“Concrete Poetry, Paved Forests and Solid Light” by Angelika Pagel
It simply can’t be helped: Jason Manley’s show “Paved Forest” begs for metaphors, analogies and double entendres. Walking into Jason’s studio, I surrendered to the most predictable pun: this is ‘concrete poetry’, reminiscent of Apollinaire’s calligrammes! Feeling guilty, I immediately controlled my calculable analogy with the ‘bad pun’ excuse.
But then again: perhaps it is not such a bad pun after all. Guillaume Apollinaire invented calligrammes when he wrote a brief, nationalist ‘concrete poem’ during WW I. The words celebrating France and lambasting Germany are shaped in the stereotypical outline of the Eiffel Tower – words as image, an image made up of words.
Jason’s pieces in this show evoke layers of association and interpretation. Several of his pieces are ‘concrete poetry’ both literally and in the Apollinairian sense. “Schumann” and “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” for instance, concretize (pun intended) music, idioms and sensations. Spoken language, words in general, and sometimes even the written text are associated with impermanence and ephemerality. As I am writing and you are reading these paragraphs, the words only take up a very momentary existence as a neutral series of signs, briefly forming words, a text on a flat surface before vanishing. Out of sight, out of mind.
Which is, as noted, also the title of one of Jason’s pieces in this show. “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” beautifully exemplifies the artist’s interest in “exploring how language can create constraints and borders” and in testing the “psychological, emotional and spatial implications of words and language.” The piece is a rickety construction of heavy letters, repeating this overused aphorism in its entirety or as a fragment, readable or not, with letters sometimes reversed or flipped upside-down. It looks like a partial cage or the remnant piece of a wall about to be deconstructed.
Here, as in all his pieces, process is obvious and adds yet another layer to the ‘reading’ of his pieces. Jason enjoys the tensions and dichotomies yielded by his process as well as his content: leaving mold-making marks, setting words in stone or playing with the polar opposites of light and concrete, as he does in “Forest, Interior” and “Double Gulp Light”. The layered, ridged look of his casts evokes associations with traditional stone-carving; in the “Schumann” piece it may even refer to the spinning grooves of that long obsolete technology, the record. That association in turn furthers the thicket of dichotomies in Jason’s oeuvre: using a high-tech device (the CNC router), Jason evokes a, if not low-tech then at least old-tech device (the record), while cementing the timeless and intangible spirit of music.
These types of powerful oxymorons are of course the theme of his exhibition. Having recently relocated from L.A. to Ogden, the forest of illuminated signs and the endless concrete landscape that make up the urban environment provide him with constant artistic inspiration: “Light and concrete are specifically explored in my work, being the two most dominant elements in the urban environment, from highways to backlit signage and parking lots and streetlights.”
In conversation, Jason mentioned the concept of density – that of the forest and that of concrete. We then proceeded to mull over the, in fact, long history of concrete. The ancient Romans are to be credited for the invention of cement during the 2nd century BCE which fueled an architectural revolution and ‘paved’ the way for the construction of grandiose cities – all the way to contemporary L.A.
But let me return to one more dichotomy, or perhaps it is better called an irony. I am referring to the opposition between the physicality, the solidity of language in Jason’s pieces on the one hand, and the intangibility of his sources on the other hand: texts borrowed from the internet, grabbed ‘out of thin air’, from the Cloud: “The text was found through searching the word forest in electronic readings, and therefore converts the virtual experience of language into a weighty, earthy, substance” and “My sculptures respond to the current displacement of the physical by the virtual and reverse the transformation of analog into digital.”
The virtual versus the ‘concrete’, digital versus analog: antitheses abound in Jason’s work and keep the viewer-reader engaged. The fragmentation of the sculpted texts also does just that. Never complete, they play with the notion of information overload in this digital age, yet these snippets of text — crackling of dead branches … an empty stream … a great silence … an impenetrable forest … solitary as a tomb … fragrant as a bouquet … colossal thicket — often carry with them an oblique and ethereal poetic quality made almost ruthlessly tangible by the raw appearance of Jason’s “Paved Forest”.
From Jasper Johns to Glenn Ligon, the exploration of text as a visual medium has become a contemporary tradition. What is so refreshing about Jason’s contributions to this practice is his application of the newest technologies, thus expanding the never-ending discourse on the relationships between text, language, visuality and their function in our consumer society.
Viewer, reader: Tread lightly in Jason’s “Paved Forest”.
(Quotes are taken from Jason’s Artist’s Statement)