Visual Art 11-27-2007

Born Between Art and This: Jade Townsend at the ART OF THIS

Sean Smuda provides a provocative deconstruction of Jade Townsend's recent installation at the up-and-coming ART OF THIS gallery. Read his take on it, and you'll never look at Mom the same way again.


ART OF THIS has a fondness for abjection*, and Born Between Piss and Shit has that. Jade Townsend’s piece serves as an effective illustration of philosopher Julia Kristeva’s theory on the entanglement of the abject with creating an identity for oneself. As Kristeva defines it, the abject is: “that which exists in between the concept of an object and the concept of the subject, something alive yet not.” The act of “…selfing…must abject the maternal, the object which has created us, in order to construct an identity”.

In the case of Born Between Piss and Shit, those things which exist between the subject and the object are ropes. Three faceless mannequins are using them to pull apart the walls of a house. Another has escaped, evidenced by one more umbilical/rope slung out a broken window which is projected away from the house. If the faceless, genderless mannequins are offspring, the mother is a giant golden egg which is suspended dead-center inside the “play”-sized house. Underneath her is a pile of glow-in-the-dark stars which have fallen from the ceiling: childhood’s protection and artifice, downed by the attempt to pull it apart.

This paradigm of the disillusionment of leaving home resonates poetically: we shouldn’t pull it apart, we should simply leave. But, what about dear old ma? Two grunge-style mannequins with long black hair, plaid shirts, and work pants pull out gill-like openings in the house. Another, this one business-suited, is wrapped by a rope that has broken; he has collapsed opposite the escape window. “Mom” needs her workers to maintain the home that they have not chosen to leave. Entrapment is the opposite of escape, and here the captivity is symbiotic. The remaining “offspring” work for her until they drop; and one wonders if she’ll throw out the ones who won’t or can’t work any longer.

This paradigm of maternal influence/tyranny, which exerts control even as the child leaves, escapes, or is cast out, gives the installation its eerie half-life power. We are beholden to our keeper and nurturer with bio-memories, and yet we are willful individuals. Townsend’s work asks: how have we separated from and how are we beholden to the creature who birthed us? Will and affection are constants, yet mutable. What have the measures of our freedoms and responsibilities, conscious and otherwise, been? How would our answers change if this piece was installed outside a group home, a hospital, a bar, the Capitol, Wall Street, or in our own front yard?

Everyone seeing this is the prodigal son or daughter returning from the World, which is of course beyond good and evil, and owning up to the world(s) created by his actions and feelings. Using a Home Depot and Smells like Teen Spirit palette BBPAS forces introspection on the viewer like a home invasion by Nietzsche.

*ART OF THIS’s mission, which emphasizes socially relevant art, often curates exhibitions featuring artists who work in non-fine art materials. This comes through in each show as cast-off materials from mainstream culture are reconfigured, allowing one to separate from and re-examine that culture and its motives.

About the writer: Sean Smuda is an artist, photographer, etc. and is curator of the Shoebox Gallery (which had a show called ART OF THIS N’ THAT last year). He is also a member of VACUM.