BY Michael Darling in Reviews | 11 NOV 98
Featured in
Issue 43

Jason Rogenes

BY Michael Darling in Reviews | 11 NOV 98

Jason Rogenes' expanded polystyrene sculptures present provocative fodder for heady interpretation and zeitgeistian divination. Rogenes builds his work from the discarded polystyrene packing materials specially moulded to hold VCRs, televisions, computers and other similarly delicate products of our technological age. Scavenging skips outside Circuit City, The Good Guys, Al & Ed's Autosound and other fine purveyors of electronica, the artist gathers all the gleaming white, intricately indented packaging he can fit in his truck, at absolutely no cost. In the tradition of other material alchemists, such as Frank Gehry or Jessica Stockholder, Rogenes transforms these unlikely discards into works that are simultaneously ethereal and menacing, other-worldly and banal, gigantic and toy-like.

In the past, the fortuitous couplings of the edges, protrusions and openings of the polystyrene have produced discrete objects resembling space stations, intergalactic cruisers, high-tech weaponry, or cyber fungus. In project 9.7f (1998), the artist has turned this compositional tactic inside out, creating an entire environment with the stuff so that viewers find themselves on the inside of the work. One end of the room is entirely blocked off by a wall of polystyrene foam, illuminated sporadically by embedded fluorescent tubes. From outside, this makeshift barrier appears as an update on Louise Nevelson: all form and no function, an abstract relief made up of pleasing geometrical units. From inside, however, in the context of the entire installation, it reads as a highly specialised, modular storage wall, each distinctively shaped niche presumably housing a different device. Elsewhere, stalactites of polystyrene hang from the ceiling, connected to dangling fluorescent lights by crisp, white wires, which are in turn connected to mysterious power boxes on the white gallery walls. This overwhelming whiteness makes for an affectingly sterile environment akin to a temporarily vacated laboratory. Industrial fans encased in polystyrene housings hum industriously at one end of the room while emitting a constant, spooky squeak of foam rubbing against foam. In the middle of the room, the artist has placed a throne-like object, also constructed from his signature material, which features two clamp arms in the open position. Part electric chair, part nuclear filling station and part futuristic recliner, this element generates the spiralling narrative that holds all the disparate parts together, energising the installation with fantastical, sci-fi plot lines.

Throughout the artist's work, fantasy is ever-present, demanding that the viewer relinquish reason and luxuriate in imaginative, child-like role playing. This has been the case with his hilarious colour photos of Star Wars action figures as well as the polystyrene works, and project 9.7f furthers this theme. So far, only one other artist, Rogenes' fellow Angeleno Shirley Tse, has to my knowledge latched on to the ready-made version of polystyrene. It is unclear how many permutations on the qualities of this material Rogenes will find possible, but so far, subtle refinements, such as the addition of light, sound, the movement of air and creative wiring methods, have ensured the work has not descended into cliché.