Los Angeles

Jill Giegerich

Like Marcel Proust and his madeleine, Jill Giegerich dips into the historical past, mining the mythology of Modernism so that its outward traces become a series of recalled memories. In Giegerich’s case, the esthetic sources are Cubism and Constructivism, reified orthodoxies that she reworks and reevaluates through a series of wall reliefs that the artist calls “constructions.” By carefully avoiding the loaded historical rhetoric usually associated with painting or sculpture, Giegerich is able to drain the vocabulary of artists such as El Lissitzky, Vladimir Tatlin, and Alexander Rodchenko of its original utopianism, and drive a wedge between the historically encoded past and the more pluralistic, ideologically skeptical present. Thus Giegerich’s work rests upon a provocative simultaneity. It is both a ghost image of a dead era and a highly material, autonomous statement in its own right.

Giegerich’s recent work continues this ongoing dialectic between historical representation and material immediacy. Familiar motifs such as factory smokestacks, puffs of steam, and a recurring Cubistic image of “machine-age man” are composed in Giegerich’s usual array of industrial materials—plywood, cork, rubber, vinyl, sandpaper, plastic, brass, copper, and beeswax. Paint and charcoal, the traditional media of two-dimensional representation, are relegated to reinforcing outline or compositional nuance rather than acting as gestural manifestations of emotive ego. Giegerich thus comes across more as a builder and assembler of things than a depicter of images, whether past or present. We tend to focus on surface texture, structural mechanics, and overall shape in relation to the gallery space, rather than any metaphoric associations conjured by the image itself.

Thus a flattened, troughlike form of ridged black vinyl appears to be spewing forth a stream of water, except that the “liquid” is actually composed of blue-and-black, mechanically reproduced wood grain on collaged paper. This artificial flow is structurally reinforced by a floating chair leg and a fragment of copper pipe (which under other circumstances would in itself “carry” the water), so that real materials both compose and metaphorically undermine the apparent “meaning” of the image. Similarly, the trough’s trompe l’oeil three-dimensionality is simultaneously celebrated and collapsed, so that initial mystification is quickly deconstructed and returned to its material and process-oriented source.

In the past, Giegerich always managed to pull off this careful balancing act between objective and metaphoric contradiction, creating an ambiguity that exploited both the fictional and analytic sides to deconstruction’s modus operandi. As a result, these ghosts of a displaced historical era served simultaneously to revitalize and to transcend their origins. Now, Giegerich’s compositional and conceptual mechanics are so far to the fore that the work’s deconstructive seams are becoming the real subject of the work. We always used to be reminded that Giegerich’s objects were part of life itself, autonomous signifiers that defied analysis and stopped us dead in our tracks. The new work is far too self-consciously aware of its own deconstructive status. It is parasitic to a narrow art discourse instead of opening itself up to a wider, social interpretation. In short, the work’s collective historical unconscious and immediate materiality have become the fodder of instant critical myth. Somehow, Giegerich has to find a way to keep the works from being so easily decoded and to return them to their earlier state of suspended grace.

Colin Gardner