Los Angeles

Jennifer Bolande, Image Tomb (with skeletons), 2014, newspapers, Plexiglas, wood, 43 × 13 × 13".

Jennifer Bolande, Image Tomb (with skeletons), 2014, newspapers, Plexiglas, wood, 43 × 13 × 13".

Jennifer Bolande

The stack of newspapers at the corner stand was once replenished regularly. The local bulletin board has lately stood bereft of announcements. Neither one has quite disappeared, but neither one accumulates or announces with the same sense of urgency. Jennifer Bolande meditated with subtle conceptual rigor on these two aging formats of communication in her latest exhibition. She avoided a polemic against erosion and erasure, offering instead an elegy on diminishing material forms. In the nearly forty-nine-minute video from which the exhibition took its title, The Composition of Decomposition, 2018, Bolande juxtaposed equally sized slices of text and images from copies of the New York Times dating from 2013 to 2015. She selected the excerpts somewhat by chance, through a process of slicing a single rectangle through the entire stack of papers, and then placing facing slices side by side. Functioning as a slideshow, the piece shifts in eight-second intervals through more than three hundred combinations of the two-page tears while atmospheric synths dirge and percuss in the background. Auction-house announcements sit next to reports on natural disasters; op-eds rub against obits. Somehow, the extracting of content invites the viewer to find new meaning in the conceptual pairings. Yet the enigmatic visuals and information—of aspirational advertisements and heartbreaking tragedies, celebrity gossip and breaking news—are united only by their belonging to a distinct period of time. Bolande’s cut is clean and surgical, but it still cuts.

Though a longtime resident of Los Angeles, Bolande emerged as an artist in late-1970s New York, having been deeply affected by Douglas Crimp’s iconic “Pictures” exhibition at Artists Space in 1977. Perhaps also because of her background in dance, Bolande has long been interested in the choreography of viewing, those tensile movements between bodies, things, and pictures. There’s a simple elegance and an unlikely pathos in her approaches to the news, in what she finds within its layered physicality. In Image Tomb (with skeletons), 2014, Bolande displayed one of those stacks of papers from which the spreads in The Composition of Decomposition were cut. The gutted tower of daily newspapers is tucked snugly into a Plexiglas case. Looking through the central void, one discovers a single image remaining on an uncut paper at the bottom of the stack: a large picture of unburied skeletons. A similarly structured piece, Image Tomb (with coliseum), 2017, exposes a picture of a coliseum. Both excavation and theater, Bolande’s three-dimensional slices offer something more real than the flat image might have if beaming alone from the front page—spaces of anticipation that require the viewer to change position in order to see.

News Column (80 inch), 2017, tested the limits of the form. The resin cast of a newspaper stack stood alone as a solemn white column devoid of content: a monument to itself, a tombstone for a moribund medium. But journalism isn’t dead just yet, even if its forms are shifting from the physical to the digital, even as revenue streams dry up and facts are regularly assaulted by trolls and politicians. Still, these increasingly pressing realities existed in the exhibition only as context. Bolande’s confidence and clarity allowed us to develop our own emotional relationship to these objects and images, to fill in the meanings for ourselves.

The remaining aesthetic examinations in the show reflected on the bulletin board. Though somehow less fraught than newspapers, bulletins have certainly slipped in importance. Bolande photographed an altogether empty one and its reflective surface at different times of day (Bulletin Board [L] at 1:44pm, 2017) and hung its images alongside blue-pigmented fiberboard reliefs that consider, like the white-resin newspaper stack, its objectness more than its messages. Though these appeared to present melancholic absences, they also emphasized the lasting presence of their referents, if only as ruins of public discourse.

Andrew Berardini