Billed as NIKKI AND JAN, St. Louis-based Jake Cruzen’s solo-exhibition took a drastic turn about a week before opening night. Instead of photographs from an impromptu encounter between the artist and two pretty, dark-haired high school girls as described in the press release, Cruzen preempts the typical art-world responses to an exhibition such as press photographs, careful gallery lighting, and exhibition reviews like this one.
To do this, Cruzen exhibited an example of one of those tried and true art gallery filters – light. He installed three lights inside of the gallery – a white light and a green light on the floor and a multi-colored light hanging about halfway down a sidewall. By exhibiting lights, he insists upon experience but also anticipates anti-experience, choosing a medium that is difficult to translate into words and to photograph and re-present effectively. Cruzen is a strongly theoretically informed artist – he currently teaches it at Washington University – and wrote in an email about how “there’s a lot of slippage there between the person to person experience and what we see in documentation, lots of creative labor being done to images.” Even though the lights can still be documented through the inevitable press photograph, light’s ephemeral qualities are not able to be fully conveyed in a flat two-dimensional form. By both embracing and criticizing the inevitable filters that will change the experience of his work through using one of the filters itself as the art, Cruzen has exerted more control over the reception of his work by critically engaging with it before anyone else had the chance.
Although Cruzen stated in conversation that he was not interested in object-body experience, it is an effect that is profoundly unavoidable with such an essential quality as light, especially the glowing, store-bought, colored gems assembled by Cruzen, which immediately exude a sense of the artificial. Artificiality is what Cruzen is resisting, what he is participating in, and a crucial part of the space of Los Caminos itself. Although an apartment gallery successfully avoids the sterile and sometimes pretentious space of the white cube gallery, it still must be ‘staged’ each time it transforms from one daily, domestic use into a limited, public one. And, even though Los Caminos does not hide that the gallery space a façade (on opening night, visitors were informed that if they used the bathroom, they would find the owner’s cat hanging out in there with them), the gallery still has to participate in this process in order to exhibit work.
If an art opening necessitates press and visual and written experience outside of the gallery, then Cruzen actively makes this quality visible by filtering our own experience with artificial light, which casts a thematic haze over the entire gallery and experience of it. Cruzen stands by his decision to put viewer expectations of a photographic exhibit to the wayside and do something he felt really mattered in St. Louis and in the space of Los Caminos. He wrote in an email, “As an artist it’s up to me make sure the exhibition is about the art rather than the expectations of the spectator. It took integrity to go through with the change.” The re-presentation of the installed, bright lights, on this website for example, is much more drastic than the re-presentation of a flat object like a photograph. Cruzen wrote how he “was interested in doing an exhibition that was conscious of its coming photo documentation…The art objects serve as production equipment for photo documentation.”
Cruzen’s show could be cast in a reactionary light. He both refuses the typical filtering structures of the art world and also uses them, considering himself both critical of such structures, but also as embracing them. The object than, fully matters and fully does not. Cruzen wrote that, “to talk about anything other than what the objects do would be misleading,” but to not talk about expectations, to not talk about the difference in experiencing figurative photographs and installed light art-objects to is mislead about the actual content of the exhibition and therefore to disregard the statement Cruzen is trying to make, anyway. To talk about Cruzen’s NIKKI AND JAN, we must talk first about the objects, and then about everything else.
NIKKI AND JAN continues at Los Caminos through 18 February, 2012 and is on view by appointment only. Jake Cruzen is also participating in a group show at Los Caminos opening from 7-10 pm on Saturday, February 25, 2012. For more information see http://www.loscaminosart.com .