What's on Los Angeles | Index

by Jody Zellen

December 6, 2018

Jennifer Bolande
The Composition of Decomposition

Pio Pico
October 27, 2018 - February 17, 2019

Jennifer Bolande, installation view

News, culture, current events, time, history, memory, truth and random juxtaposition are all 'artifacts' that can be sourced from the daily newspaper. The newspaper itself has transitioned from a printed document that appeared each morning to an ever changing online bombardment of current stories accessible in the moment. This begs the question: Is the printed version of the paper an archaic object? For many born into the digital age, the structure and form of the printed news is irrelevant.

Artists have used newspapers, specifically, The New York Times as raw material for artistic explorations. Douglas Ashford, Merwin Belin, Nancy Chunn, Elissa Levy, Adrian Piper, Fred Tomaselli and Andrew Witkin are among the many artists who have experimented with the newspaper as a point of departure. While their approaches vary, the content of 'the news' directs how they construct their work.

The impetus for Jennifer Bolande's exhibition, The Composition of Decomposition, began with an image from The New York Times depicting the corpses of 14th century plague victims whose remains had been excavated from a London cemetery. This image is the center piece of Image Tomb (with skeletons), 2014, a work of stacked newspapers whose center has been excavated about a foot down to reveal the photograph of the skeletons. Presented within a tall vitrine atop a wooden pedestal that matches its height, it is necessary to stand on tip-toes to peer down into the column of newspapers through layers of time and history that cannot be accessed. Bolande kept the section she removed intact — as a large pile and later opened the stack, as if pages in a book and began to make photographs of each spread. Some of these fragments (collected between 2013 and 2015) are exhibited as stand alone prints, as well as combined into a 48 minute film made up of approximately 400 image pairs. On screen long enough to be seen but not read, the sequence becomes a visual journey through recent history where snippets from headlines and captions are randomly juxtaposed with articles, advertisements and news imagery. Meaning is gleaned by reading between the elements. As Bolande notes, "The cut I made through the newspaper ignored the narrative and hierarchical structures that denote importance and harness attention, which put everything on equal footing. Inconsequential slivers of information are beside things of great consequence or supposed importance."

As a film, The Composition of Decomposition, is both straightforward and uncanny simultaneously. Drawing from both appropriationist strategies and Fluxus, it is a poetic meditation on the changing political and cultural landscape created by dematerializing the newspaper, ignoring its structure and presenting its printed innards as a sequence of cut out fragments. Viewers are invited to sit on benches in the darkened room and travel back in time.

To complement the film, Bolande has created prints of some of the spreads including The Composition of Decomposition (photograph no. 1), (photograph no. 27), (photograph no. 65) and (photograph no. 257), 2016-2017. In each framed pigment print, she isolates a still from the sequence and presents it as an example of how random juxtapositions can resonate beyond the ordinary. For example, in (photograph no. 257), a black and white news photograph of onlookers viewing a distant explosion is paired with a fragment of an orange and black abstraction, (perhaps an advertisement from Sotheby's), that suggests the color missing from its accompanying grayscale image. (photograph no. 1) serendipitously includes the headline for the obituary for The Times media critic David Carr in concert with a headline about racial killing and a fragmented photograph of a navy vessel and a celebratory gathering.

While the film is the focal point of the exhibition, it is presented in conjunction with printed and sculptural works. The exhibition beings with photographs of reflections on exterior bulletin boards coupled with same-sized pieces made from blue pigmented fiberboard that have been embossed with the reflections from the photographs. These subtle works are confusing at first, as it is unclear what Bolande is depicting, but the discerning eye soon understands that the images are standard university billboard boxes hanging on brick walls. The glass fronts of these boxes reflects the scene across the buildings courtyard, obscuring the messages that would be contained within. In Bulletin Board (R) at 1:45 pm, 2017 there are a few pushpins, yet nothing to pin. These pieces suggest a kind of emptiness and displacement as bulletin boards were once the primary place for announcements and information. The inclusion of this series complements The Composition of Decomposition as in both, Bolande acknowledges the analogue and what predated electronic communication.

Bolande works across many different mediums. News Column (80 inch), 2017 is a cast resin sculpture, a white column that stands 80 inches tall. It is situated in the center of the room with the billboard images, a lone tall pillar that towers above the tops of the framed images. News Column (44 inch), 2017, a shorter pile of cast newspapers, 44 inches off the ground can be found toward the back of the gallery in a room with unfinished walls. These ghost-like stacks reference architectural supports and represent the accumulation of a physical presence. Yet, Bolande's cast-white sculptures are stripped of their images and texts. They are a void that refences the printed newspapers eventual absence and obsolescence.

While Bolande acknowledges that news is now more often digitally delivered and read, her works draw from printed sources. She has amassed and archive of The New York Times giving her something physical, tangible and full of possibilities to use as the catalyst for future works.