New York

Sandra Jackman

Douglas Drake Gallery

Drawing on sources as diverse as Surrealism, Book Art, and Concrete Poetry, Sandra Jackman’s work combines the presence and spatial complexity of sculpture and the complex syntax and disparate meanings of assemblage. All 17 of these works are built out of book-fragments such as covers, spines, and pages that serve as a point of departure for fantastic excursions that incorporate photo-collage, found objects, drawing, painting, and indecipherable writing.

The show’s title, “AWAYWITHWORDS,” which subtly thwarts language’s meaning in favor of visual qualities, provides an important clue to Jackman’s project. The artist is fascinated by books, yet mistrusts language’s ability to adequately accomodate all of experience—an ambivalence that permeates her work. To say that she is concerned with simply reducing language to visual or physical terms would be to miss the struggle involved, for Jackman’s attempts to investigate the limits of language are often directed toward written religious traditions that are deeply embedded in our everyday struggles to order our worlds.

Jackman’s book-objects are peopled with both direct and oblique references to certain characters she has adapted from Judeo-Christian religion. She has transformed Saint Simeon into a “simian” counterpart—a “speechless poet-prophet” who wears a conical hat, symbolic of both the dunce’s stupidity and the wizard’s wisdom and ability to initiate magical transformation. “St. Simian” is the subject of A Line from the Life and Times of Simian, 1989, a long wooden band bearing painted images, pseudolinguistic symbols, and poetry fragments, as well as found objects such as slides and a miniature figure on top of a pole, in a palpable narrative that suggests rather than spells out events. This character’s history is more extensively recounted in The History of the Conical Hat and in Current Events, both 1990. Both works are booklets whose mixed-media pages are devoted to tracing visual occurrences of the cone shape, in sources ranging from a Van Eyck to a Frank Stella. These booklets exemplify Jackman’s intuitive approach, which favors images and their symbolic possibilities over language. One is invited to handle these books; the same is true of A Cautionary Tale, 1990, in which the pages are removable.

Exegesis and Xcommunication (both works 1989), are inspired by the Bible. The former is a small mixed-media book that opens to reveal a battle between near-amorphous figures, as well as a cryptic reference to “the prophet Elijah in the form of a photograph of a miniature empty chair. The latter tableau consists of a large wooden box open to the front, presenting a container of ornately penned yet nonsensical scrolls, an open book whose pages are covered with language fragments, and another miniature chair. Both of these works point to religion’s grandiosity and ineffectiveness, and look to the prophet or ”seer" as an alternative source of wisdom, unconstrained by the written word.

Not limited to religion, Jackman’s investigation of the limits of language has inspired a variety of other book-assemblages. Picture Book, 1990, is an open book whose front cover is an antique-looking picture frame, and whose wooden pages are covered with found objects, photographs, and .painted passages. This work successfully blurs the distinction between book, painting and sculpture, offering multiple views, a sense of movement in the opened pages, and richly built-up surfaces that offer glimpses of a dreamlike story.

Jackman’s assemblages comment in a very basic way on the bankruptcy of the Symbolic order, and of a society whose modus operandi is language. They are marked by the artist’s struggle to communicate in a nonlinguistic way, and bits of language and pseudo-language almost always infiltrate, and in some cases dominate, the pictorial space. These works partake of both high and low traditions in their confluence of formal virtuosity and junk assemblage. Here Jackman addresses universal issues in a highly personal language that draws perhaps most decisively on both Surrealism’s practice of the uncanny juxtaposition of unlikely objects and images and on its belief in intuitive, automatic expression.

Jenifer P. Borum