Monday, February 21, 2011

More real than field

 "Nothing has really happened until it's been described"
                                                                                             Virginia Woolf

  I don't know who first said "art = life", but I'll be the one snoring through their next lecture. That's right, I plan to show up just for the nap. This is meant more as a collaborative comment than an insult. The lecture will be art, the nap will be life. 
  Has anyone said that art is a "take" on life? Brooklyn based artist Patrick Jacobs "take" or takes can be seen at Pierogi in Williamsburg. In Familiar Terrain Jacobs has constructed dioramas of country landscapes behind temporary walls and viewed through small Claude glasses. Looking through the small openings, one sees fish-eyed expanses that confound with a double take of "is it real",  "is it a photograph"? The show has been mostly compared to Duchamp's Etant donnes for the use of diorama and specific viewing situation. The first difference is that Pierogi's multiple peepholes eliminate the creepy one person at a time closet of the Duchamp. Secondly, Jacobs leaves behind Duchamp's wet dream narrative. Or does he?
 The views display varying puns on a distancing from reality. Some are made in black and white, emphasizing the theatrically artificial. One gives us a view through another window, again winking back to Duchamp. The dioramas show fields with signs of civilization in the background and sometimes forefront mushroom bouquets, but more often have circular imprints in the foregound grass field. Etant donnes aims the two tiny eye holes directly at the female opening, but Jacobs' glass circles introduce us to a circle that represents a launching pad - more up from than in to. This infers an elevation to the simulacra of the landscape. Jacobs further "Americanizes" the effect by not envisioning a dreamscape rather than observing the effects of hyperreality.
 "Americanized" for a couple of reasons. The first referring to Umberto Eco's essay Travels in Hyperreality where an ahistorical U.S.A. apes and plasticizes an invented (and partly borrowed) mythology. Secondly, and truly more Americanly, Amercanized for celebrating the very brick and mortar of the effect itself. The punchline of the exhibit is a Penn and Teller style pulling back of the wizard's curtain where Jacob's cuts away a wall to show the model behind the wall - armature, toy landscape, beautifully crafted horizon lighting, and all. The revelation only adds to the awe of the portholes without leaving the viewer feeling duped. I don't think anyone would believe that pigeon footprints on the gallery's floor happened outside of artists' invention either.
  The pieces are successful not just because they are so "wow" illusionistic, but because they are about being so effectively illusionistic. Art is often successful not from channeling the visionary, but observing the granted. I am looking forward to the next time I see the work of the "visionary" William Blake, but I'll take another look, with wonder, at a field I might walk through on the way there.   

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