William Ganis, Jennifer Macklem, l'hiver: volet 1, 20011, String Room Gallery, Wells College

Everything under the Sun, 2011, mixed-media installation

Idiosyncratiscapes: Installations by Jennifer Macklem

Jennifer Macklem works across presentational strategies and media to playfully rewrite the creative process with each work. She embraces materials both traditional (such as metal casting) and idiosyncratic (such as spray foam) to address notions of reception and perception.

Macklem engages the built environment to make installations that combine her materials and those found in a space—there’s a contrast between what is understood as temporary and lasting, site-specific and reused. In works such as Everything Under the Sun , (2011) Macklem  incorporates objects that have appeared in earlier installations and even former video work. To some degree, this amalgam is a retrospective (like a smaller version the “Maurizio Cattelan: All” massing of past work at the Guggenheim Museum). She pulls together objects that reference the local situation whether through readymade pedestals and vitrines, or glass scavenged from nearby antique stores. The elements sometimes point to process, especially the juxtaposition of figurative wax, and cast-metal sculptures. The space of this work is defined by rays of polyethylene sheeting that communicate from the opposing wall.

For Macklem, these plastic streamers are a shorthand for energy—that of the sun, or of the forces binding together (or propelling) the buckyball structures of her spherical Fullerenes (2010-11). The Fullerenes are models of certain carbon molecule structures, and a nod to the Buckminster Fuller Expo ’67 geodesic structure in Montreal. The polyethylene gives each installation greater sculptural presence and even lends similar plastic spheres attitudinal differences, whether situated in a park in downtown Ottawa, The Wells College campus in New York, or Ulsan City, South Korea. Macklem uses the plastic to draw in space and the massed textures read as enormous brush marks. The artist used these light-transmitting  filaments at the Galway Art Centre in Ireland; there they interacted with the architecture to comprise manifestations both material and ghostly.

Her l'hiver: volet 1 (Winter: Part 1), 2011 is an inviting contraption set on stilts. Visitors interact with the work by setting clear glass “ice” balls at the top so that they roll through the “snowy” landscape to the bottom. The spray foam is surprisingly expressive and with it Macklem forms landscape features such as natural arches, hoodoos and boulders. Through the suggested interaction, the artist implies a narrative for this sculptural work, as visitors watch the ball move from top to bottom, as it passes through silvery foil channels and drops off cliffs. While it is surprisingly resilient, l'hiver: volet 1 seems vulnerable and accidental; calculatedly wobbly, it even sways on its spindly foundations as the balls tumble down the chutes. There’s a programmed and delightful experiential tension insofar as the work seems set up to fail, but ultimately delivers the balls from top to bottom. The interactive installation is parodic—especially as it references romantic landscape painting, Candian winters and the unearthly frozen mud and saltwater forms created on the New Brunswick tidal flats.

Animals figure prominently in her oeuvre, and Macklem sets them in unlikely sculptural settings, whether she reworks cast-metal sculptures of lamb’s and pig ‘s heads, or animates clay or wax beasts in video works such as Swan (2005) or Narcissus: A Goat’s Tale (2006). The Narcissus goat in particular has an incredible personality, in the video, it is self-absorbed, even to it’s own detriment in the winter cold. The same sculpted and weather-and-age patinaed goat brought to life in the video has been presented by Macklem in many forms, whether shown nestled into a suitcase or as a part of larger installations. Peaceable Kingdom (2011) references Edward Hicks’s visionary nineteen-century paintings in which fanciful animals, both prey and predator passively intermingle. In Macklem’s installation the beasts are borne upon a billowing, silken, white parachute activated by antique electric fans. Such a title is not only fitting for a work that includes farm animals and Bosch-like insects, but for the attitudinal harmony among Macklem’s disparate works across many subjects and materials.

—William V. Ganis


Peaceable Kingdom

August 31 - October 7, 2011