New York

Jan Groover

Max Protetch Gallery

First sight of Jan Groover’s groupings of color photographs of trucks and cars on thoroughfares suggests that they are about time. Multiple images invoke the multiple moments of their making, which, in turn, imply a narrative structure. The narrative could be simply a direction to the arrangement of such moments, a history of perceptions, or a statement about the variety, fleeting nature, and odd recurrence of moments. But this is not the case at all with Groover’s pictures. A first impression has to be modified: these pictures deal with space in dealing with time.

They use sequence as a tool for revealing space in some of the same ways that architects and city planners have adopted the continuous photographic strips of Ed Ruscha to understand better the architectural effects of Main Street or the freeway. The difference, however, is that the multiple images making up one Groover work refer to each other more than to the real world of their subjects. Groover’s pictures are formal statements which happen to establish compositional harmonies by means of several “instants” of exposure rather than one.

Since her last show, Groover has enlarged the size of the prints and increased the number of the images in each group. The scenes are still set on freeways or Soho-like streets where trucks pass or turn on to warehouse platforms. The camera usually confronts a lightpost in the foreground. Occasionally the shadow of an invisible lightpost is cast onto the sides of the passing vehicles. The backgrounds emerge only by parts, as the vehicles are caught in different positions from frame to frame. The silvery corrugation of a transfer trailer, the red that recurs on three different cars in as many images, the colored sides of trucks, all are appreciated as large passing planes, like signboards, whose blocks of color are presented to the stationary viewer. These shapes are the heart of the pictures’ organization. The colors and their treatment suggest that of some of Godard’s recent films. Random passages have been edited into patterns: a yellow truck moves and a reddish wall appears in the same surface space, but a dark truck comes into the foreground from the other direction and obscures the red.

But even the language describing this play of depths is misleading. One assumes an order of time read from left to right, as on a printed page, to give the sequence a sense. But there is no reason to assume the pictures were taken in that order. The sequence has to do with the pictures as they are, here and now. All the images are equal before the court of present observation. As Groover herself noted in an article for this magazine, they are all in the past tense. Considered as a set of images, it doesn’t matter in what order they were taken any more than it matters in what order a set of architectural perspective drawings were executed. The key thing is the composite sense they give.

One illuminating thing about the photographic sequence is that no trucks or cars drive around the block and back into the pictures. Groover is not concerned with that kind of ambiguity. In fact, as with the three images containing three different cars all of the same red, she often toys with and then rebuffs our anticipation of such a recurrence. Also, some of the vehicles are blurred with speed as they pass the observer: process has been allowed to make its signs within the individual exposure—breaking the convention of the “moment.” Process becomes, not something that occurs between or across several units, but a change that smears the face of a single composed image. Time’s only correspondence to the single picture is to an alteration of form.

The sequence-reading responses we have to these pictures are almost automatic. But the eye also makes automatic responses to formal congruencies. Two tractor trailers in adjacent images are about the same size and are seen flat on, like most of the vehicles in the pictures. Despite the fact that one is white and one silver, the eye tends to run their forms together across the dividing space. Similarly, a building’s edge in the extreme left of several pictures stands flush with the top of a truck. In the picture immediately to the right, a smaller truck is flush with the top of a smaller attached building. In a third image there is only the vanishing end of an even smaller truck, and in the fourth and last the street is empty, the building is seen alone. As the size of the trucks decreases, so does the portion of each vehicle shown in the image. The spatial patterns develop in tandem through time.

Groover views time as a medium for such development and a convention like the conventions of framing and composition. The lightpoles which bisect images are almost exactly the same width as the gaps dividing image from image. The suggestion is that the division into individual images and “moments” is closely related to the division of space within each single image. Groover’s central premise is that change across time is a close relative to change across space. It lets her make a wonderfully sly and shifty art, where no factor is held constant and yet none seems undetermined.

––Phil Patton