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October 6 - December 29, 2002 at Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena

by Betty Brown

Evocative yet elusive, humorous, expansive, and impossible to contain or control, Jill Giegerich's work frolics through Post Modern arcades. Her sculptural assemblages enter the territory of the 'informe' (the formless) and explore alternative concepts of the subject and self. In doing so, they negotiate terrain mapped by numerous French theorists.

Giegerich circles around the conundra of self/selves in works like JG-2001-5. An ornate boudoir couch teeters at an awkward angle in front of a Baldessari-esque grid of black and white photographs. Like the precarious position of the couch, the photographs tease at meaning, at narrative, but ultimately elude the grasp of both. Also like the couch, we are edged off balance. Are we to project ourselves onto the furniture and imagine looking at the photographs from that position? Does the couch function as an objective correlative of the viewer, as our stand-in, so to speak? Or is the entire piece a commentary on the process of making and viewing art? Refusing to answer, JG-2001-5 assaults the once-comfortably-fixed positions of subject and object, of viewer and viewed.

The rococo trim of the couch becomes the substance of JG-1991-14, a wall piece with floral arabesques curling around a beautifully scripted 'Soma.' Absorbing and considering this work provokes puzzling questions about the self. How do we conceive the connection between subject and object? Is the subject the psyche and the object the soma? Or is the subject a conscious being and the object its world?

Jacques Lacan, the 'infant terrible' of psychoanalysis who contributed to Surrealist journals and analyzed Dali (another 'infant terrible,' of course), theorized as early as the 1950s about the decentered self, the "self's radical ex-centricity to itself." Lacan wrote: "What one ought to say is: I am not, wherever I am, the plaything of my thoughts; I think of what I am whenever I don't think I am thinking." Which makes me conjure up Giegerich's JG-1990-8, another wall piece dominated by a decorative flourish. Burnished gold tendrils circle an oval that should be a mirror but is instead a black void. Three curvilinear shapes float out of the mirror/void, like baroque ectoplasm, challenging the possibility, and indeed the necessity of reflecting a finite (centered, Cartesian) self.

The only 'self' depicted, 'seen,' in Giegerich's work is apparently male. Muscular and hairless, his torso floats over a montaged landscape in JG-1991-1. He appears decapitated, flexing plywood muscles in JG-1983-2. And he is implied in JG-1995-1, where four photographs of forests, dulled and dreamlike, shimmer behind baggy men's pants adorned with long gold pocket chains. But this male persona resists containment in any comfortable category of identity. We are led to ask: Who is this, this presence always characterized by absence (absence of torso, absence of feet, absence of face)? And how do we relate to such a fragmentary signifier? As an object to be viewed? As an extension of ourselves, also viewing? As a self that slips between categories to engage, then re-engage, the liberating play of art?

Early in the twentieth century, Georges Bataille posited the 'informe' as a practice of slippage, a process of uprooting and declassing preconceptions that would lead away from the oppression of modernism's fixed universalities. More recently, Yve-Alain Bois wrote that Bataille's 'informe' involves "certain operations that brush modernism against the grain" but do so without countering modernism's formal certainties with more reassuring certainties of meaning. 'Informe' operations liberate us from the constraining demands of modernism and direct us toward the possible joys of difference.

The insistent uncertainties of Giegerich's works point to her Post Modern employment of 'informe.' She does not serve easy recipes for understanding and thereby controlling the self or the world. Instead, she leads us into Jacques Derrida's field of play. We enter stumbling over uncertainty and doubt, but accompanied by freedom.

“JG-1986-1, Untitled,” 1986, lapcement on carpet on
plywood/ink on paper on plywood, 59 1/2 x 67 x 4”.
Photo: Douglas Parker.

“JG-1991-11, Untitled,” 1991, lapcement/cork/paint stick/photocopy/brass on plywood, 89 x 52 x 20”.
Photo: David Familian.

“JG-1991-15, Untitled,” 1991, resinite sandpaper/
wax/plywood, 94 1/2 x 57 x 31”.
Photo: David Familian.

“JG-1995-1, Untitled,” 1995,silkscreen on nylon/wool pants/
bead chain/plumb line/wooden dowels, 102 x 92 x 12”.
Photo: Robert Wedemeyer

“JG-2001-5, Untitled,” 2001, couch/digital prints mounted
on foam core/papier-mâché/enamel paint, 120 x 78 x 48".
Photo: David Familian.