Review

Living Room

By Stephanie Baker December 2, 2009

What happens when one becomes acutely aware of the divide between the self and the world? How do the spaces we inhabit help us cope with this divide and ultimately define our existence?

Jordan Essoe’s response to these questions is the conceptual installation “Living Room” where he explores and closely examines the layers of existence embedded in the materials and architecture of his living and working spaces. Two adjoining rooms, through which the viewer is invited to walk, represent what the artist calls “psychological containers…common to every one of us.”[1] He conveys the materials and architecture of living spaces using a variety of media. The first room contains a continuously looped video, black and white photographs, and charcoal-colored pots (taken from the artist’s studio). In the second, smaller one are three drawings and a floor sculpture. The two rooms recollect the Victorian, now suburbanized, concept of having a more formal space or parlor in which one entertains guests as well as an informal, family room for daily living.

Both rooms are effective in drawing attention to their given materials and I find it rewarding to meditate on the textures that Essoe has made into objects of beauty. In the second, the floor sculpture Rock (2009) echoes the chest depicted in the finely rendered drawings—different perspectives of Essoe straddling the box. The sculpture’s placement opposite the drawings suggests seating for a guest. The photographs in the first room are beautiful black and white close-ups of the artist’s carpet and ceiling fan. Shadow lines play as motifs throughout, both in situ on the wall as part of the installation, and as depicted in the images. The video on the floor shows a performance (an exercise in Sisyphean absurdity) in which the artist unhurriedly vacuums a grassy hillside, which the viewer sees through the imprisoning grid overlay of a wire fence, further dividing the screen into squares of grass, nearly indistinguishable from the film’s static.

“Living Room”, 2009; installation view, Swarm Gallery. Courtesy of the Artist and Swarm Gallery, Oakland.

The Myth of Sisyphus, 2008 (still); digital video; 50:48, loop. Courtesy of the Artist and Swarm Gallery, Oakland.

Of the media listed above, I have left for last mention the segments of shiny black tape, which Essoe placed on the walls at a three-foot height, like a horizon line. The tape encircles the walls of the second room, but is interrupted by a small square wall drawing the exact height of the tape that depicts the bumpy relief of the wall on which it is drawn. This drawing is placed just above Rock and I notice how the bumpy surface of the drawing imitates that of the sculpture.

If given the choice to spend a lengthy, undetermined amount of time in either room, I would choose the second. Here, the concepts Essoe explores through his selected media remind me how the poet Max Jacob defined artistic activity, as “the effect of a thinking activity on an activity that has been thought.”[2] Contemplating each object’s materiality and their interdependence brings me to a kind of double consciousness and shock of recognition. I further recall Jacob’s words about a work offering “the sensation of being self-enclosed.”[3] I experience this sensation as I notice the shiny black tape both calling attention to itself and unifying this drawing on the wall with the wall itself. The chest in the drawings and the similarly shaped sculpture on the floor (whose surface resembles the wall’s) comment on each other. I feel like an art object contemplating its own existence within the constraints it has been handed.

There are both subtle and obvious references to existentialist philosophy throughout the installation, such as the Sisyphean performance, but the nuances of meaning that Essoe frames are not necessarily apparent. I find, however, I do not need to wrap a tight ribbon around the boxes, both literal and figurative, that he has presented. As “Living Room” demonstrates, the closer one looks, the more one is rewarded.

“Living Room” in on view in the Swarm Gallery Project Space through December 6, 2009.

[1] Quote taken from the artist’s project statement
[2] Jacob, Max. “Preface of 1916,” in The Dice Cup (Bookslinger, 1980).
[3] Ibid.

 

Stephanie Baker is a 2009-2010 recipient of a San Francisco Arts Commission Cultural Equity grant and one of Jack Hirschman's chosen "Poets 11" during his tenure as San Francisco Poet Laureate. She co-hosts and co-produces The Organic Word Literary Series at Mission Pie, which takes place the second Tuesday of each month from 5-7 pm.

 

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