Jessica Labatte’s photography in “Bright Branches” at Scott Projects presents a humorous approach to twisted and transcendental still lifes. (Untitled) Space Weeds is a digital print of a still life with requisite vase and flowers on a table plus pink balloons and a ripped out magazine image of a supernova. The vase and flowers cast a blue hue on the wall and the balloons languid pink echoes in the burst of the supernova. Nearby is a related shot called Poster an image of an airbrushed fantasy poster where the cathedral shaped night sky falls into a river that spills over a waterfall and into the cosmos, all set upon the wall and partially obscured by wilted candles and a houseplant.
Aside from the still lives and still other wackier photographs like Untitled (Ghost), an empty children’s costume against a brick background, stands another subject that shares alot with a prevalent art world trend. Recently referred to on the art blog Art Fag City by Paddy Johnson as “crap on crap”, this tendency is displayed in photos like Untitled (The Weather), Untitled (The Internet) or Untitled (Wig Pile). They record temporarily constructed bricolages built inside non-descript spaces. These sculptures are collections of urban detritus and household items arranged into formal configurations. If in fact Labatte’s work stopped here she would undoubtedly be in the familiar territory of Laura Letinsky for the still lifes, and Isa Genzken or Jessica Stockholder for the assemblages. Yet there is something of a point of view within each heap of trash, buoyed along by the other photographs, so that viewing the assemblages one after another doesn’t become redundant.
The trend of “crap on crap” is possibly the closest thing to a “new” media as we have at the moment, save those generated through the glistening expansion of technology. Given the continuing irrelevance of processes like stone carving, there is a natural tendency for artists to utilize the “materials” of today. They are the readily available, loaded with meaning and familiar. Some reasons for the prevalence of this style (for lack of a better word) are posted on Art Fag City and written by artist Tom Moody. They are in order…
1. Everybody’s broke and there’s always an abundance of trash.
2. Six years of art education teaches that high art is dead so everyone takes the low road.
3. Disgust with capitalism and consumer culture.
5. Genuine love of trash culture and its byproducts.
6. Avoidance of known art materials.
7. A way to make formal arrangements of things without being called “Greenbergian.”
8. A way to be political without sloganeering.
9. Genuine interest in the lineage of Schwitters/Rauschenberg–-considering it an unfinished project.
10. New trash (web and technology cast-offs) necessitates new ways of arranging trash (and new content unknown to Rauschenberg, et al).
Jessica Labette seems to be someone who partakes in a healthy dose of #5. For instance, her collections in Untitled (The Internet) are spritely mixtures of furniture and miscellaneous objects all drenched in criss-crossing wires and string. Out from the nooks and setting atop stuff poke pairs of googley eyeballs. In another instance Untitled (The Weather) contains upturned couches, posters of sunsets, a sunburst advertisement all with a little blue bow on top. The eyeballs and sunset posters serve to color the particular piles pushing them into metaphorical territory. Though the metaphors are brief, tinged with melancholic psychedelia and as inescapably silly as a pile of neon pink wigs, they give a narrative structure to the piles that lets us re-inscribe some meaning back onto the junk.
(Images courtesy of the artist and Scott Projects, Chicago)