in Frieze | 11 NOV 96
Featured in
Issue 31

Seasonal Change

Jennifer Pastor

in Frieze | 11 NOV 96

I'm an independent contractor, which means that if I break my legs, I fix them. When I call time out for a coffee and a nap it's my loss. So allow me to speak freely and quickly. I was hired to find out about a woman named Jennifer Pastor. An artist residing in El Segundo, a town which I always thought to be a supremely yellowed toilet bowl for skateboarders and oil refineries but actually turned out to be quite a sweet place, if I may say so, and I may, because it's my dime. El Segundo the town, or the little city within the big LA beast city, is so prepared for drugs and violence that a billboard-size sign threatens sleazoid arrivals to watch out or they'll be punched right out at the drawbridge. My collar is dark blue. Stains will not show. Enter now. Welcome. My findings go as follows:

Jennifer Pastor is a small powerful girl, built low to the ground. It's more appropriate to call her a girl than a woman. Not out of disrespect, it's just accurate, and that's my job, Joe Pinpoint. She could pass for a gymnast. The gymnast analogy comes to an abrupt halt rather quickly, however, because Pastorgirl behaves more like a scientist than a spinning, flipping sports machine. Or, rather, she talks more like a dreamy brainiac. Someone with inner visions, possessed by fairly nonhostile devils. She's animated, a little scary, but if one (I) endures the fright one comes out enlightened and cheerfully wacko. She's furious and fanatical, serious as hell, and really giggly. She talks wildly and articulately about her work and then, whoa... too much information, better start laughing, which she does, as if opening up a valve to clear out the log jam. As a result she seems very healthy. Vigorous, obviously. Of sound mind and body, as they say.

I will return to the examination of the individual herself a little later, and perhaps place her in the context of today's artisans, but now allow me to report on what is on the floor and what protrudes from the wall of Jennifer Pastor's studio.

Residing on the wall, macho, furry and ready to fuck or die, is springtime's superstud, the big hairy moth. Perhaps he's prepared to play dead forever, but like a perfectly embalmed corpse this facsimile of nature is eerie and means business. Clinging to an otherwise empty wall the moth is as inert as a mummy's toenail, and just as creepy and innocent. Pastor's lepidoptera is an astonishing, burly specimen. Technically smaller than the largest moth, she tells me, but holy shit, he's big: about four inches long - and very cool. Dignified, too, as only a moth can be, pinned to a wall, all by his little lonesome.

The moth is entitled Spring. It is one quarter of an artwork whose overall title is The Four Seasons (1996). Like the four star hotel? Sure. This moth could slip into the lobby unnoticed. The Four Seasons project is definitely a slippery fellow, a spy to be sure, with ulterior motives, yes, ambitious, yes, subtle, et cetera. But it's willing to cooperate. And by that I mean it seduces with its endearing charms. It's relatively harmless, but it has perceptual layers that might trigger discomfort. The work leaves one (this time it's you) grasping for a new way out.

Spring's sister goes by the name of Summer. She (they call boats by girl's names don't they?) consists of two humongous sea shells, streaked pink and brown. Pastor's oceanic treasures were made the old-fashioned way: out of clay, with her bare hands. These hyper-realistic ornaments stand on the ground like inanimate reptiles, conspicuous and nervous, doing the grunt work, like embarrassed jockeys on the front lawn. The giant sea shells read like big chunks of girl sex poised for slow movement. As prissy as a pair of poodles, the sea shells, grand emblems of beach life, sun and summer, are rooted to the ground like toads, but also seem appropriate as corsages for a Triceratops.

A row of four cornstalks, rising eight feet in the air, are Autumn's proud, curious gesture. Tall geeky things, shyly standing there for all the world to see, the stalks' big flappy leaves droop as naturally as... as those damn things do in real life, which is astonishing since these particular Autumn leaves are made out of copper. The husks are peeled away to reveal the well-endowed cobs of corn you can imagine, bursting with kernels, while still keeping within earshot of the realistic.

Winter is two clusters of pine trees drenched with artificial snow and implanted in two cloudy cotton islands. The islands come out of the wall like two giant white paws. They appear to separate from each other like two bodies of land pulling apart and your eye identifies this crack as if it were a solid mass, following it like a bend in the road until the snow rejoins and discretely fades into the wall. An exaggerated perspective of big hulking trees diminishing to little distant saplings occurs within a few feet. It is as if these snowpacked bonzais are cooperating completely with your imagination, your craving for winter, to be utterly snowbound. The modest landscape blends directly into the wall. It's like being in a white out. The snowy trees thoroughly embrace their own structure, or transform it into an abstract landscape, which you could say has been handed down by America's founding father minimalists, but never done with this type of clarity and awe. Believing that snow is God's only true sign of life, it's easy to say that Pastor's Winter is one of the most glorious sculptural moments I have ever witnessed in my short, straight-to-hell life.

Pastor's objects could win blue ribbons at the county fair. The folks who judge artistic table settings would be as taken with a row of free-standing corn planted in its own fake dirt as would someone from the Whitney Museum. Maybe the country people wouldn't think the giant corn resembled giant dildos, or maybe they would. What does it matter? I think it's amazing to make something that can flourish in both worlds. Make the grannies happy (craft) and blow the professors away (dildos). Pastor's surfaces are calm and clean, as gentle as a seasonal greeting. But the work's covert dementia wreaks wonders, and it's a classically queer, American prop. I'll give you your four seasons. And I'll make it look perfect. It could get a thumbs up from Bob Dole (thumb, excuse me) as easily as it could blow the face off of Curator Magoo. Pastor installs the devil invisibly, and you'll never know it's there until you fall asleep and start dreaming of bloated kernels, super-long, mondo-thick corn cobs.

The freshest and wildest work being done in LA right now is being produced by women, 30 years old and younger, which, to borrow a phrase from the Buddhists, represents 'energetic progress in the good'. To my way of thinking, the heaviest of these inspired beasts (ravenous studio hogs), at least in the sculpture department (please see, photography: Lisa Anne Auerbach and Sharon Lockhart; video: Jessica Bronson; language: Frances Stark; and painting: Laura Owens, Monique Prieto and Michelle Fierro - all phenoms) is the repeatedly named J.P., sweating it out under the fluorescents. But the aforementioned are only the tip of the iceberg. There are tons more. And their older sisters, one and two generations ahead, are supersonically compelling and horribly under-recognised. LA's older gals don't get wheeled out and applauded like at Yankee Stadium.

Contradiction has always been complexity's obedient freaky tool, the compelling force that gets artworks stuttering and dizzy, turns them into restless cheerful ghouls, quivering all by themselves. The trouble these sort of works provoke is the urgent life absent from so many of their lacklustre cousins. Everything about Jennifer Pastor's sculpture trips you up, reeks of conflict, contradiction, exaggeration, distortion, the overfed imagination. Part of the pleasure of it all is that it's definitely out of my reach and it appears pleasurably, to a lesser extent and a more conscious degree, to be swelling and bursting out of her grasp. She chases 'it', whatever 'it' is, as best she can.