Sunday, February 22, 2009

Day 247: Urban excavation

from Jarrod Beck's Visitor's Center photo: Elizabeth Ellsworth (click to enlarge)

For the last two months artist Jarrod Beck has inhabited the Melville Gallery at South Street Seaport. I learned of his work through the Land Arts listserv, an online email list for people interested in the topic of Land Arts. Many people on the list are associated or have participated in the Land Arts of the American West program, including Jarrod. Usually the emails relate to work and events happening in the western United States, but the email about Jarrod's Visitor's Center was a welcome exception. It was described as, "ultimately creating a new pocket of the “American West” in downtown Manhattan, especially tailored for the epicenter of finance and culture." After receiving the email I visited the gallery on the 6th of February. At the time it was a cavernous space filled with rubble, splintering wood, reflective surfaces and hidden corridors. It was an incredible zone of deterritorialization. Yesterday, on the last day of his residency, the work and space had changed dramatically. The space was more open, tight, intentionally arranged, but still had the sense of wildness and elemental energy that it had several weeks ago. Sheets of hanging paper wave and come to life as the heat turns off and on. Objects seem simultaneously on display and patiently awaiting discovery. The longer you stay the more you unearth. Endless "scapes" exist within each piece's deep colors and textures. Mylar weaves through the wooden ceiling beams and cascade to eye level. Multiple interior spaces have been created through the hanging of single threads of string or large reflective pieces of Plexiglas, splattered with black. Plaster-cast specimens are offered on tables and suggest bones or fossils of various size and form.

The life span of the work had a dynamic unfolding, reaching completion only hours before the opening. For two months the work, space, artist and visitor had a responsive relationship of informing and deforming one another. Jarrod seemed pleased with the outcome. He commented that the opportunity to have the work be publicly on display while being continuously in process had been productive.

What Jarrod created within the space defies definition, and it might be too soon after completing the work to really know what he has made. In response to the experience, I'll offer up a quote from Elizabeth Grosz's book, chaos, territory, art " is not frivolous, an indulgence or luxury, an embellishment of what is most central: is the most vital and direct form of impact on and through the body, the generation of vibratory waves, rhythms, that traverse the body and make of the body a link with forces it cannot otherwise perceive and act upon. This explains art's cultural or human universality and ubiquity: it is culture's most direct mode of enhancement of intensification of bodies, culture's mode for the elaboration of sensations, and thus culture's most intense debt to the chaotic forces it characterizes as nature. While there is no universal art, no art form, no music or painting, that appeals everywhere in the same way, it is also true that there is no culture without its own arts, without its own forms of bodily enhancement and intensification."

We look forward to inviting Jarrod into a collaborative dialogue online for Extreme Media Studies in March, more info on that coming soon.

Read more about Jarrod's work on the LMCC site.

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