• Jessica Vaughn: Our Primary Focus Is To Be Successful
    Jessica Vaughn
    Meg Onli
    Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), Philadelphia
    Feb 26, 2021 to May 09, 2021
    University of Pennsylvania-Institute of Contemporary Art

Jessica Vaughn, "Our Primary Focus Is To Be Successful" (still), 2019. 2-channel, color digital video installation, sound, loop, 7 minutes, 37 seconds. Courtesy the artist and Martos Gallery, NYC

With a multidisciplinary studio practice rooted in research, artist Jessica Vaughn procures and manipulates discarded and mass-produced materials to create work that models complex histories of place, production, and use. Within this exhibition, a survey of new and recent work, Vaughn considers the intersections between late twentieth- and twenty-first-century work culture, modular architecture’s promise of malleability and universality, and the marginalized workers who have been rendered invisible within these workspaces. Vaughn transforms and repurposes employee training videos, career exploration tools, government occupational reports, and workplace lighting fixtures into photographs, sculptures, paintings, and video that urge us to reconsider the systems that shape the spaces we work. Presented within Our Primary Focus Is to Be Successful are the material legacies of these histories not only as they existed in the past, but as they persist today.

Jessica Vaughn received a bachelor’s of humanities and arts from Carnegie Mellon University and a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Pennsylvania. Encompassing photography, sculpture, and installation, Vaughn's practice is based in an analysis of the manner in which materials inhabit a space, the way they move, change hands and are discarded, and thus invokes broader social contexts. Interested in the accumulation of used materials in urban environments, she often incorporates found elements procured from city institutions and public places. Vaughn was a participant in the Whitney Independent Study Program, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Workspace Program. Selected exhibitions include: Turnover Rate, Patron Gallery, Chicago (2019); In Polite English One Disagrees by First Agreeing, Dallas Contemporary (2019); Exit Strategy, Emalin Gallery, London (2018); and Receipt of Form, Martos Gallery, New York (2017). Vaughn lives and works in Brooklyn.

Meg Onli is the curator of Our Primary Focus Is To Be Successful and she is the Andrea B. Laporte Associate Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania. In 2017, she curated the exhibition Speech/Acts, which explored experimental poetry and how the social and cultural constructs of language have shaped black American experiences. She is the recipient of a 2012 Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant; a 2019 Transformation Award from the Leeway Foundation; a 2014 Graham Foundation research grant; and is currently a Warhol Foundation Curatorial Fellow. Recently, she curated the three-part exhibition series Colored People Time (2019). Onli is currently working on a retrospective of the Los Angeles-based artist Ulysses Jenkins.

The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) at the University of Pennsylvania is a free, non-collecting museum that cultivates an environment for risk-taking through exhibitions, programming, and publications. ICA advocates for the artists, research, and dialogues that resonate today, and since 1963, have welcomed the challenge of finding new ways to address multiple publics and be a responsive institution. Since organizing Andy Warhol’s first solo museum show in 1965, recent projects such as Barbara Kasten: Stages (2015); Cauleen Smith: Give It or Leave It (2018); and Colored People Time (2019) have elevated the work of emerging and underrecognized artists, and have allowed ICA to deeply engage with audiences through relevant and thought-provoking programming. It is this continued commitment to both accessibility and risk-taking that prompted New York Times art critic Roberta Smith to declare ICA “among the most adventuresome showcases in the country where art since 1970 is concerned…”