April 4 through May 12, 2007
I recently watched Slavoj Zizeck’s brief commentary on the film Children of Men. He discusses the last frame of the film where we see a woman and child set afloat in a rough sea. They have just escaped extreme danger, and the long shots of Cuaron’s camera had brought us into this pervasive action. The woman and child are past panic but not past uncertainity -- they wait for a boat that may or may not come to save them. The metaphor, according to Zizeck, is that all of the signs of society are now fluid, that the new family is set adrift on an ocean of severed signs, floating on the cultural baggage they leave behind. This is the advent of hope.
Jack Pierson’s new show at Regen Projects in West Hollywood took me to this Zizeck moment. Pierson literally breaks his letters free from “signs” – road signs, old restaurant headings, the titles of movie theaters, parking lots. The signs are torn down, their original meanings partially destroyed, and then the letters are reformed into piles of new meanings. That these words are on gallery walls gives it another layer. We suspect that the words have personal resonance with Pierson himself yet in the gallery, the meanings break free and are set adrift, waiting to be picked up by someone like me, someone shamefully looking for meaning in a gallery.
And I found sadness there. The phrases and words singled out like Phil Spector, Providence, or, what I think is the best work of the show, Faith hovering in the space are the elegant remnants of a society laid low by some sort of trauma, some sort of loss. Even in the fancy space of Regen Projects, these signs remind me of the signs of the homeless, put together with whatever they can found to say a few words, not to express those words for the sake of expression alone but to (sometimes) say that one is hungry. They could be lying, of course, but the poetry is in the discarded materials, a nub of wood or a shard of cardboard.
Pierson is not a concrete poet – he does not try to locate the essence of words in the essence of a material. He does not simply want an object to become a word, a word an object. He instead is a poet with a really firm understanding of the sub-textual potential of language and materials. All of the broken stuff that becomes his signs bring with them the ghosts of their former meanings, they all have the aftertaste of the world they no longer have.
A word like Faith is thus presented, for me, as something that has not been lost, but as something still lingering about, something still present though severed from its traditional contexts. The same with Providence – only later, after I left the gallery, did I think of the city in Rhode Island. I couldn’t help think, with the rusty metal and tainted gilding of the letters, that God’s hand in the lives of man is still a notion that is around and vibrantly living, even if it is in the ruin of systems that are no longer trusted.One of the criticisms of the literary theory applied rather loosely to the visual arts is that it puts the emphasis on making intellectual experiments, of playing games with a text or the fabric of art in general to discover or to tear down the old meanings, putting new meanings in its place. Jack Pierson is an expert in this way of thinking – his works are another version of Barthes’ metaphor of the ship of the Argonauts, being rebuilt and reworked entirely on its bouncing voyage on the sea.
Photo Courtesy of Regen Projects, Los Angeles