BY Nathaniel Budzinski in Reviews | 30 OCT 14
Featured in
Issue 167

Jennifer Tee

Signal – Center for Contemporary Art, Malmö, at Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen, Denmark

BY Nathaniel Budzinski in Reviews | 30 OCT 14

Jennifer Tee, Occult Geometry, from the series ‘The Movement of the Triangle / The Pyramid’, 2014, mixed media, 50 × 35 cm

Since the late 1990s, the independent project space Signal has been a consistent source of energy in Malmö’s art scene. Its programme works closely with artists and provides an extended amount of time and support to develop exhibitions. Earlier this year, however, Signal lost its space and has thus far remained nomadic.

This autumn, Signal journeyed across the Øresund Bridge to Copenhagen’s Kunsthal Charlottenborg. There – in line with Charlottenborg’s recent series of smaller, short-run projects alongside their main exhibition programme – Signal organized a pop-up space wedged into the last two galleries of the Kunsthal’s cavernous exhibition floor, and hosted a show of recent work by Jennifer Tee entitled ‘Occult Geometry’.

Tee regularly uses ideas rooted in esoteric thought and claims to have ‘internalized’ Tao magic into her working process – aspects reflected in her ornate titling: Shuudan Koudou (Collective Action) Ether Plane / Material Plane or Talisman To Vitalize The Kidneys / Two Female Dancers With Yin Receptacles (both 2014) and so on. Her titles might sound ponderous but they’re lightened by the crafty, shabby-chic qualities of her sculptures. Crystalline Floor Piece / Nona 1+2 (2013–14) is one of a pair of hand-dyed and woven wool carpets. Placed near the entrance, coloured stripes ran laterally across seven roughly woven and connected triangles that radiated out in winged vectors from the centre of the nearly touching textiles. Two sleek ceramic pods glazed with speckled colour gradations (Oval Spheres, 2014) were placed on each wing, as if pinning down a strange, giant bird.

The exhibition’s most charged works were three floor-standing assemblages: Subtle Planes~Spirit Matter (2013), Primordial Chaos~Selfhood Meltdown (2014) and Ether Plane~Material Plane (2014). All consist of a basic stone pillar: one with a bending bamboo pole resting on top, two balancing archery bows that echo the wing-like carpets. Some of the pieces have colourful ceramic cones attached to their ends like dumbbells. At the base of each cone are stamped letters spelling out phrases like ‘Primordial Chaos’ and ‘Melt Selfhood’. Each rod is looped on both ends by a pair of glowing fluorescent tube halos, accentuating their fragility. Tee sometimes incorporates dance in her work, and her sense for tension, weight and balance instilled an acute awareness of your own movement through the exhibition. There was a palpable risk that if you made the wrong move, you’d easily knock the bows off their pedestals or dirty the carpets with your footprints.

The walls of the second room contained a number of colourful prints resembling aleatoric or channelled drawing. In the centre of the room hung Bit By Bit / Woman Holding Her Balance (2009), a mobile made of a curved piece of wood lined with moulds of human teeth. From each end dangled birds made of unfired clay, and below their drooping bodies hung two large crystals – the type used by New Age healers to harmonize the unstable self with the cosmos.

Tee cites artist-mystics like Wassily Kandinsky and Hilma af Klint as influences. Both were active during a revival of occultism at the end of the 19th century prompted by the divinations of spiritualists like Madame Blavatsky and Georges Gurdjieff, gurus who were voracious cultural hybridizers. Their impulses hinted toward the rise of the New Age movement from the 1960s and its focus on individualism and cosmic relativism, all delivered with a pop-cultural twist. Indeed, ‘Occult Geometry’ was more invested in taking a light-hearted romp through esoterica and New Age geometry than in the perpetuation of ‘occultural’ traditions. Tee may borrow her ideas from obscure sources, but her work unmistakably plays with, and implicitly critiques, a mainstream culture and a contemporary art world that are saturated with magical thinking and constructed through leaps of faith.

Nathaniel Budzinski is a writer and producer.