Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Stephanie Jonsson: Urban Organic Absurdity, 2007-2008 Artist in Residence, Harcourt House, REVIEWED by Mandy Espezel

Presented in the Main Gallery space of Harcourt House, Stephanie Jonsson's installation Urban Organic Absurdity was the final product of her year long artist-in-residence. Combining mixed-media sculptures and installation, the exhibition seemed to emphasize experimental presentation as much as it did a completed body of work. Jonsson worked to transform the gallery into an environment for her complex and evocative objects to exist in, producing a museum-like diorama for her fictional biomorphic creatures.

Components of the show have been appearing consistently in Jonsson's body of work, specifically her ceramics that resemble organic shapes ranging from plant life to sexual organs. Finished with glazes that make them shine, they appear always to be moist or dewy, lending to its estranged sexuality. Tubular shapes with cupped openings reveal stems and bulbs that could just as easily be digits, limbs, and protruding organs. Their glossy appeal is visually heightened by contrasting their hardness with a combination of softer materials. Jonsson uses these contrasts to extend and build the bodies and environments around them, incorporating fabrics of varying textures and patterns tailor made to co-exist with sleek, fragile porcelain finishes.

The visual effect of these material hybrids is rich, and their physical ambiguity provides for some very suggestive interpretations. Jonsson makes a point in her statement not to give specific guidelines for what they are or could objectively represent. She acknowledges that her works are often interpreted as evocating reproductive organs. Whether we associate reproductivity to plant life, animal life, or specifically human life is open to each individual's reading. But what she does discuss is the importance of her elaborate aesthetics as a unifying theme. The title of the show, Urban Organic Absurdity, goes a long way in describing her intentions. She sees a separation of our connection to the natural world, where straight/hard edges are not all that common. By adopting the curvilinear line and the subsequent rococo associations into her visual language, she tries to bring that over-the-top elaborateness to her work, shattering some of the banal tendencies of modern day structure by rebelling with visual indulgence.

This particular exhibition marks the first time I've seen Jonsson try and extend this contrast of material outside of the individual form of her sculptures. Embracing the gallery space as a surface to be altered, the walls become patterned with spiraling tentacles of color: turquoise, yellow, and green surrounds all sides. She spreads fabrics on the floor, creating pockets of fur, or mirrors that allude to reflecting ponds. However, even with these efforts to transform the space, it was not as complete as I would have hoped. The areas of carpet not addressed tended to be more visible and the ceiling appeared whiter than usual. I think the intent behind the aspects of the installation were solid, and worth developing, but when using the totality of a room, you really need to do just that: to use all of it. Or at least, consider all of it, and how it will be read as a whole and complete environment. But that is a retrospective reading, and the very ambitious attempt Jonsson made is appreciated. She has developed the visual language of her work into a powerful and identifiable imagery. I think Jonnson's real strength is embracing the fact and function of the materials that she uses to create her biomorphic shapes by translating them into a completely new and unexpected form of reality. I hope that in future exhibitions, if she pursues this theme of installation, she will be able to perform that translation as a unified presentation, rather than remaining in the realm of individual objects.

Image credit: Stephanie Jonnson, 2008

1 comment:


I saw Industrial Design more than i saw the "natural world" in this show. I mean, I strongly disagree with her statement about nature etc. but even if you do accept the concept of "nature" and a dialectic between natural and artificial formal languages, I don't feel that this work falls on the natural side. She also talks a bit about craft in her statement, about where her techniques come from and I think that although she gives this less importance it is actually more relevant to the work, because I feel like I expect to see this kind of visual language (especially thanks to the paint on the walls) at a fancy furniture store like 29 Armstrong or even occasionally at Ikea. I think that Jonnson should be devoting her energies to exploring that and making that art/ID dialogue more interesting and intentional rather than trying to deal with "nature."