Installation: Figge Museum of Art 2022


The electricity is still on. There must be life. But things seem to be slowly falling apart. It is difficult to know if these are ruins or works in progress.

Breakfast on Pluto (The Figge Museum of Art, October 2021 – February, 2022) is an installation juxtaposing found notes embossed on metal foil with repurposed art and studio detritus, all activated by video, movement, and light. The viewer experiences islands of light in a dark gallery, fragments of the familiar among the strange, and an uncanny sense of past and present simultaneously.

In the midst of a pandemic and the chaos of current international politics and geophysical destruction, this installation considers the fluidity of self, dislocation, and border crossings: presence/absence, public/private, poverty/privilege, colonized/colonizer. In these layered worlds of chance encounters, I look for those slippages of
language, materiality and visual experience through which we might re-locate our own identity.

catalog downloadable pdf




In workshops throughout the area participants were asked to visualize or write about a personal space where they took refuge during quarantines – it could real, imaginary, or it could be “on Pluto”. Working on sheets of metal foil, nearly a hundred of images were then attached to the walls of a 13-foot domed shrine-like structure. A monument to the lived pandemic experiences of this community. The dark interior is punctuated by a pattern of lights coming through tiny dark holes piercing the domed room. Like a night sky, it creates a space for contemplation, perhaps to imagine a universe without pandemics and dire planetary emergencies. Pandemic Planet help the community share and process it’s experiences. Thank you to all our participants!

This project was conceptualized by the artist but then fully developed by Vanessa Sage, Figge Associate Curator, and Laura Wright, Brian Allen and the entire staff of the Figge Education and Outreach Departments, along with Terry Rathje and Rod Bradley, who assisted in the design and construction the structure.

In Conversation: Jane Gilmor and art historian Joy Sperling

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Rudely rotating knobs project from two holes in Pathetic’s polka dotted black wall. Pitiful’s barely open door reveals two spotlighted crocheted doilies mimicking the form of a white metal snowflake on the floor outside. With both absurd humor and tragedy, we laugh at someone else’s fragile attachment to the physical and emotional status quo.

Once the career monograph, the archival web site and the university teaching are finished, only big piles of stuff remain. Mining 40 years of unfinished works and collected materials, the studio has become an archeological site. I’ve set out to re-purpose the sluggish build-up and undermine my old ways of doing things. I need to stir things up.

As in my recent social practice, Pathetic and Pitiful reference cultural issues like migration, labor, and gender identity but on a more personal level.

Shifting Ground – Outro Chão: Cedar Rapids, 2019/ Evora, Portugal 2022

A socially engaged immigrant outreach project about the creative process and cultural sustainability, dealing with the shifting notions of home and personal identity that come with multiple immigrant relocations.

Organized by The Iowa Ceramic Center and Glass Studio (ICCGS) and international artist collective CREATURA with funding from The City of Cedar Rapids, and a grant from The Iowa Arts Council, Shifting Ground is an immigrant outreach project working with Hispanic youth and recent Central African Immigrants, using art making and the creative process as a vehicle for learning about each other (past and present) and for finding a sense of place within a new culture, while also retaining pride in one’s heritage.

The Shifting Ground workshops focus on the shifting notions of home and identity that come with multiple relocations. The workshops aim to give visibility to recent immigrants to the Cedar Rapids area. 

Shifting-Ground CR Power Point:

Participants in Shifting Ground were honored at the completion of their workshops during a public exhibition and multicultural celebration at The Cherry Center Place in NewBo, Saturday July 27th, 1- 4pm, 2019. The Iowa Ceramic Center and Glass Studio, The Cherry Building and the mayor of Cedar Rapids hosted this public celebration with an installation of artwork and projected video workshop documentation, accompanied by international food and music from The St. Paul’s African Nationals Choir.


