Sunday, October 7, 2012

Jessica Bender at Kittredge Gallery

reviewed by Alec Clayton
The Weekly Volcano, Sept. 30

Two weeks ago I reviewed Susan Seubert’s half of the two-person show at Kittredge Gallery, University of Puget Sound. This week’s column focuses on the second half of the two-shows-in-one: Jessica Bender’s mixed-media installation “Dejection,” which fills the large front room of the gallery.

My initial reaction when entering the gallery was astonishment at the overwhelming size of the giant cloth funnel that filled the space as if threatening to expand the walls, ceiling and floor until the whole building burst like a water balloon. The sheer size and expansive feel was exciting, but when I walked around to get a good look at it the initial impression faded. The funnel-shaped circus tent tipped on its side like a capsized sailboat is really not very interesting upon close examination; but the peripheral sculptural pieces surrounding it on walls and floor are very interesting and aesthetically pleasing in a moody and sad sort of way.

As explained in a wall statement, the installation deals with Bender’s recent loss of her mother to terminal illness. Included are a fragment of a wedding dress dyed black and three leather banners that map out the progress of her mother’s illness. Bricks with scissors incised into the surface line the bottom edge of one wall. On the floor are dark, charcoal colored soap sculpture crows. Some are full bodies and some are heads-only as if the birds are buried up to their necks. These ominous birds are situated on the floor beneath the small end of funnel and in a circular array in front of an alter as if praying or listening to a speaker, only they’re all facing away from the alter. At the larger open end of the black and white funnel there are black sculptural forms like abstract and minimalist birds — I can’t quite make out what they’re supposed to be — which form a circle on the floor. It’s like a ritual circle set there for some sort of religious rite, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was all right to step inside, which is the only way to get by and the only way to see inside the funnel. 

Everything is dark and mysterious, and Bender’s craftsmanship is clearly in evidence. My overall impression of the installation was intrigue and admiration. It had the effect of taking me into another world that I didn’t quite understand. Sometimes not being able to fully decipher the meaning of a work of art is an advantage. It makes you want to look longer and harder and to think about it. However, in the case I was grateful for the wall text which, at least, gave me some idea of what the show was about.

Detail showing one of the crows in Jessica Bender's installation. Photo courtesy Kittredge Gallery
I recommend this show and I recommend visiting Bender’s website at where you can find more information on the installation including photos of the works in progress and pages on previous shows such as her “Bluebird” installation at The Telephone Room, which I reviewed back in 2009.

[Kittredge Gallery,  Dejection by Jessica Bender, through Nov. 3, Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday noon to 5 p.m., 1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma, 253.879.3701]

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