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Sticky, Droopy, Slumpy & Peely
or
“Inchoaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaate!” (as if yelled into a canyon)

by Katie Bethune-Leamen

Exhibition essay for Sticky, at YYZ Artists’ Outlet, September 2008

 

There’s a Kids In The Hall1 skit that has stayed with me. In it, two voyageurs paddle their canoe through the carpeted halls of a cube farm, trapping business people, and skinning them for their suits, later selling “some Fendi, and some Perry Ellis, Hugo Boss, and of course, many, many Armani” to a men’s clothing shop2. To my mind, this sketch is so memorable (and funny) as it introduces a dissonant element into a known quantity, and offers a surprising inversion, presenting expensive suits as pelts—something that can be peeled off, and traded in.
           

Preparing to go to one of the Banff Visual Art Centre’s celebrated residencies in the summer of 2008, Toronto artist Kelly Jazvac had considered amassing materials with which to work by peeling off the transformative adhesive vinyl she’d had manufactured, and which she’d used to wrap a Pontiac Sunfire, altering it into a purposely feeble emulation of a Porsche 911, for a work commissioned by the Toronto Sculpture Garden—Upgrade (2007). Carefully amalgamated from a combination of vector graphics and photographic images, this shiny sticker pastiche snugly fit the car, yet only loosely created the semblance of the ostensibly superior vehicle printed on its surface.
           

However, instead of de-nuding her sculpture, Jazvac elected to harvest cast-off and misprinted vinyl from the fabricator of her car wrap, bundling these large vestiges, remnants, and scraps of advertisements and other commercial jobs, and shipping them off to Alberta. The fabricator’s condition was that she could not use any recognisable elements contained within these rejected bits; therefore all logos, distinguishable imagery, or identifiable features had to be pared down or eliminated by the artist.
           

The theme of the Banff residency Jazvac attended was Figure in a Mountain Landscape, and it presented the opportunity for participating artists to consider the history, and engage in the practice of plein-air landscape painting, in whatever way they chose to interpret that parametre.
           

Jazvac self-identifies as a sculptor, and though fluidity of practical boundaries is encouraged in contemporary art practice and discourse, they still exist on formal and conceptual levels. Many of Jazvac’s contemporaries who are painters—such as Figure in a Mountain Landscape participants Elizabeth McIntosh and Patrick Howlett—speak freely of formal concerns, shifts in colour and balance with more abandon, candour, and focus than typically found in sculptors and other contemporary artists who don’t paint. Jazvac explained that “being amongst painters' eyes was one of the interests”3 she had in being in Banff, and in their midst she has shifted her practice to a new range of formal and practical considerations.
           

Invited to work “plein air”, Jazvac tellingly chose to engage with, think about, and research a nearby burnt-out forest, land slides and slumps as impetuses for the work she made.4 These landscape elements are moments of natural change that can be viewed as failures or misfortunes, and certainly are generally positioned as “disasters”, but which act as important forces of renewal. Currently, when presented in popular media, they also allow for a collective mea culpa as we observe the seemingly intensifying and accelerating rates of change we have wrought.         
           

Such moments were the sweethearts of previous centuries’ romance with the notion of the sublime; Longinus’s 1st century AD tract on the subject, On the Sublime, was translated into French and then English during the 17th century, and by the 1800s, the notion of the sublime became integral to the practice of both viewing and painting the landscape—themselves inseperable. In his 1757 book Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, Edmund Burke played those two aesthetic modalities against each other, describing the beautiful and the sublime (here also referred to as the “great”):

Sublime objects are vast in their dimensions, beautiful ones comparatively small; [...] beauty should shun the right line, yet deviate from it insensibly; the great in many cases loves the right line, and when it deviates, it often makes a strong deviation; beauty should not be obscure; the great ought to be dark and gloomy; beauty should be light and delicate; the great ought to be solid, and even massive.5

Burke locates the sublime in that which overwhelms and by so doing creates a resonance. A few decades later, Emmanuel Kant wrote: “[...] the sublime is to be found in an object even devoid of form, so far as it immediately involves, or else by its presence provokes a representation of limitlessness, yet with a super-added thought of its totality.”6 This is not the delicate gangle and exploratory tremor of a newborn foal, the field of blooming wildflowers, but the malformed mass of the lumpen, the inchoate, the featureless, the incomplete golem that inspires depth of feeling: the Alpen peak, the lightning storm, the landslide.
           

Before Upgrade, Jazvac had completed many works that recreated luxurious or otherwordly objects—an expensive dishwasher (Lack Upgrade, 2007), a DeLorean car (Delorean, 2005), the transporter beams of the Starship Enterprise (Transporter Beams, 2005)—from ink-jet printed, laminated sheets of letter-size bond paper, conjoined with Scotch tape to create 1:1 scale models. Entering into a world traditionally and once-upon-a-time inhabited by the painter, Jazvac elected to remove the guts of her materials and abandon the representational form of her work, no longer emulating structures, as much as creating forms and information from surface.
           

By focusing on the skin of her objects, employing the vinyl veneers of commercial communications, Jazvac has eliminated their knowable form, leaving us to deal with their shiny, seductive, yet rumpled and drooping surfaces. No longer identifiable as attempts at replicating high-end appliances or the vestiges of resort destination hotels (Paper Towel, 2007), now the surface holds all of the artist’s attention, and is laid out like a skin for our evaluation. Draping along walls and propped up against columns, we can consider it as a proposal for a renewed and ongoing examination of a formless form that challenges our perception, and by so doing captures our interest. Like the yuppie-tracking coureurs de bois in the Kids in the Hall sketch, Jazvac has taken surface materials used to coat, to display, and represent, and peeled them back, hoarded them, hollowed them out to create a possibility for new accumulations of intent and meaning.

1, Canadian comedy troupe comprised of Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson; formed in 1984, with a show on CBC Television from 1988 to 1994.

2. You can see the skit on YouTube, of course: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLWiWEnOtwE

3. Kelly Jazvac, email to the author, 20 Aug. 2008.

4. Kelly Jazvac, email to the author, 25 Jul. 2008.

5. Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry Into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful: With an Introductory Discourse Concerning Taste, trans. Abraham Mills (1756; New York: Harper, 1844) 157.

6, Immanuel Kant, “The Critique of Judgment,” Continental Aesthetics: Romanticism to Postmodernism : An Anthology, eds. Richard Kearney, David M. Rasmussen (1790; Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2001) 24.