The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum Jane South: Floor/Ceiling Brochure

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Jane South: Floor/Ceiling Curated by Richard Klein March 24 to August 25, 2013

The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum

Jane South: Floor/Ceiling

South has previously made ambitious large-scale works with a sprawling and ad hoc character, but they have always existed in a zone between object and installation, with their nature as installation being based in the massing of countless individual elements. Floor/Ceiling certainly continues this approach, but its relationship to and dependence on the space in which it is presented bring it firmly into the installation camp. Primarily constructed out of cut and hand-painted paper, with a supporting infrastructure of wood, aircraft cable, and CNC milled particleboard, Floor/Ceiling is also South’s first work to integrate lighting as a major component.

Floor/Ceiling (installation view; detail), 2013

Jane South’s site-specific installation, entitled Floor/Ceiling, is her largest and most complex work to date. Horizontally transecting The Aldrich’s Project Space Gallery, Floor/Ceiling creates (depending on one’s point of view) either a continuation of the Museum’s second floor or a dropped ceiling that lowers the double-height section of the gallery from twenty-four to fourteen feet. Structurally mimicking a suspended ceiling, Floor/Ceiling is a work that combines elements of (among other things) drawing, painting, sculpture, industrial archeology, architecture, and theater set design to create an experience that is both enigmatic and matter of fact.

Floor/Ceiling (installation view), 2013

“There is a strange, in-between sort of an experience unique to working in the theater. This becomes weirdly concrete when you get to lurk behind the set while the play is going on. Mere inches away, on the other side of the thin theater flats—which might wobble if you breathe—all is lights, action and illusion, the suspension of disbelief. Meanwhile, you are immersed in the dim murky ‘reality’ of backstage: rough carpentry, coiled cables and the uncannily silent presences of other pieces of the set awaiting their turn in the limelight. For me this exemplifies the delicious, eerie, expectant, absurdity of it all—and the slippage that also occurs in life, between the world and the world of the imagination.” South’s thoughts, quoted above, on her early years working in the theater are extremely pertinent to understanding the nature of Floor/Ceiling. After acquiring a university degree in theater set design, South worked in London’s theater world for three years, engaged with a company that focused almost exclusively on the works of Samuel Beckett. Her training and experience in set design fostered an extremely open approach to working in three dimensional space, with more of an integration of drawing, painting, sculpture, and architectural design than was afforded in most other fields in the visual arts, a situation that would later serve her well. Coming to New York City in 1989, she worked in the world of experimental theater, designing sets for productions that were staged in unusual spaces, such as rooms above bars and once even a hairdressing salon. But Floor/Ceiling doesn’t really resemble a theater set; rather it recalls something that one shouldn’t be focused on while attending the theater (unless the play is frightfully boring): the loft grid above the stage and audience. The loft grid is part of the stage’s infrastructure, hovering like a tree over a picnic, providing atmosphere but not intentional drama in and of itself. Like a loft grid, Floor/Ceiling is an extension of existing architecture (in this case the Museum’s) and like the Museum’s infrastructure of white walls, windows, and track lighting, it seems poised to help with the presentation of something. But what?

Perhaps this question can best be answered by one of South’s favorite quotes. In his famous summation of the plot of Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot, the Irish literary critic Vivian Mercier wrote: “Waiting for Godot…has achieved a theoretical impossibility—a play in which nothing happens, that yet keeps the audience glued to their seats. What’s more, since the second act is a subtly different reprise of the first, he has written a play in which nothing happens, twice.” Beckett’s play, like all great works of art, continues to engage audiences because it is open to a variety of readings, and viewers can project their own meanings into its stripped-down sense of emptiness. Floor/Ceiling, even though so superficially busy, appears to be waiting for its protagonists to return. It even has two acts. Act One: The Ceiling A round aperture interrupts a rigorous geometric grid. Surrounding the void is an agglomeration of industrial forms, some hanging like light fixtures by cables, some attached to the grid like barnacles on a lobster trap. Their placement near the edge of the aperture implies intelligent design: these things seem to have been put there for a reason, and their shapes, while generally reminiscent of many things, resemble nothing in particular. Objects that might come to mind include theatrical lighting, blower housings, electrical transformers, particulate filters, or equipment storage cages. But these objects are not industrially manufactured, but laboriously drawn, cut, assembled, glued, and painted

