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Julia Betts was born in 1991 in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania and is currently based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 2014, Betts graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a BA and, in 2017, graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design MFA Sculpture program. At the University of Pittsburgh, Betts was recognized with six awards and two undergraduate research grants. After earning her BA in 2014, Betts exhibited in numerous solo shows at venues including Second Sight Studio (Columbus, Ohio), and Unsmoke Systems (Pittsburgh, PA). In addition, she completed an artist-in-residence programs at Second Sight Studio (OH) and Bunker Projects (PA). In 2015, she began at the Rhode Island School of Design Sculpture department. There, she focused on the performative aspect of her practice through performance centered coursework at both RISD and Brown University. She graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in spring 2017 leaving with awards including the SLH Young Fellowship. Since graduating, she has participated in group exhibitions in Brooklyn, NY at Microscope Gallery, Reart Space, and Flux Factory. In 2018, she will be awarded the Peripheral Vision Publication Fellowship, an independent press devoted to critical dialogues about American contemporary art.
Betts creates situations that hold onto spaces or things. Thereby, her artistic practice lies at the intersection of installation, performance, and sculpture. Labor and time accumulate materially leaving traces such as giant black stains in Screens or a innumerable tiny rips in Picking, Bleeding. Spaces and objects artifact personal interactions and carry the residue of a lived experience.
Early work including Detritus and Skin Blurs investigated psychological discomfort within a body. These ideas evolved to question the relationship of a body to its surroundings in pieces including Screens, Picking, Bleeding, 2015-2017, and Unmaking and Making Self-portrait. Walls became symbolic for skin, but also mental, emotional, and social settings. In working with domestic spaces, she questions, what is the boundary between hostility and nest? Psychological settings within a person or place and can be transmitted viscerally and visually.
Theoretical threads running through her work include Sarah Ahmed’s “touchy feely” with Jane Bennett’s “vital materialism”. In Sarah Ahmed’s concept “touchy feeling,” more physical interaction with an object causes more attachment.The attachment is both physical and emotional. Physical sensations are innately tied to emotional states. But, when does repetitive, meditative labor of care shift into obsessive compulsion? Betts’ work speaks to an overwhelm of touch. In Betts’ overall body of work, overwhelm is method to engage, lull, distract, and repel the viewer. What is the boundary between attraction and repulsion?
A recurrent subject is when one is overwhelmed by finding herself too much or too little for a situation despite ritualistic procedures and minimalist categorizations. In addition, materials themselves are unsuited to their tasks. Material are unruly and pushed to their maximal limits. My own authorship is challenged by material initiative. In this way, Betts' work is tied to the theorist Jane Bennett and the ideas from Bennett's work “Vibrant Matter” in which materials have intention and power. For example, in 2015-2017, organic growth overcomes artistic intention when interior rot arises and transforms her work.