When I’m visiting a lot of galleries, my experiences are often filtered through what I’ve recently seen. Sometimes this can be irritating and inappropriate, but occasionally exhibitions operate like perfect compliments, informing my reception and positioning one another within contemporary artistic practice. Though their exhibitions appear dramatically different, I could not help but draw connections between the sculptural works of Jan De Cock and David Jablonowski, showing a few blocks away from each other at Galerie Fons Welters and the Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam, respectively. De Cock looks inward for inspiration, Jablonowski toward the past, but together this fortuitous pairing demonstrates a sophisticated and contemporary trend in sculptural practice.
Both artists cite the nomadic modernist convention of base-as-sculpture; their works are varyingly filled pedestals, homeless plinths, and freestanding walls. But this liberating device is just one of many visual and historical quotations they employ. Both insert literal images, often over-saturated and digitally distorted, within their material structures. Yet, seemingly by design, there is a lot of static in their symbolic transmissions. De Cock and Jablonowski ultimately obfuscate and withhold explanation, toying with our inclination to identify references and assign meaning.
Jablonowski seemingly considers ancient history as an unfixed site, allowing for the politically expedient rewriting of memory and progress onto its archaeological remains. Jan De Cock delves into his own studio, making auto-documentary and transformative sculptures. The bodies of work are at once totemic and counter-monumental. They allude toward their unsettled lineages within the genealogies of art, architecture, and knowledge, with a cautious modesty that ultimately refuses to immortalize anything in particular.
De Cock’s chipboard and steel constructions in Repromotion have a bit of the sleek, auto-monumental minimalism of a Florian Slotawa installation combined with the wit and grit of a Rachel Harrison assemblage. While Slotawa uses actual objects from his home or studio, De Cock uses his workspace for inspiration. Collaged throughout are images of his studio and, oddly, ruins from former Balkan war zones.
His columns and other sculptural surfaces look clean though slightly jarring, like something fresh from the Ikea flat-pack that hasn’t been assembled quite right. The green steel lines of Kodak, for example, zigzag their way up toward the sky-lit roof, mingling with the gallery’s structural beams. To stick with my Scandinavian design metaphor, the transformed gallery is reminiscent of a labyrinthine Ikea floor plan in which connections between one part of the space and another are not immediately clear; there is not so much narrative as total experience.
The sculptures complicate ides about subject and object, foreground and background. The columns are the clear objects in the gallery, yet they correspond with an artist-erected background (Monument I-III) which uses framing devices like holes in the “walls” to showcase other parts of the installation. Photographs of the works in his studio further complicate our understanding of objects in space.
David Jablonowski’s Material Kontingenz is a quieter exhibition, though it similarly combines architectural references and photographs with nods toward modern sculpture. Jablonowski’s minimalist works are at once experiments in materiality and ruminations on history. He employs metal, plaster, and polystyrene foam in ways that belie their material properties. In a few works, staggered mirrored panels break up the sleek surfaces of Judd-like boxes. In another, an open flatbed scanner acts as a pedestal for an abstracted plaster limb. In Disposition, the painterly treatment of Styrofoam makes it seem like a tremendously heavy and well-weathered monolith.
Tchogha Zanbil is a freestanding metal wall onto which a flat screen monitor is hinged, like the page of a giant book. The screen faces into the wall at an acute angle and the viewer must get right up into the sculpture to see its video images of museums and archaeological sites in Iran. Like the wall at the Tchogha Zanbil ziggurat, which is inscribed with texts about the deities once worshipped there, this sculpture demands the interaction between spectator and object.
Jablonowski intersperses images of filmstrips, museums, and text carved into stone throughout the gallery, meditating on forms of preserving knowledge, information, and history. But, forgive my pun, knowledge is not set in stone. Symbols, materials, even words, can have different meanings at different times. De Cock’s photographic references to contested Balkan cities and Jablonowski’s exploration of Mesopotamian archaeological sites remind us that kingdoms rise and fall and political realities change; the same building, city, or symbol can mean different things to different people at different times.
Evolving from a rich tradition of sculpture-as-pedestal, De Cock and Jablonowski both make mysterious and communicative stelae, modern totems that demand our contemplation while resisting immediate comprehension or resolution. Unlike their modern predecessors their works no longer assert the autonomy of sculptural practice, instead using visual and material clues to assert concepts much greater than themselves. In de Cock and Jablonowski’s evocative constructions the personal and the historical are transformed into meditations on the multivocality of sculpture, architecture, and even the uncovered past.
>, writer living in the Netherlands.
(Images: Jan De Cock, overview; David Jablonowski, Disposition, 2009; Tshogha Zanbil, 2010, video image; Courtesy of the artists, Galerie Fons Welters and Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam)