SHAPES AND NOISES: JENINE MARSH AT EVANS CONTEMPORARY
by Kim Neudorf
Certain words are referred to in the space of talking to Jenine Marsh about her work. Her pieces are unspecific shapes, objects, reliefs, dis-figures; unspecific because they are not meant to be terminally identified. These words, as provisional identities for the work, are of the same body as their action in language and speech. Shapes are still being shaped. Reliefs have been relieved of certain roles and duties. Much of the work engages both figurally and facially in space simultaneously; ‘facing’ the viewer with the two-dimensional vocabulary of the pictorial while relating quite specifically as physical bodies in space, these shapes and objects are often all-face propped up by improvised limbs, given an economical and entirely potential ability to exist as sculpture.
A low platform stopping short on blunt legs; a vaporous screen of light pinned to the ground by a bowed leg of wood; a chunk of crumbling pink having fallen asleep on stage; the underside of a fitted queen-size sheet too loose over a twin-size board, its lower corner in a frozen flapping; a slice of paper shape having slipped into a sloping scoop of listening; a signpost of target-crinkles with glazed-over face and rotating circuits of tabs fixed to its back; a blue lower lip sweep in a forehead slope of wet hair; a thick worm split long-ways but not yet pried apart; the shape of a shoe heel-to-toe is interrupted by a frightened wad of Kleenex which is sliced clean through; arms folded in a perfect square framing an inward shape of white wall; eye smiles sag chin to waist. Encountered in Marsh’s studio, these are figures temporarily fixed in that beginning space of waiting when theories are first offered as to the course and cause of the wait, where multi-shaped tilts of paper are staunch in their own theories, while a pockmarked veil takes sides with a polka-dot couch arm.
Of a piece called Invisible Woman, somehow it seems significant to have spent time with it in the same space of listening to two 1940s radio plays, one in which bodies have been turned inside-out by alien fog, and another about a primordial creature who is both gropingly blind and invisible until covered with paint. A tall piece in Marsh’s studio called Frankie immediately mixes in my brain with Sade’s 1984 song Frankie’s First Affair, wherein at a particular key moment in the song, Sade’s delivery of “it’s your first affair” seems glued to the corny tonal and linguistic build-up of the phrase “it’s your birthday”; It’s Frankie’s First Birthday Affair. The patterns, atmospheres, textures, temperatures, and behaviors of what is heard (or misheard) but not seen seems to correlate appropriately with how my reading of Marsh’s work has been fleshed out over time.
A reflexive consideration of the social life of Marsh’s work helps it to avoid subsisting upon a self-sustaining circuit of authority, conditions which Marsh attempts to make possible by her initial treatment of materials. She relates the making of her work to a process hard to pinpoint to any original model or reference. The beginning of a piece may be the idea of a shape, while the innate behavior of material used to realize that shape offers its own tangents. Her shapes and objects appear to have been constructed using the immediate materials at hand, allowing a certain amount of original conditions to remain. Often made with cheap, easily constructed materials combined with found objects, the operation of these shapes and objects differs from that of other deskilled material practices in that they are neither blatantly precious talismans, nor are they dependent upon any synapse-firing immediacy of disposable aesthetics. When plastic sheeting has been grafted to the body of a found dresser, or when wood, vinyl, cardboard and latex are fastened together then painted head-to-toe in the same shocked white, a certain materiality which critically activates the original conditions of found material is achieved; Marsh transforms the material into the shape, texture, and colour of a kind of glimpse of – rather than total access to – its innate physicality.
ROOM AND BOARD
A clean house, a series of rooms in which its schema emits attendants and possible actions for use. A painted shadow for a floor grate. A lone white table leg in a forgotten posture, as if recently used to strip the room bare. A missing door. Shapes and noises: smash-clasp-thrash-toast. Worry-brown. Cartoon ice held in place by invisible pincers: a large, thick slice of flickering light. The remaining shape of a poking finger. Stretchy flannel jutting hips and 80s hits with swirling blankets crammed into the couch seats. Swath-plop. A tincture of wood tries to rid itself of the sticky mucus of light. Tiny upturned piano stripes with posterior kick, frozen-poultry leg-nubs underneath frosted clinic white. Shoe smear, crunchy towel. The lip edges of a shirt peel, side glance waify stretch. Top-heavy step forward at elbow-shift pace.
Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, while speaking of language specifically, describes a loyalty to things (which can be thought of as an encounters, texts, artworks, ideas, etc.) which involves an avoidance of defining and fixing them by gesturing towards their communicability wherein communicability, rather than realizing specific tasks or ends, is what they communicate. Often static, Marsh’s work strives to be animated beyond the brute fact of its material. Her shapes and objects communicate movement through gesture. Essayist Roland Barthes describes gesture as the “indetermined and inexhaustible sum of motives, pulsations, and lassitudes that surround the act with an atmosphere.” For sculpture to become something in constant movement while still inescapably tied to its static materiality, Marsh understands the significance in creating conditions where relationships to the work remain open; the work remains in motion – having never fully realized itself - both materially and conceptually.
Shuffle, made of colourful and mottled fabric wrapped and knotted around strips of wood, pulls Room and Board out of the careful tiptoeing Open House feeling of the exhibition space and into the personal reclaiming of space through words like home sick/home-sick. Marsh has inadvertently found figure for the kicked blankets, squashed snacks, soft bright fabrics and empty time fastened to the atmosphere of a sick-day at home; Shuffle, propped and tilted by a ‘foot’ that seems to be resting from effort, stands like an upended couch or bed, an animate solidification of the languid feeling of being couch/bed-ridden. This theory immediately loses ground. When viewed from the side, Shuffle transforms into a side-long swimmer’s strip on an empty dock, performed not for the sun or for random voyeurs but for the silence of a room. Side by side, the projection Variables 2 : Medium and the piece The Closest Thing transforms projected light into the idea of a slice of light-as-matter, propped up as a solid mass and giving a ‘shadow’ alongside a screen disguised in a papery skin of white. Four small pieces of wood interrupt this illusion with the affected nonchalance of an actor playing a loitering whistler in a 1950s musical.
Other shapes and objects in Room and Board elicit similar daydreams which shift with each new angle. The pictorial, animated, and sculptural are simultaneous, while several pieces mimic the exhibition’s pristine interior with their own instant spotlights. In this charged space, Marsh’s shapes and objects shift out of a game of silent readiness into movements having just recently given course. Caused to half turn, half-listening to our questions, this work stops us short by offering up its own predictions of our flighty expectations. While based within, as perhaps suggested again by Agamben, an economy of material “which characterizes the mode of presence of that which, not being at work, does not yet possess itself in its own shape as in its own end, but exists simply in the mode of availability,” the work in Room and Board is activated by recent and possible actions in relation to individual viewer encounters.
Kim Neudorf is an artist and writer currently living in London, Ontario. Her paintings have shown in the Illingworth Kerr Gallery, Stride Gallery, the Glenbow Museum, and Skew Gallery in Calgary. She has contributed writing to FFWD, shotgun-review.ca, Prairie Artsters, Hamilton Arts & Letters, Stride Gallery, Truck Gallery, Akimbo, as well as her own blog. She is a recent MFA graduate of Western University in London, Ontario.
 Daniel Heller-Roazen, Introduction, in G. Agamben, Potentialities – Collected Essays in Philosophy (Stanford; California: Stanford University Press, 1999), 23.
 Roland Barthes, “Non Multa Sed Multum,” Cy Twombly: Fifty Years of Works on Paper (New York; NY: Whitney Museum of Art, 2004), 25.
 Giorgio Agamben, The Man Without Content (Stanford; California: Stanford University Press, 1999), 65.