jewelry transforms the body, which then moves through a space. Installation transforms a space that is occupied by bodies as they consume or look at the work. I’m really interested in that relationship. I started to think of the body as an environment for the work, and how the work can live on the body in ways that are outside of the traditional forms—earrings, rings, stuff like that. Susie forced me to confront what jewelry is, and it really broadened my scope. 

    - Brian Fleetwood,
    Consilience Co-Curator

  • Carly Feddersen, Institute of American Indian Arts, 2013-2017

    Carly Feddersen

    Institute of American Indian Arts, 2013-2017

    Carly was the first IAIA student that I had from Beginning Jewelry until graduation. I went straight from VCU to a teaching job at IAIA. I remember when she was in my class, she was doing some of these stampwork transformation mask things, and we were talking about why she was in jewelry. She was like, “Well, I can’t do 2D because I can’t draw to save my life.” I was like, “What are you talking about? These are all drawings!”


    Carly’s work is so rooted in that historical practice, but it’s so innovative. These pieces that are based on transformation masks, the story bracelets that have narratives about historical cultural stories, the baskets that are handwoven and then cast in silver. The finger necklaces that are stones instead of actual fingers. That stuff is really exciting to me. I think her approach to material is so smart. 


    Carly helped me learn how to interact with students in an instructor-student relationship. I give students tools, but I also want them to feel free to use those in ways that are outside of the expectation. I think that’s just what Carly does naturally. She makes work that is both technically and conceptually excellent.

    - Brian Fleetwood,
    Consilience Co-Curator

  • Tania Larsson, Institute of American Indian Arts, 2014-2018

    Tania Larsson

    Institute of American Indian Arts, 2014-2018

    Tania is another early student that I had all the way through at IAIA. She has so much confidence and work ethic. Even if she doesn’t know how she’s going to get there, she knows exactly what she wants her work to do. 


    For me, Tania’s work is a little bit about how jewelry is a tool. She makes traditional forms like bracelets and things, but her tools are absolutely jewelry too. These things interface with the body too. They fit in the hand. That attention to the preciousness of the object and how it interfaces with the body, it’s a way to look at these forms in new and innovative ways. She was doing this as an undergraduate, which is a testament to how smart and creative and technically adept she is.


    The students that I’ve had at IAIA, their conceptual savviness and their work ethic is remarkable. I’m so delighted to get to work with the artists I work with at IAIA. It’s often a very difficult job, but it’s incredibly rewarding too, when you see something click and the student is really engaging with the work they’re doing in meaningful and innovative ways.

    - Brian Fleetwood,
    Consilience Co-Curator

  • JQ Nightshade, Caldera Ring, 2020

    JQ Nightshade

    Institute of American Indian Arts, 2015-2019

    One of the functions that jewelry has had historically, among cultures across the globe, is this power as an amulet. They’re these objects that are imbued with an idea or a purpose that’s kind of metaphysical. I think that’s what JQ really does with their work. JQ makes magical objects. 


    I personally don’t believe in luck, but I became fascinated with the idea of luck while I was in grad school. I started this “luck collection,” so I collect all sorts of amulets and things that are from different cultures. They’re often pendants or charms that are almost always worn on the body. For me, the idea of the object embodying luck is just a mnemonic to remind me to be cognizant of the opportunities that are around me. 


    JQ’s work does exactly that for me. One time JQ was setting a quartz crystal and it broke, but they just made it a part of the story of the piece. It made it so much more beautiful and meaningful than it would have if it hadn’t broken in the first place. That approach to work really illustrates the idea of luck being just prepared to take advantage of opportunity. It’s what JQ’s work is about, but it’s also the way that they approach making the work.

    - Brian Fleetwood,
    Consilience Co-Curator

  • Anangookwe Wolf, Institute of American Indian Arts, 2015-2019

    Anangookwe Wolf

    Institute of American Indian Arts, 2015-2019

    I think Anangookwe approaches jewelry in a really open way, kind of the way that I do. They have a much broader conception of jewelry than just metalsmithing. Their work is really about bodies. When Anangookwe was a student, I talked with them about the idea of the absent body, and I think that’s what their work is about. 


    Anagookwe makes these dress forms with an absent body. The adornment ends up being a stand-in for the person.That’s an approach to the idea of the relationship between jewelry and body in a way that I hadn’t thought of before. It’s not necessarily meant to live on a body, it’s meant to create a connection between the body that it is a stand-in for. That’s such a brilliant approach to jewelry work, and it straddles a line between installation and jewelry that is genius.


    I’m so proud of my students, and their willingness to engage conceptually without a bunch of prompting. I think a lot of it has to do with people coming from indigenous backgrounds with indigenous adornment practices. It’s not such a leap that jewelry is more than just a bracelet or a necklace.


    - Brian Fleetwood,
    Consilience Co-Curator