In another moment Alice was through the glass, and had jumped lightly down into the Looking-glass room. The very first thing she did was to look whether there was a fire in the fireplace, and she was quite pleased to find that there was a real one, blazing away as brightly as the one she had left behind. ‘So I shall be as warm here as I was in the old room,’ thought Alice: ‘warmer, in fact, because there'll be no one here to scold me away from the fire. Oh, what fun it’ll be, when they see me through the glass in here, and can't get at me!’
~Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll
Patrick Jacobs is brilliant in his masterful simplicity. Since the early 2000s, Jacobs has been creating diorama sculptures featuring views of natural environs. Walk up to a Jacobs oculus piece installed in an otherwise white wall of a gallery space, and one is instantly transported to a microcosm beyond the lens; in the foreground, Jacobs often places natural phenomena that owners of manicured gardens try hard to extract: mushrooms; stumps; rotting leaves; and dandelions. Further off in the distance, Jacobs’ universe opens up to green foliage, mountains, streams and roads. Without knowing the painstaking work Jacobs undertakes to sculpt each element in the diorama behind the lens, one could easily mistake the perfectly artificial composite scene for a photograph.
And yet, Jacobs’ technical skills allow him a freedom not often afforded other artists. Upon closer inspection, one realizes that Jacobs plays with distortion of scale, both with the foreground and the background as it edges toward the lens. One has the sense that one has an ant’s-eye view of the foregrounded natural objects, while also having the ability to levitate above and beyond, seeing far off into the distance. Each scene created by Jacobs is eerily devoid of activity, allowing the viewer to be serenely conveyed through the portal of Jacobs’ artistic practice.
In a time where many contemporary artists focus on abstraction, conceptual art, or performance, Jacobs has spent more than the last decade on figurative representation of relatively pretty natural elements (if one could refer to yellow dandelions and Fly Agaric mushrooms as such). However, Jacobs’ deceptively unassuming environments are subtly starting to feature some disconcerting subjects. The newest crop of oculi currently on view at the Pierogi Gallery features oozing slime molds in neon yellow, construction orange and Pepto-Bismol pink, and white puffy fungus balls. It is almost as if Jacobs is revealing a bit of his hand to his viewers, forcing one to confront the fact that he is portraying an entirely non-natural, non-existent place.
Jacobs is clearly experimenting with different mediums with much success these days. In addition to his oculi, Jacobs is exhibiting a series of traditional copper plate etchings created with master printer, Dan Waller, that feature abstract pattern-like renditions of fungal rings. Gallery visitors are also treated to Jacobs’ tour de force site-specific installation – Interior with View of the Gowanus Heights (2015). Jacobs has been working on this project for the past 2 years, attesting to the steadfast support and trust that Susan Swenson and Joe Amrhein, Pierogi Gallery’s owners, have shown in Jacobs’ development as an artist. Using photographs of a model made three years ago of a scene of Jacobs’ actual apartment, the room-size installation takes up the entire back part of the gallery in an area specifically created to house the work. Enter the area and one finds oneself staring into a fun-house version of an interior with windows overlooking the outdoors, complete with curved door, radiator and elongated furniture. One can literally start to see the reveal to Jacobs’ magic, with the contrasting differences in scale, perspective and dimension between the freestanding diorama sculpture of Gowanus Heights installed behind the windows and the interior of the apartment. Jacobs’ work, unsettling as it is peaceful, disturbing as it is tranquil, confirms that reality is in the eye of the beholder.
A quietly brilliant antidote to many trends in the contemporary art world, Patrick Jacobs’ latest work can be experienced at Pierogi Gallery until February 15, 2015.
Thanks to Susan, Joe, and Jen at Pierogi Gallery for their help. All photos, courtesy the Artist and Pierogi Gallery, unless otherwise noted.
The morning after (Turrell), I spent some time wandering around the village district of Honmura in Naoshima, taking in the historical townscape. Akin to a scavenger hunt, some of these old houses had been turned into permanent site-specific installations since 1997 when Naoshima’s town hall first identified an inhabitant who wanted to sell his old house and consulted if Benesse Corporation wanted to purchase it. A true experiment in installing site-specific artwork into real life, I was interested in seeing how art can effect change as a function of and in the everyday.
Out of the seven Art Houses, two of my favorites were Kadoya by Japanese digital artist, Tatsuo Miyajima (1998) and Gokaisho by Yoshihiro Suda (2006). Kadoya, meaning “Corner House”, was the first Art House to be created at one of the largest houses in the Honmura district, built about two centuries ago. For the project, Tadashi Yamamoto supervised the restoration, traditionally restoring the exterior, complete with charred boards and a tiled roof. Inside, there are two site-specific works by Miyajima: Sea of Time ’98 (1998) and Naoshima’s Counter Window (1998). For the former, a shallow pool was created in the main part of the house. LED counters counting from one through nine at various speeds were then submerged into the pool. Miyajima took the opportunity to involve the island inhabitants in this site-specific work; inhabitants with ages as varied as five and 95 set each counter with a speed of their liking, indicating how people uniquely view the passage of time. In a wall of another space in the house is Miyajima’s Naoshima’s Counter Window. This is a window made of liquid crystal display glass, with three large digital time counters. Set up to detect motion, the numbers on each pane move to reveal slices of the scenery outside as the numbers change.
Gokaisho is the realm of Yoshihiro Suda, a Japanese contemporary artist who has exhibited globally. (For a review of his show at the Asia Society in 2009-10, please click here.) The name of the house, Gokaisho (or Go Game Parlor), comes from the fact that island residents used to gather at the location of the house to play the game of go, a board game between two players using black and white stones. Usually Suda’s delicate sculpture work of natural flora is characterized by elegant and extremely subtle intervention. In this case, Suda decided to utilize the architectural space to prominently display his artwork.
Suda himself, together with restoration supervisor, Tadakatsu Honda, created a pair of identical rooms laid with tatami mats. Both rooms in the house face a serene, traditional Japanese landscaped garden in which a camellia tree is planted. In one room, Suda’s beautiful handcrated camellia blooms are strewn out on the tatami mats, with a bamboo stick demarcating the entrance to the space and the outer corridor of the house. The other room appears to be totally empty except for the tatami mats and the bamboo stick. Suda’s playfulness becomes apparent when I realize that the bamboo stick in the seemingly empty room has had Suda’s interventionist touch as it has been carved by him. For this project, Suda successfully works in pairs, questioning the slippery definitions of the “natural” and “artificial.”
For both houses, I had wonderful guides walk me through the houses and the site-specific works. At Kadoya, an intern from Benesse Holdings, Inc. explained the genesis of the Art House Project and Fukutake’s motto for the Naoshima project, “Use What Exists To Create What Is To Be.” The intern also articulated her own views on how art and culture can effect economic change. At Gokaisho, I met a lovely retiree who travels from Okayama prefecture by ferry to volunteer as an art guide throughout the various art sites. Standing by the camellia tree with a twinkle in his eye, he asked me what part of the house I thought Suda had worked on, thoroughly enjoying the big reveal. I was excited to have a chance to interact with these guides who were clearly passionate about Naoshima’s various art sites and art’s ability to rejuvenate and re-invigorate the island.
Special thanks to Mitsue Nagase of Benesse Holdings, Inc. and Yoshino Kawaura of the Fukutake Foundation for their kind assistance.