Gallery 18 | April 1 – April 30, 2013
Jonathan Schorsch is a walker between worlds. As an academic, socially conscious environmental activist, and a man keenly attuned to religious traditions, his artistic work often revisits the connection between the microcosm (our bodies, our minds) to the macrocosm (the planet, the universe). In Schorsch’s new collages, which are of great scope, depth and texture, we are allowed a glimpse into all those worlds and the connections that open up between them as they unfold around and within each other.
Collage can be a deceptively simple medium. In it, what might appear serendipitous is often brilliantly contrived. Schorsch complicates things to good effect: some artists work with identical copies of the same image in their collages, but Schorsch limits himself to singular “editions” of found images. He thus extends Walter Benjamin’s idea of “mechanically produced” art to existing print sources but not to fresh xerography. This purist approach necessarily presents a greater challenge to the artist, who needs to express himself solely with the materials at hand.
Sometimes the juxtapositions that occur in collage are strictly aesthetic. In more sophisticated collages, like those of Schorsch, thematic connections are formed between seemingly random images. The question of how to arrive at the fullest articulation of the theme becomes particularly acute in work like his “Repetition Compulsion” (2012–13) series. Things get especially tricky in Schorsch’s work because there is a desire—perhaps a need, given the repetition of the word “compulsion” in Shorsch’s titles—to repeat a morphology, revisiting an aesthetic element in multiple iterations within a single work.
Indeed, Schorsch’s obsessive and repetitive work succeeds in that it is beautiful in its ordering of chaos, in the manner of a Bach fugue, where the genius of the music emerges from the interweaving of the repeated elements. Schorsch’s work attempts to capture the macrocosm in the microcosm—to apprehend, as it were, the universe in a grain of sand. This is an appropriate metaphor, since the various impurities that irritate Schorch (both politically and in the human and natural environment) are the grains around which his superb work develops.
The personal is often the political here. Interrogations of citizenship, expendability of resources, and social and political messages about conformity and consumerism are interwoven with strong assertions about the interconnectedness of being. This nearly always works: although I found “Mapping” (2012) too explicit and self-consciously political, the bulk of the show more than makes up for the heavy-handedness of this piece.
Schorsch has a fine eye and a talent for conveying the relationships and connections between morphological and aesthetic elements. In his brilliant juxtapositions of images that are also juxtapositions of ideas, we find threads of visual conversation streaming—sometimes quite literally—through multiple themes. In his “Flows,” (2013) for instance, a single line is traced between images of rivers, roads, causeways, highways and byways—over a multiplicity of images.
When one views Schorsch’s“Square Repetition Compulsion” (2012) on its own, it compels for all the reasons I have stated. But when hung next to the “Round Repetition Compulsion” compositions, it becomes clear that the latter are much more successful than “Square Repetition Compulsion” since it is the interstices between the inexorably repeated circles that add much to the viewers’ experience. There is a tidiness in the “Round Repetition”series—the holism of the circle is set off against the rectangular boundary of the frame. But there are empty spaces.“Square Repetition Compulsion” just fits together too neatly in its relentless horror vacui.
“Repeating Repetition Compulsion” (2012) is simultaneously a trippy, kaleidoscopic aesthetic treasure-trove and a lighthearted poke at the genre: here Schorsch’s worlds within worlds are stunningly exposed. And the monumental “Topographic Repetition Compulsion” (2012) is a remarkable tour-de-force that demonstrates how scale can alter our take on the medium and which emphasizes again the concept of “flow” between seemingly unrelated elements and ourselves.
Describing the artist as walking between worlds is another way of saying that he is able to articulate and assimilate multiple perspectives in his work. Just as a mirror both presents and distorts images, the practice of collage re-contextualizes, personalizes, stretches, and condenses images, making them an effective mirror of what we are, and of what we may be. The more variegated the perspectives, the more inspirational. In Jonathan Schorsch’s work, there is both much to reflect upon and much to be inspired by.
5625 Arlington Ave. // Riverdale, NY
ContributorMarc Michael Epstein