  • To give visibility and voice to local immigrants through workshops using personal histories, dialog, and art making
  • To promote creative thinking and use of the imagination as survival tools
  • To promote socially engaged public art that benefits both the local community and those marginalized from it.
  • To promote cultural and social sustainability
  • To become a prototype for future collaborations between immigrant populations and institutions in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

CONCEPT: The workshops are based on Hannah Arendt’s notion of vita activa,the active life, in which she distinguishes between a life of labor, as only those activities necessary to sustain life, and a life of work as those activities humans do to transform their surroundings through fabrication and creative design. We introduce this idea at a very basic level through group dialog and storytelling.

CONCEPT DEVELOPMENT: Each participant will select a memory and an object related to a talent/work they have in creating/making things. For example, one of us might have a talent for embroidery and remember learning that skill from a grandparent in their childhood home. Though the labor of daily existence is necessary to survive, this kind of work may make life more meaningful. Sharing such life stories, we will get to know one another individually and culturally – both past and present.

THANK YOU TO All of our immigrant participants, workshop volunteers and community partners, without whom this project would not have been possible!

Funding for Shifting Ground was provided by the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, the City of Cedar Rapids Visual Arts Commission, Cedar Rapids Bank and Trust, and Mount Mercy University, Janalyn Hanson-White Gallery, The Iowa Ceramic Center and Glass Studio.The University of Évora, Portugal. The CHAIA – Centre for Art History and Artistic Research, the City of Évora, Portugal, will provide funding for the Portugal portion of the project in 2021. Community Partners include St. Paul’s Methodist Church (Pastor Sherrie, Pastor Daniel, Michelle La Compte, Jade Hart), Immaculate Conception Catholic Church Hispanic Ministries, Trees Forever, United We March Forward, Mount Mercy University, The Cherry Building, and Legion Arts/ CSPS Hall

What is a Socially Engaged Art? Social practice focuses on social engagement, inviting collaboration with individuals, communities, and institutions often with the aim of improving society.

In my studio mining forty years of unfinished work and collected materials, I’ve set out to re-purpose the sluggish build-up.      

I have categorized piles. One is a stack of old found notes and drawings transferred to soft metal. Some of these are drawings by the disenfranchised people I work with in my socially engaged practice, some are domestic, didactic signs and directions found in the abandoned buildings or given to me.

A decade ago, a biology professor friend, Frank Jazsh, after cleaning out his office, left eight boxes of approximately two thousand out-of-print educational transparencies on the floor outside my office.  Two months later after retiring from teaching, he died of a heart attack while fishing his favorite trout stream in Yellow Stone.

I keep those transparencies close by on a table where I fiddle with my stacks and piles. Gradually I began intuitively layering the transparencies over the old metal notes creating a sort of investigation of those slippages and entanglements of language and visual experience through which we try to locate meaning. These layered worlds seem to explore the dualities and fluidity of identity, dislocation, and border crossings: substance/ absence, matter/spirit, microscopic/cosmic, poverty/privilege .

The search here is for some unspoken connection in these random collisions.

For me they embody the peculiar, ridiculous, and meaningful (less) qualities of most things human

Jane Gilmor: Statement August 2018

Two months ago, driving my little KIA back from a California residency, the Great Salt Lake appeared. Loaded down with a new series of wearable whatevers, I visualized dragging myself across this salt desert with a small band of women, all of us wearing versions of my latest getups.

Back home an email from Prompt inviting me to create a visual response to Rachel Yoder’s essay The Traditional Room.

An amalgam of cultural critique and intuitive response to personal experience, my Containers for the Self are wearable structures investigating those entanglements of image, language and space through which we try to locate our own identity. Depriving the wearer of touch, vision, and mobility, they explore the dualities of presence/ absence, public/private, poverty/privilege, or female/male through found materials and forms. The search is for some unspoken connection in these random collisions.

