Interview with Asher Jay
By : Compathos
Asher Jay is an artist, designer, speaker, activist, writer and conservationist. She is a staunch supporter of animal rights, wildlife conservation, and sustainable development, and she uses all her creative faculties to spark engaging visual discourses with audiences across the globe about contemporary ecological and humanitarian concerns. She is the founder of her very own country, The United Flotsam of Garbagea, and she makes public appearances as Garbagea's Dump Dictator for Life and Ill-Will Ambassador to educate audiences of various age groups about the cultural mores and civic obligations embraced by citizens of her plastic provinces. Additionally, Jay produces works for fundraisers under the EnAct (Environmental Activism) banner. She also directed, illustrated and produced an animated short, Transparent Sea, which was awarded "Honorable Mention" at the Blue Film Festival in Monterey. The film has since been amended to include hard facts about plastic consumption for 5 Gyres, who intend to use it as their Ban the Bag PSA.

Her most recent undertaking was a collaborative, global, educational art installation, Message in a Bottle, which was launched on June 8th 2012 (World Ocean's Day) by Sea Speak Sphere, a unified visual platform that Jay developed to foster creative dialogues about marine conservation.

Jay's work and interviews have appeared on Time Out NY, Mission Blue, ScienceLine, Scientific American, See 7 Magazine, Mother Nature Network, Eco Chick, ABC News Local, Green Upgrader, and on several NGO's blog feeds (5 Gyres, Thinking Animals, GWC, USNC UN Women, etc.).

Compathos: Asher - tell us a little about your background as a fashion designer and how you made a dramatic shift to the role of artist activist.

I had a tumultuous relationship with fashion and it took me three years of studying it to finally embrace the label "fashion designer." I did not feel apparel construction in my veins the way my classmates did. It was only in my senior year that I felt connected to this industry; I had this creative breakthrough over summer that made it all very apparent to me. Suddenly, I could see how things fit together, how a two-dimensional yard of fabric could become a gorgeous, raglan sleeve, kimono top or a button-down blouse with a dropped yoke. I realized design was about innovation, knowing your raw materials and being head over heels in love with the act of creation. I also figured out that the academic principles were nothing more than guidelines to take into consideration when conceptualizing the silhouettes for a narrative.

You have to know the rules in order to break them well, so I stuck with it and graduated with a BFA in fashion and textile design. I have always loved brainstorming and problem-solving, moving elements of a constantly growing visual vocabulary around in my head and that helped me enjoy resolving my Pret-a-Porter collections. Fashion is freeing; albeit it needs to be determined around the functional limits of the human form. Of all the things I cherished about Seventh Avenue, I loved working on prints and color the most. It wasn't long before I started an eponymous brand that utilized surplus material from various design firms and mills - from dye-lot rejects to industry excess - to manufacture a line of custom items that could never be replicated in the exact permutation of fabrication. I also spun each collection around an important "green" or socio-economic memo, using the silhouettes and tailored details to deliberate marginalized concerns or factions.

I created a few one-of wears onto which I silkscreened wildlife sketches; and one of my clients requested me to give her the original artwork that I had laid over the side-seam of a shift dress she purchased. She said to me, "That is exactly what I want to see on the wall of my study! Do you sell the image by itself?" There was no looking back after that. I began drawing, painting, working with found objects, sketching on napkins, cup holders, notebooks - and digitally on my laptop. Graphic design quickly became a huge passion and I learned it on the job, because after a while, you begin to understand that all creative disciplines emerge from the same source. If you can speak the root language, you can learn all the dialects it gives rise to. I am still learning, still expanding. I doubt my curiosity curve is ever likely to plateau.

Ecological themes have always inspired me and been evident in my efforts from the early days. I actually studied Environmental Science prior to fashion, and held a soft spot for zoology, botany and chemistry. However, life happened; and I wound up on the path I did on account of a modeling stint in my teen years. My story makes perfect sense to me now, although at the time it seemed a string of unclear, spontaneous occurrences. Now, I am exactly where I need to be and I'm lucky that it coincides with where I want to be.

Every cell in my frame is in love with our blue-green marble and the wildlife it hosts. The wild is an implicit part of my physical anatomy and soul. The sum of my parts are much bigger than me, because the story of being human includes the story of the universe, the earth, the single-celled life forms that burgeoned in the primordial soup, the dinosaurs, the mass extinctions, all the way to the dwindling count of rhinos, tigers and tuna in the present day. We are all-encompassing; for within us we hold all the problems, all the solutions, and all of life; we are not separate from any of it, and every time we destroy something we deem discrete from us, we kill a part of ourselves.
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