Søren Jensen

One result of Modernism’s detachment of the idea of sculpture from the idea of the statue has been a blurring of the boundaries between sculpture and architecture. All sorts of nonfunctional (that is, nonhabitable) constructions that would once clearly have been architecture—garden follies, triumphal arches, or any sort of nonfigurative monument—could now just as easily be considered sculpture. In the wake of Minimalism’s adoption of “primary structures,” seriality, and industrial fabrication, many sculptors have adopted methods and forms associated with architecture. Søren Jensen joins this tradition, but in his exhibition “Shelter & Cover” he twisted it by shifting the emphasis from issues of construction, function, or even metaphor to issues of representation.

Jensen’s quasi-architectural structures are mostly formed of light or flimsy materials, such as aluminum mesh and polyester fabric, but when they make use of sturdier stuff like pine or corrugated cardboard, they seem emphatically light and temporary. Because their apparent lack of durability is offset by implicit transportability, they might exemplify a midpoint between the categories of “tent” and “shed.” They are large enough to be entered, but not large enough for this to seem a comfortable or inviting possibility; that is, their scale has been carefully calibrated to both affirm and deny their potential use as shelter or cover, at least for humans. Elegant in proportion, and inventive in their variations on a simple syntax of rectilinear frameworks, surfaces, and perforations, they are basically open in feeling even when they subtly evoke traps or cages.

Accompanying these constructions were color photographs taken in Denmark, Mexico, and other locations, mostly in rural or suburban areas, and showing various examples of temporary, jerry-built, or ruined structures. Some of these structures are meant for human use, and others for sheltering animals or objects, such as automobiles. Some of the photographs are clearly “of” the architecture; in other cases, exhibited in other contexts, the architectural element might have come across as secondary. The formal parallels among such constructions in fairly far-flung cultures suggest the generic quality of solutions to common needs.

More striking, however, than the documentary relationships between the images was the interaction between the photographs and the constructions. The effect was to displace one’s sense of which related to documentation, and which to the realm of fiction. That is, despite the fact that the photographed structures are hardly “the same” as those shown in the gallery, their participation in a shared syntax or typology meant that the photographs made it easy to imagine that the constructions were not, after all, sculpture, but real specimens of vernacular architecture transported to or re-created within the space of the art gallery. The constructions, on the other hand, insistently implied that the structures in the photographs might not, in fact, be real, but instead could be examples of the sculptor’s work stealthily “planted” in the landscape. As a result, Jensen reaches back, through the Bechers’ use of photography to document vernacular constructions as industrial sculpture, to a more Magrittean sense of slippage between representation and reality.

Barry Schwabsky