WOT x CAS Artist in Residence interview: Jessica Tanto

By Ash Panjwani

(Supplied: Jessica Tanto)

Jessica Tanto is a visual artist and researcher based in both Jakarta and Naarm, who took part in a joint artist-in-residence program with Connection Arts Space (CAS) and the Way Over There Collective (WOT). During her residency, Jessica explored different habits and isms surrounding sleep, through her project Sleepy Scent. Jessica’s medium was her website, where volunteers could submit their own experience with sleep. These submissions were then displayed on the website and at the CAS gallery.

Sleepy Scent
combines psychology with art, as Jessica looks inward at her own sleeping habits, and then turns her attention to the personal experiences of others in relation to sleep. In particular, she looks at comfort objects such as blankets and childhood toys, that soothe people as they engage in the process of falling asleep.

As a visual artist, the art you produce and the mediums you work with varies significantly. What art did you focus on producing during your residency?

My artwork in the residency was an open-ended website, where I focused on the main themes of sleeping and comfort, and the intersection between the two. For me personally – this is the comfort objects we bring to sleep. I focused mainly on the comfort objects that people have kept with them from childhood through to adulthood. I have this website where people can submit their stories about the comfort object that they bring to sleep. The objects from the submissions are put up on the website, and were also exhibited at the CAS gallery during my solo exhibition.

“The experience made me more confident that in future, I can do this by myself. I can proceed with an art idea even if there isn’t professional experience around me.”

Where did you find inspiration for Sleepy Scent?

I found inspiration from my own sleeping habits. As a focus for my residency, I wanted to engage in something that I could physically visit. Because of the pandemic I couldn’t physically visit places outside of my house excessively, so I tried to look for something that I engaged in every day – which is sleep. When I examine my own sleep, I find it really interesting that I actually sleep every night with seven different bolsters that I’ve kept since childhood, and they’re all in different shapes. The smallest one I got when I was born, and then there’s a medium-sized one I got when I turned 12, I also have an adult-sized one – they’re all different sizes. I always knew that keeping seven bolsters around someone while they sleep wasn’t normal – it wasn’t something that everyone did. Almost all Indonesians use bolsters when they sleep, but not like seven different bolsters. I found my own sleep habits really interesting, so I decided to take that as inspiration and question whether other people also have quirky sleep habits that bring them soothing feelings.

A submission from ‘Sleepy Scent’. (Supplied: Jessica Tanto)

Do you have a favourite submission from collection?

Yeah, I do have one favourite one. Someone submitted their childhood blanket that they still use up until today, as a young adult. It shocked me to see what the blanket looks like now, because it’s just like a piece of string that’s wobbled into like, this alien shaped figure. But it somehow feels really safe, and really warm and fuzzy. And what made me really interested in that object is that they mentioned that there was an activity they engage in with the object that gives them that sense of security, which is to rub the blanket on their face to self-soothe and fall asleep.

What was the most valuable thing you gained from your WOT X CAS residency?

The most valuable lesson I learnt was that I can actually work on my own – independently. Because I go to art school, I have professors and teachers that guide me through the process of working on my art. But this residency was the first time I proceeded with an art idea – a project – all by myself without the support and validation of professors. The experience made me more confident that in future, I can do this by myself. I can proceed with an art idea even if there isn’t professional experience around me.

Mock-up of a bed, used in her solo exhibition as a projector screen to display both her own and others’ different sleep objects that were submitted through her website. (Supplied: Jessica Tanto)

It sounds like the residency has helped you trust your intuition when it comes to executing an art idea, would you say this is true?

Yes, I think I’m one stepping stone closer to that. I don’t think I am fully there, [that I] fully trust myself. Like, I still have to check [for feedback] with Lara and others at CAS, but when I receive positive feedback, I become more confident in my intuition.

Now that your residency is over, what are you hoping to explore in your art practice? What are your plans for the future?

I still have two more years to go in my Bachelor of Fine Arts/Arts. In my arts degree, I’m taking Psychology and Anthropology. So after I graduate, I’m planning to work as a public programmer for public arts initiatives, or like any art space, because I really, really like making programmes and workshops that involve community, people and art. I really love making platforms that enable dialogue. I’m also interested in exploring different methodologies. Because I take Psychology, Fine Arts and Anthropology – each of them have different methodologies – and so I’m excited to see how I can play with methodology as a form of art.

Sleepy Scent is available to be viewed at https://www.jessicatanto.com/current-project/comfort-object-project.


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