BY Susan Kandel in Reviews | 06 SEP 94
Featured in
Issue 18

Jennifer Pastor

BY Susan Kandel in Reviews | 06 SEP 94

Perhaps it's just my recalcitrant taste for dialectics, but something about Jennifer Pastor's art puts me in mind of strange bedfellows, mixed metaphors, and recombinant DNA. I suppose it's no big surprise, considering that the single, untitled work Pastor recently showed at Richard Telles Gallery looked like a melting, multi-coloured, masterpiece of an ice-sculpture, left over from the bar mitzvah of a very perverse - or merely over-assimilated - young man.

A cluster of synthetic Christmas trees in assorted hues, each ringed with bristling tinsel and topped by a colour co-ordinated headdress, radiate outward like the points of a shooting star. One headdress seems to come straight out of 20s burlesque; another, courtesy of a NASA space station as re-imagined by Pedro Almodovar; a third looks like a faux streetlamp in an over-leveraged, Midwestern maxi-mall. Enveloped in a rush of bubbling water (which, of course, neither rushes nor bubbles, as it is congealed in shiny, plastic perpetuity), this ensemble of well-dressed, but displaced trees is so absurd, yet so impressive that it actually merits the label 'tour de force.'

Pastor is something of an anomaly. This is her first solo show, and her work is not about bad girl subversion, good Marxist critique, scatter aesthetics, eco-politics, or defining the parameters of the 'pathetic.' Neither is it about reclaiming high kitsch for high art, despite a hot flirtation with camp. Her work indeed plays into the allure of all sorts of tacky things: brand-new suburban discards, Las Vegas-influenced paraphernalia and dated, futuristic design. But it outstrips its in-house references in order to make a broader claim for elegance. Neither refined nor tasteful, Pastor's art is elegant in its unconventional sumptuousness and its subtle obliquity.

What is most oblique is Pastor's take on narrative. Though the hard-won harmonies of colour and form suggest a strong interest in the mechanics of abstraction, the work is clearly referential. Yet Pastor is no storyteller. To venture that this piece is a condemnation of the consumerist frenzy that makes for Yuletide bad faith, or even a requiem for Nature, lost irretrievably to Culture, is to miss the point. Pastor holds back. She creates a frame through which to perceive, a field in which to play, a stage in which various events may or may not transpire. Despite its high suffocation quotient (everything, everywhere, and all at once), the work says very little. What you are hearing are the echoes emanating from its breathing space.

There are strong resonances with the baroque in all of this - the theatrical mien, the elaborate conceptual programme, the suggestion of movement, however thwarted. In baroque art, the principle of co-extensive space is paramount: the notion of dissolving the barrier between the real space of the observer and the constructed space of art. This kind of illusionism perfectly suited the needs of the Church, for it transferred the mind's eye from the realm of the material to that of the eternal, where a whole slew of other barriers (between truth and fiction, faith and scepticism) could be similarly dissolved.

Yet Pastor is neither a zealot, nor your typical devotee. Her work is meant to fabricate a spatial continuum, to be seen from all sides, but negotiating a path around it in the cramped gallery space is quite difficult. The result is a hyper-awareness of one's body, and therefore, a jettisoning of the possibility of transcendence in or through art. This is both quite something, and an admission that the work can't be much at all. About this, and the doomed inevitability of all grand schemes, overarching ambitions, and monumental structures, Pastor is both elegiac and relieved. Here, obliquity (the state of being neither here nor there, but somewhere on the edge) makes perfect sense.