artist / participant
Visual-verbal puns and rhymes abound in Jessica Stockholder’s vibrant art. As things that once seemed familiar and ordinary take on new life, mirroring, echoing and dialoguing with each other in their unlikely new roles, they become imposing, assertive, cheeky, sly, teasing, alluring, whimsical and much more. Never, however, are they routinely pedestrian. Stockholder’s world is composed more by association than by conventional forms of analysis. Her works propose that, if we want to examine something, we need to scrutinize, probe, and scan carefully in an intent reading than goes beyond mere glancing and glimpsing: by peering out in this fashion we might, of course, see more than we bargained for: we might end up walking the plank, suspended on a platform above the depths, launched into the unknown – on a pier out at sea.
Sliding seamlessly from the literal to the metaphorical, from the physical to the figurative, so that it weaves a tissue of disjunctive connectives, Stockholder’s beguiling form of play has become a hallmark of a practice that now spans some three decades. Deeply serious yet light hearted, witty yet charged, her ludic touch seduces, solicits, coaxes, beckons, and entices its audiences, who frequently find themselves snared and then, on stage, without having been aware of their transition from passive observers to active participants. Such a disarming approach allows her art to “slip[s] across the surface by the most improbable syntagmatic routes, dragging a nebulous cargo of dissembled meaning in its wake”, as American critic Jack Bankowsky astutely notes.(1) To the artist, this method partakes of the realms of both conceptualizing and fabricating. “My work often arises in the world like an idea arises in your mind. You don’t quite know where it came from or when it got put together. Nevertheless it’s possible to take it apart and see that it has an internal logic,” she wrote: “I’m trying to get closer to thinking processes as they exist before the idea is fully formed.”(2) Unexpected couplings of the abstract (vivid colours and rich textures) and the identifiable (domestic and industrial materials) form the stuff from which both her autonomous sculptures and her site specific installations are made. Purposely purposeless, they all seem designed to facilitate, ease, aid, clarify or otherwise alleviate conditions that though they may not be precisely identifiable are self-evident: we embrace them as things that could belong to our everyday world, or that might seamlessly become part of our local environment.
Stockholder’s signature touch is manifest in the larger communal situations she creates through the ways they draw us, as we navigate their carefully choreographed mise-en-scenes, into a shared purview. Passage through their by-ways proves invariably invigorating: intriguing as opposed to reassuring, tonic rather than soporific. This effect derives from the fact that the contexts from which, and for which, her in situ works have been created assume a novel guise, an unexpected dimension, as a consequence of her intervention: scale changes, proportions contract, space elides, depth diminishes, sounds magnify, and light dissolves, bleaches, or bathes, whatever stirs within its compass. Fleeting shifts in our perception require that we reconfigure our preconceptions and presumptions – and so recalibrate what we thought we knew about this place. Testing the waters, so to speak, we may find we are not on solid ground as we supposed. Finding ourselves adrift instead of standing firm, we are constantly required to confront novel options and choices. Preferences and proclivities are called upon – and called into question. Integral if normally suppressed elements in a thought process, these intangibles now register themselves in the conscious mind, making themselves present for scrutiny along with the more tangible intangibles that impact the body – for air, light, and sound animate the pavilion, creating a vortex at whose dynamic centre we find ourselves.
Jessica Stockholder’s aesthetic is based in the time-tested attributes of sculpture: solids inhabit space, volumes describe forms, material is subject to gravity, stillness conjures motion. Although manifestly part of a modernist sculptural legacy that stems from Picasso, Schwitters, Rauschenberg and others, her work nonetheless betrays a painter’s sensibility: Matisse’s is perhaps its closest affiliate. Subtle, resonant, idiosyncratic yet instantly identifiable, Stockholder’s singular sense of colour is largely responsible for the undeniable sense of pleasure that radiates from her work, and that separates it from the work of the countless followers who have learnt much from her rigorous yet generous practice.
One of the most influential sculptors of her generation Stockholder, in recent years, has fashioned installations that allow visitors to utilize them to their own ends. As “Peer out to See” demonstrates, these temporary constructions become places for casual conversations between locals and visitors, for improvised games, and for dalliance - in short, they are places to hang out, and give oneself over to the flow and flux. Whether in Madison Square Garden in Manhattan in 2009 (with “Flooded Chambers Maid”), or in the luminous Palacio de Cristal in Madrid’s Buen Retiro Park, people drift and idle in similar ways as they make of their serendipitous encounters what they will. Deft explorations of the spatial, structural, social and cultural features of the given environment, Stockholder’s most ambitious works leave room for the myriad needs of a shifting audience who may never know to what extent it has become an essential part of the play.
Peer Out to See