Jennifer Douglas: WORKPLACE GATESHEAD

23 November 2013 - 11 January 2014

In her  seminal 1977 essay ‘Notes on  the  Index:  Seventies  Art in  America’  Rosalind  Krauss signals  a shift away  from music as the  primary influence on  abstract painting through the 20th  Century,  towards photography as a logical and structural model for abstraction via its indexical relation to the world. Citing the  exhibition ‘Rooms’  at  P.S.1  in  1976,  Krauss argues  that the  artists in that exhibition  (including Gordon  Matta-Clark,  Lucio  Pozzi,  Michael  Asher etc) employ an  indexical  relationship  to  the  slightly derelict  building  of  P.S.1  at  that  time,  enabling  them  to  point  towards  and  exploit  the  pure  physical presence  of  the  site.  This indexical  mode operates  through a  direct uncoded  message rather  than a transformed encoded system  of referents  that ultimately  depend on ‘institutional reserve’:  i.e.  a language with  shared and  understood vocabulary  and agreed  meaning.  Earlier in  the essay, Krauss uses linguistics to contrast shifting, empty and thus always-meaningful forms of denotation such as ‘this or ‘that’ as opposed to the referent to which the sign points ‘this Chair, that Mirror’.  

 

In (First) Second Floor Jennifer Douglas revisits this indexical, photographic mode by flooding the room on  the  top  floor  of  the  gallery  with  white  liquid  silicone  rubber  to  create  a  highly  detailed  and  precise mold of one of the gallery floors capturing the grain of the wood and the trace scratches and scrapes left by human activity. Using a process extrapolated from conventional sculptural mold-making techniques, Douglas is able  to re-present  the gallery  floor -  as painting -  on the  wall of  the ground  floor exhibition space. Maintaining a connection to the field of sculpture (First) Second Floor is presented with the lower part of  the cast  rubber surface  aligned to  the shadow  gap of  the supporting  gallery wall    - millimetres above the  floor.  This is  a  concession to  the sculptural  world of  objects and  things  - our space  as opposed to the pictorial frame of the painting as typically isolated within the white wall of the gallery.

 

Through this oscillation between the two spaces of object and image, (First) Second Floor, operates (as is typical for Douglas’ work) as a conduit between the real, physical world and the metaphysical space of the imagined or surreal. The experience of looking at the floor is one of ordinary everyday normality made uncanny through a shift in orientation and distanced full plan overview enabled by the size of the gallery space. The visual effect is one of floating an unusual distance above a floor, like the near death experiences of  TV  and  Film,  whilst the  sensory stimulus  from the  body is  maintained in  its default normal position.  

 

19/21 is a steel and silicone work, which takes its form and scale from a measured linear outline of the steps outside the gallery front door and the height of the doorway, its title taken from the address of the gallery 19 – 21 West St. Rotated 180 degrees and fixed to the wall Douglas shifts a given architectural situation into the gallery space, recording itself as art, and disguised within sculpture.

 

Three photographs: Assemblage (Penthouse1), Fun, and Blue were all taken by Douglas on a trip to an abandoned British Telecom headquarters in Teeside, UK. Drawn to the place through her research into the origins  of language  and communication  (in particular  Morse code)  Douglas documents  the found situations,  composing images  constructed from  the fixtures,  fittings and  pinboards of  the building through the isolating and framing device of the camera.

 

If  walls had  eyes is  a  60  x  42  cm painting  on canvas  that has  been painted  blue and  repeatedly punctured with multiple screw holes  and  Rawl plugs.  Referencing both the Buchiand Tagli  (holes and slashes)  of  Lucio  Fontana’s  Arte  Povera paintings  and the  romantic escape  of the  dusk sky  this work more specifically  refers to  a  battered old  industrial breeze  block wall  that has  been recurrently  over-painted and drilled into without consideration for aesthetics or meaning.