When I first encountered the work of Colter Jacobsen at the 2010 SECA Award Exhibition (see my review of the show here), it did not engage me, though I thought it well executed. Also, I was not entirely sure of its intellectual underpinnings and its relevance to the world that we live in today. Having considered his work a good deal since then, the new show at Gallery Paule Anglim has provided me with the opportunity to re-assess and with engage with the ideas he is exploring.
Memory and remembrance have been human concerns from the very beginning. Early man needed to remember which plants were safe to eat, which animals to run from, and how to create fire. Memory, however, has always been faulty. There are an unknown number of people who have been executed or falsely imprisoned because of faulty eyewitness memories. Similarly, with the development of cities, suburbs, and fields of agriculture, we have forgotten, both individually and collectively, what the land looked like before we plowed it under and paved it over.
To combat this lack of permanent memory, we created drawings and paintings, and put them on a durable surface to enable us to have a fixed record of an event that happened at a particular moment. We also developed written language as a way of recording with more detail than a picture or to capture abstract ideas that are not easily illustrated. More recently, we created photography, film, and video to record the world around us in the most accurate way possible.
All of these efforts at creating a durable and lasting record of time, events, and thought have come under total assault by the rise of digital technology. It is now far too easy to alter texts, images, and videos in ways that are entirely imperceptible to the vast majority of the population. As a consequence, we can no longer completely trust digital tools to assist us in remembering ideas and the past. It also collectively throws us back to a place where we have to rely on our inherently faulty memory systems to be able to have any sort of unaltered record of the past.
In his new body of work Colter Jacobsen uses the idea of repetition in conjunction with an image of a man’s dress shirt to create a suite of 21 collages. Each work is small, fitting easily into their approximately 14 x 10 inch frames with plenty of space to float on the matte board mounts. The material used to make each varies a great deal, including the gold foil from candy bars, corrugated cardboard, the interior patters of security envelopes, textile scraps, historic texts, and appropriated imagery.
Jacobsen has an obsession with creating matched pairs of objects, which was fully on display in the body of work he created for the SECA exhibition. In this show he has both satisfied that desire and ignored it. Each collaged shirt is almost exactly the same size and shape, but the difference in materials separates them, for no two are made from the same set of materials. The variations serve to move the subject matter beyond simple repetition.
As a group they show us how Jacobsen has developed a metaphor of the symbolic shirt. Each piece is like the next stanza of a poem, developing the theme further than the previous one. Individually, the shirts range from very quiet constructions requiring close inspection, to bolder pieces that call out from across the room. Collectively, they let us see how we both remember and recognize the symbol of a shirt, and how each pattern can change how we remember that symbol.
These works are a subtle, but important, reminder of how important memory has become in this age of easy digital alterations. Each shirt is different, showing how he has hand manipulated the symbol of the shirt, while making no attempt at using seamless digital alterations. Also, having created these collages with physical materials, Jacobsen has defeated the ability of digital technology to alter the original works. Thus, he has deftly shown how he can alter his symbolic shirt and also make permanent the different variations of it. This contradiction lies at the heart of this series of pieces and is part of what gives them such strength.
‘Colter Jacobsen – Scanning the long sleeves of the shore’ is on view until March 5, 2013 at Gallery Paule Anglim. 14 Geary St., San Francisco, CA 94108; 415.433.2710; Open Tues. – Fri. 10:00 AM – 5:30 PM, Sat. 10:30 – 5:00. More information about Colter Jacobsen can be found here.