Floor/Ceiling (installation view), 2013

Floor/Ceiling (installation view; detail), 2013

by hand out of paper. Their making is witnessed by the white paper exposed at the cut edges; the surfaces are frequently animated by linear cross-hatching done with white ink. The majority of these objects have numerous small apertures on their façades, grate-like covers and hatches, and many of them have protrusions that resemble handles or tabs, suggesting an aid to carrying or points of attachment for lifting. Indeed, most of these objects are attached to each other, or the supporting grid, by these helpful appendages. “My paternal grandfather, Tom South, was a draftsman, and I remember looking at his drafting manuals with their beautiful and delicate Victorian engravings of things like the deconstructed parts of linotype machines and steam engines, rendered in isometric and oblique projection, a kind of multiplicity of perspectives with no context. These engravings seemed more ‘real’ to me than the actual objects themselves, having a strangely contrary sense of form, weight and materiality.” South’s paper objects certainly evoke the steely geometry of machine parts, but their decidedly handmade and subtly quirky character humanizes them in the way a cartoon of a toaster is different from a photograph of one. South’s paper constructions have a faint echo of the stylistic rendering of objects and figures in Philip Guston’s paintings from his “cartoon” phase, which is also brought to mind by Floor/Ceiling’s illumination by bare, hanging light bulbs, with the naked bulb a frequent motif in many of Guston’s works. Come to think of it, the figures in Guston’s paintings seem to always be just hanging around, waiting for someone or something.

Act Two: The Floor

One element that looms large in Floor/Ceiling is the circular aperture that punctuates the grid. Circular and elliptical forms are a consistent leitmotif in South’s work, and apertures, either open or closed by grating, are present in practically everything she makes. The large aperture in Floor/Ceiling, however, due to its architectural scale and horizontal orientation, reads not so much as an aperture as an oculus, a circular opening in the center of a dome or wall. First used architecturally by the Romans, the oculus reached its apogee in its dramatic use at the top of the dome of the Pantheon. The word oculus is Latin for eye and in the science of optics an aperture is defined as a hole through which light travels. In the context of Floor/Ceiling, these facts suggest an optical reading of South’s work, particularly in the way that she uses holes and voids as framing devices, directing the viewer’s gaze into or though objects. South’s frequent closing off of these openings by gratings or grilles limits access, both visually and physically, bringing in the darker associations of cages, prisons, and sewer grates. South frequently incorporates grilles on two or more sides of her objects and skews their alignment so the “bars” are not parallel. This often causes the viewer to experience a slightly disorienting moiré-like effect, heightening their optical character. Yet the large aperture in Floor/Ceiling is anything but limiting, connecting the upper and lower realms of the work in a provocative manner. At this scale, the circular opening becomes a proscenium, focusing the viewer’s gaze—depending on one’s location—either up into empty space at the top of the gallery, or down into the gallery and through the existing aperture of the Project Space’s widows and out onto the Museum’s lawn. The theater—like a painting, photograph, or video projection—frames things, and South’s circular “stage” is like theater-in-the-round, with the viewer changing roles from audience member to actor and back again, depending on location. Interestingly, other Museum visitors seen through the aperture do not remain neutral, but take on an active role, becoming part of the work. Floor/Ceiling is not interactive in any traditional sense, but rather casts those who engage with it in the role of either voyeur or performer. Richard Klein, exhibitions director

Floor/Ceiling (installation view), 2013

From above, the assemblage of paper objects is partially hidden by the grid, and one gets the sense that the business side of South’s construction is below. Most of what is above seems practical: the wooden structure and its supporting cabling, the cords for lighting. Other than the circular aperture, the grid and the paper objects below are monochrome, fitting their seemingly purposeful nature; but above the grid, on the surface of the “floor,” color makes a subtle appearance. About two dozen objects that resemble square metal tubing or signposts are piled in a corner. Also made of paper, these linear elements have interiors that have been painted fluorescent orange. The rim of the aperture, here seen from above, has a fluorescent edge like the moon during a partial eclipse. This loft-like space has a random quality reminiscent of a construction site: the pile of materials casually stacked suggesting a job just begun or half finished. The floor can be read as South’s idea of the “reality” of backstage, not exhibiting the concentrated and more finished drama of what’s below, but the “floor” of Floor/Ceiling has its own particular animation, suggesting the activity of things caught in process, instead of after completion. This situation implies yet another analogy: the ceiling is the public face of the artist’s efforts, speaking the language of presentation (theater or museum); while the floor is behind the scenes, bringing to mind the privacy of the studio or the set shop.

Work in the Exhibition Dimensions h x w x d Floor/Ceiling, 2013 Site-specific installation Hand-cut paper, ink, acrylic; structure of wood, MDF, cable; electrical cords, light bulbs, hardware 24 x 22 x 22 feet Courtesy of the artist and Spencer Brownstone Gallery, New York Installation photography by Catherine Vanaria

The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum

Board of Trustees Eric G. Diefenbach, Chairman; Linda M. Dugan, Vice-Chairman; Annadurai Amirthalingam, Treasurer/Secretary; Richard Anderson; William Burback; Chris Doyle; Mark L. Goldstein; Georganne Aldrich Heller, Honorary Trustee; Neil Marcus; Kathleen O’Grady; Gregory Peterson; Peter Robbins; Martin Sosnoff, Trustee Emeritus; John Tremaine

Larry Aldrich (1906–2001), Founder

Exhibition support provided by Lori and Janusz Ordover, Kirsten and Andy Pitts, and Stuart and Cynthia Smith

Floor/Ceiling (installation view; detail), 2013

258 Main Street, Ridgefield, CT 06877 Tel 203.438.4519, Fax 203.438.0198,

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