The following is Rachel Yoder’s essay “Prompt”:

Rachel Yoder

 The Traditional Room

The double skirt began as a regular, single, knee-length skirt, worn in the traditional manner in a traditional sort of room. However, there were those who came to object to such a skirt and the type of women who wore it. “They routinely hitch it up and pin the cloth to form abbreviated skirts,” the newspapers quoted. “It is waved to and fro in the manner of can-can dancers. See how the women flit on stage or sidewalk in their skirts with all parts of their bodies showing: their shins and the fleshy parts above their knee caps. Elbows. Their necks.” There was a great exodus of women to another room in which skirts were actually banned and alternative modes of clothing supported. There such things as parachutes, umbrellas, kites, flags, and sails flourished as forms of fashion.

However, back in The Traditional Room, the regular, single, knee-length skirt was legislated into a double skirt, two knee-length skirts worn at the same time, the outer skirt meant for the lifting and the covering of the face in moments of great blushing or fear or what have you. Some also viewed this as a gesture of piety or modesty, or pious modesty, and thus it became a religious act. Sects grew up in which the double skirt was worn continuously, pulled up round the faces of shy, pretty women. The act itself, however, of raising one’s double skirt was viewed by believers as overtly pornographic and so the upper skirt was raised privately before a pious woman went out, in her bedroom or perhaps even in the closet of her bedroom or even in the far recess of her long closet: this is where she took the hem between her fingers and floated it to her face and, in some cases, up over her head and down her back in a long veil. The double skirts grew.

Whole schools of women walked the streets dragging miles of cloth in their wake. On hot days, those prone to asthma or panic suffocated from the fabric pulling against their faces and then fell. Others crouched at their sides and felt for the heads of the fallen. The pious women could not see while wearing the double skirts but this, they felt, was a perfect sort of holiness. They pulled at the double skirts covering the faces of the women lying on the sidewalks until they could stand and breathe.

The double skirt swept up with it dead leaves and grass clippings, glinting shards of glass and lost earrings. Sometimes even small animals such as lice, flies, frogs, or grasshoppers were taken into the double skirts and at night, when the women pulled the skirts from their faces, the plagues were invoked in their bedrooms. Swarms ate holes through their wardrobes. They could not go out for fear of being seen. Others were left empty eyed on their beds, a barrage of flattened and rotting frogs at their feet. The walls moved with flies. Lice hid in their hair. Some had caught up the carcasses of birds and left streaks of brown blood in their sheets.

The schools of women on the streets thinned. Those who remained refused to remove the double skirts from their heads. Great sores formed on their faces and bodies from the rubbing. Others, on seeing the thinning of the schools, insisted on cladding their pets in double-skirts, and soon dead dogs and horses wrapped in lengths of fabric dotted the countryside. Pious hysteria became a diagnosable condition and various women were sent away to other rooms wherein they might receive treatments of moist, diaphanous cloths.

A rogue band of women became possessed of incomprehensible urges. They felt the times were slipping from them and, in an effort to regain control, crafted vast insurgent skirts which they used to control the weather, flying them from massive poles. Prevailing winds no longer prevailed. Great clouds formed and moved over land masses then dropped ice on the land. In a final statement, the rogue women launched skirts to space stations and deployed them over huge swaths of Earth.

Monstrous shadows which conjured monstrous mothers blinded The Traditional Room and other rooms both like and unlike it in darkness. De-greened wastelands spread. The Earth wore skirts of dust for many years, and the pious women migrated to these deserts. There, after many centuries, they discarded their double skirts and became naked, having forgotten their origins. They were not ashamed.

Rachel Yoder is the author of award winning novel Nightbitch, Doubleday, 2021, which has been translated into 14 languages. It was named best book of the year by Vulture and Esquire and recognized by the PEN/Hemmingway Award and shortlisted for the McKitterick Prize. She is a founding editor of draft: the journal of process which published first and final drafts of stories, essays, and poems along with author interviews about the creative process. Her essays and stories have appeared in The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Paris Review Daily, and The Sun Magazine, among many other print and online publications. She directs literary programming for the Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City and holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Iowa as well as an MFA in Fiction from the University of Iowa.