On ViewLouis B. James
April 22 – May 25, 2012
You wouldn’t know it at first, but Kelly Jazvac is really into vinyl and death. The London, Ontario-based artist has been creating work from salvaged adhesive vinyl for nearly a decade, collecting scraps from often reluctant commercial printers and sorting them by color and size for later use. The sculptures she produces from this ever-growing, chromatic archive are often bright, shiny, and geometric. They are also made from trash. This very pretty trash is just one of several apparent contradictions simultaneously on display and subject to critique in Thermoloaded, a sparsely installed show consisting of five sculptures and one looped video of a woodpecker (“Untitled,” 2012) that Jazvac taped from her office window at the University of Western Ontario. The bird has pecked a baseball-sized hole in the concrete-sprayed, Styrofoam facade of another building—a construction method popular with so-called big box stores such as Wal-Mart and one of the many commercial surfaces that Jazvac explores in her work.
The largest sculpture on view, “Fungi-ble” (2012), is a mud-colored square. Protruding 13 inches from the wall at certain points, it is not flat but looks as if it should be—more like a painting subjected to a poorly controlled environment than a sculpture. In one of several industrial allusions made by the piece, “Fungi-ble” conjures images of leaky storage spaces in re-purposed factories. Its status as sculpture, rather than ruined painting, is also undermined by the fact that it appears to be covering something up, or to have taken on an impression. Functioning more as death mask than marble bust, the slightly reflective quality of the sculpture’s material accentuates its Shroud of Turin, Jesus-in-the-toast effect, but the overall aura is also unrelentingly drab and prosaic—not Jesus, just burnt toast.
It is the fact that “Fungi-ble” sits, or rather slouches, somewhere between the two categories of flat and not flat, not-sculpture and sculpture that makes it so compelling. Its position between the second and third dimension also reflects the material’s other potential use as an advertising medium, which is, among other things, an intermediary yet crucial phase in consumerism—not production or consumption per se, but the generation of the desire to consume. The vinyl sculptures do not refer to the production of goods, nor to their consumption, but to this command to buy that links the one to the other.
The imperative to consume, signified most generally by the word “Sale,” also proposes an interesting connection between sculpture and text. It suggests that sculpture might function much like a component of written language—as a link in a signifying chain. Pierre Bourdieu situates the consumption of art as a “stage in the process of communication that is an act of deciphering, decoding, which presupposes…mastery of a cipher or code [where] the capacity to see (voir) is a function of the knowledge (savoir), or concepts, that is, the words, that are available to name visible things, and which are… programmes for perception.”1 Jazvac’s sculptures suggest that this relationship might be inverted, and the ability to know a function of the ability to see.
Which leads us back to one of the more immediate and salacious questions posed by “Fungi-ble”: what is being covered up? What are we not supposed to see behind this sheet of sticky, potential signs?
The answer is actually not all that complicated: the images and texts that make up advertising distract us from the waste that they are asking us to produce. Furthermore, the advertisements themselves produce waste, and this knowledge (savoir) is immediately and undeniably produced by seeing (voir) the waste that Jazvac displays in the forms of her sculptures.
The relationship between sight and knowledge—specifically this relationship’s perversion by capitalism—is crystallized in Jazvac’s work with the Styrofoam and spray-on stucco construction of big-box stores. In another untitled work from 2012, the artist has constructed something that looks a bit like a sleeping bag, or improvised shelter. The underside is covered with a collection of photographs that document the damaged façades of these solid-looking but ultimately disposable buildings. “Untitled” (salvaged adhesive vinyl, aluminum, foam, kickstand fasteners) documents and therefore exposes the fragility of buildings that could, on their own, function as metonyms of contemporary consumerism. It also suggests the itinerant and precarious future being produced by a convergence of low wages, disposable goods, and the virtual absence of a social safety net.
Choosing to work with the material waste generated by advertising, rather than repurposing consumer goods, Jazvac makes a very simple point. Simple, but easily lost on a culture habituated to messages that seem to come from nowhere but do indeed have a material history with a long and often toxic afterlife. The vinyl sculptures in particular show that the message always has a medium.
Guy Debord writes that the spectacle, “finds its highest expression in the world of the autonomous image, where deceit deceives itself.”2 Thermoloaded refuses the image its deceitful autonomy by solidly locating it within the realm of material production. It reminds us that even a spectacle has a history; even images have a carbon footprint.
- 1. Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, trans. Richard Nice. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984.
- 2. Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. New York: Zone Books, 1995.