Jason de Haan, Free and Easy Wanderer (Red River), 2014, fossils, humidifiers, concrete, dimensions variable.

Jason de Haan, Free and Easy Wanderer (Red River), 2014, fossils, humidifiers, concrete, dimensions variable.

Jason de Haan

Jason de Haan, Free and Easy Wanderer (Red River), 2014, fossils, humidifiers, concrete, dimensions variable.

Last summer, the Geological Society of America released a study confirming the appearance of a new type of stone, discovered in Hawaii in 2006. To the casual observer, this may not seem like earth-shattering news. Yet these “plastiglomerates,” formed by the random fusion of melted plastic from our waste-laden ecosystem along with sand, coral, shells, and other flotsam and jetsam, might in time prove to be a pivotal marker of our age, hard-set evidence of the moment when the delicate balance between man and nature finally tipped.

Thoughts of the ebb and flow of time and our indelible place within it were never far from Jason de Haan’s mind in his solo exhibition “Free and Easy Wanderer.” Since 2008, the Calgary-based artist has made wryly idiosyncratic studies of temporal flux, using materials charged with the weight of man-made accumulation and, conversely, those with claims to symbolic or spiritual value. From the purported healing properties of crystal formations to the metaphysical wormholes generated by, in the artist’s words, “haunted” mirrors positioned face-to-face, to stalactite mineral beards whose growth he fostered on the chins of found sculptural busts, de Haan’s practice hinges on existential reflection and projection. Time is the active agent; the durational result often a fundamental manifestation of who we are, where we came from, and perhaps even where we are going.

In the exhibition’s front gallery, a suite of twenty-three photographs from a project begun in 2008, titled The Whale (reading Moby Dick upside down and backwards), 2008–2014, captures de Haan sitting at the edge of various shorelines—in Iceland, Lebanon, Utah, and wherever else his travels have taken him—reading Melville’s Moby-Dick. In this project, de Haan slowly worked through the novel’s 135 chapters, read from back to front and upside down. The photos, too, are upended in the exhibition’s installation, resulting in a totaling effect that confuses any fixed conditions of place, knowledge, and experience, in both Melville’s voyage and de Haan’s own. This absurdist take on indeterminate reality also figured in an adjacent pair of sculptures. Groper, 2014, a meteorite fragment carved in the shape of an index finger, was subtly lodged in a gallery wall, while in East Kootenay Shoe, 2014, a moss-covered found sneaker rests atop a marble plinth. Whether forged in the depths of interstellar space or tossed aside in a British Columbia forest, these relics’ meanings—past, present, and future—remain elusive and transitory (a condition of sale for Groper is that it must be carried by the owner at all times). Here, contextual value and talismanic aura become subject to the greater detritus of existence.

A second gallery of works centered on an array of five sculptural constructions completed for de Haan’s graduate exhibition at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, this past summer. In the series, also titled “Free and Easy Wanderer,” 2014, custom-built concrete bases hold humidifiers (including a duo of fascinating bulb-shaped models from South Korea), each topped by fossilized brachiopods or petrified turtle shells de Haan collected while roaming the badlands of Alberta and South Dakota.

Clever elemental contrasts abound: The fossil-like composite of the cement bases, vaporized water, and the nondegradable petroleum plastic of humidifiers all point to a materiality that runs in perpetual circles. These classically proportioned, sculpturally evocative forms are also shape-shifters that work to turn back the epochal clock and reanimate long-dead matter via the moisture that steadily streams past the fossils. Over the course of the exhibition, at least one of the brachiopods began to visibly disintegrate, its material essence dispersed into the gallery air to be reabsorbed and reformed, carried on to new journeys of existence in the lungs of viewers. As de Haan would have it: In the end, there is the beginning.

Bryne McLaughlin