New York

Jackie Ferrara

Max Protetch

Progressions also provide the basis for Jackie Ferrara’s work, but they are executed with a mathematical precision which places them at the opposite pole from the open-ended spatial investigations of Mary Miss. In Ferrara’s stepped plywood and masonite constructions, Conceptual and post-Minimal esthetics intersect, exploring the processes of stacking and building. Her work of the past couple of years is related to Smithson’s stacked glass and mirror pieces of 1969, though many of the new pieces exhibit a far higher degree of complexity than is present either in her earlier work or that of Smithson.

They also draw obvious inspiration from ancient architecture—pyramids, ziggurats and Mayan temples are alluded to with remarkable specificity. (A cursory search failed to turn up any exact models, which is less significant than the fact that the work is sufficiently suggestive to invite exploration.) However, whereas much of this architecture embodies within its highly stratified modular construction improvisatory characteristics dictated by the exigencies of site, etc., Ferrara’s models never budge from their generating formulae. This precision is indicative of an obsession with their conceptual underpinnings—borne out in the accompanying drawings. Minutely detailed plans, sections and elevations on graph paper are annotated with lists of numbers indicating the exact ratios in the many progressions which comprise each piece.

Unlike her earlier pieces, which explored incremental relationships through fairly simple, closed forms, these more open floor plans reveal their interiors, which often contain further structural intricacies not visible from the outside. The basic unit is determined by the thickness of the material used—3/4” for the plywood, 1/4” for the smaller masonite pieces. By diminishing the size of each successive component according to a predetermined system, Ferrara stacks the pieces to produce straight sides, slanted sides, straight diagonal recessions and even parabolic curves, all of which are present in a single construction. By alternating solid slabs with layers of separated blocks, she creates interstices which themselves constitute progressions, complicating the forms still further. They also provide additional access to the interior.

The finished products are very handsome, quite apart from the clarity of their principle, which is very pleasing to see in action; their precision is immediately comprehended and appreciated. The works comment on the activity of stacking and building, and thus are concerned with architecture. Only when one juxtaposes the ponderous, detailed mathematical information contained in the drawings with the visual clarity and instant readability of its physical realization does one sense the cold hard facts behind the esthetic of functional design. It’s engineering, not looks, that holds it together. This dichotomy between visual clarity and conceptual complexity also parallels an art-world phenomenon of which Ferrara is doubtless aware—the dialogue between art and criticism.

It is interesting that the buildings that serve as her sources are those which were least analytically conceived. The rationality of these structures was largely intuitive, their modular progressions resulting not from any love of logic or reverence for systems, but from the simple practicality of corbeling as a primitive construction technique. Corbels are common sense—vaulting, for instance, requires math.

Nancy Foote