It’s not often, in the largely insular world of modern art, that a work is allowed to simply speak for itself. It’s also a strange fact that many contemporary works can’t really speak for themselves, for they are grounded in what are essentially literary ideas; even avowed geniuses like Twombly, Basquiat and Ai Weiwei could be slighted for the opacity of their symbolism. In much of this art, the visual content can naturally be appreciated on an existential level, yet rarely understood and absorbed without explanation. The verbal part of the content therefore attains a status closer to that of the art itself, being integral for the viewer in order to experience the full range of the artist’s intentions, emotions- essentially, in order to understand why it was made in the first place.
In terms of speaking for itself, Dominique Jacques’ latest exhibition at Centre D’Art was one of the best-equipped I’ve ever seen. The relation between the 3D pieces, or ‘U.F.O.’s’ (Unidentified Found Objects) and their large canvas counterparts created a curiously airless atmosphere that was all too refreshing- finally, the eye of the artist, on view for all to see! The nature of the objects, too- a table fan studded with decomposed leaves, roller skates topped with a feather duster, a microscope mired in cement- suggested a strong link to Duchamp and the more impatient side of the 20th-century avant-garde. Ideas about chance operation in art reach their logical postmodern conclusion here, where the ‘found object’ is not found in the same way as Rauschenberg ‘finding’ a painting in John Cage’s tire tracks, but through complete apprehension of the ordinary until it takes on alien qualities.
The background story behind the ‘U.F.O.’s’ is an interesting one. Jacques was inspired by the idea of “a small group of spiritual seekers in the early 80’s secretly transforming certain everyday objects of the period…and after having…imbued them with a specific power, concealing them in strategic locations with the aim of protecting and helping humankind…to face the growing challenges of the future.” Part of this fascinating and far-reaching concept is a close attention to situational detail, even including a map detailing the places around Auroville where the objects were ‘found’ in the year 2030, as well as an accompanying film featuring the supposed finders marveling at their discoveries and the connection they feel to them.
It’s a wonderfully put-together exhibition, yet this very quality contributed to a feeling of crampedness while viewing it. While Jacques says that the most interesting element for her was interacting with the individuals who discover the objects and seeing how they “engage with the narrative”, these intense video backstories don’t feel all that connected to the central narrative expressed by the physical structures. Both the sculptures and paintings have a surrealist, magnetic quality that makes them strong enough to stand alone; taken together, they meld into one visual experience that carries all necessary and possible implications within it. For me, this invitation to see was the focal point of the exhibition. #3: Table Fan, for example- dirty bronze, covered with wire and dead leaves, looks like it’s about to suddenly fall apart, even though it’s made of metal. Yet its painted incarnation emanates sheer strength in every way, from its bold red lines of glass to the collage of (seemingly) silkscreen imagery that animates the rotors, to the uneven, swirling light blue wash behind that appears to move with the air currents of the fan. A similar change occurs in #2: Transformer, where an iron transformer is perched on a wooden platform and outfitted with a brass bell. The symbolic possibilities here are endless- the transformer could be anything, from a metaphor for human greed, all the way into religious connotations. The painting then completes the thought- the object itself becomes a rust-coloured square divided into vertical rectangles. Placed directly in the middle of a gorgeously wounded, multi-hued decalcomania, the bars indicate a sense of shifting perspective, appearing at once as a prison cell and a window.
This process-based view of the object is on fullest display in #9 and #10- Microscope and Speaker. The latter is highly opaque in its style, yet displays perhaps the greatest harmony between its separate parts. The speaker itself is housed in a brass box, which is mounted on a block of wood and flanked by a pair of traditional wooden statues depicting a pair of women, each on one knee and blowing a trumpet. This evocation of an ancient fanfare, combined with both the brightness and cheapness of modernity (the crinkled, polished brass; the flares of rust on the speaker) creates a mini-environment that draws the viewer in, spurring one to meditate on the structure and eventually break it down to its basic materials. We are left then with a meditation on medium, rather than on the subject, or combination of subjects. This idea might be buried and lost under other associations, were it not for the canvas that accompanies it; here, the speaker itself is reduced to the pulsing center of the canvas, with the rest being taken up by a vivid yet abstract dynamism. Movement here is the main focus, with uneven blue oblongs representing the motion of sound traveling through space-time, symbolized by the éclaboussure of the background.
The range of this exhibition was stunning both in its breadth and its unity. Jacques has managed to offer complimentary reflections on different forms by recognizing their innate qualities and matching them with her artistic materials of choice. Her unusual integration of glass within her paintings creates a starkness and power that brings to mind both the Pop-ier rudeness of urban artists such as Keith Haring and the more self-consciously primitive ideas of Dubuffet and the Art Brut movement, yet the core of ‘U.F.O.’s’ is unabashedly contemporary, both in its triumphs and its shortcomings. Rarely can one see such a complete expression of human vision in such a direct, stripped-down setting. That the expression itself was weighed down with a few layers of subjectivism and speculative fiction seems to me more like proof of its real and true existence- in a story balanced between the 1980’s and 2030, how else could we recognize our own space and time, if not by a determined excess of stimuli?