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Jessica Labatte at Golden

by Madeleine Bailey

Green Spectrum, Jessica Labatte

Jessica Labatte’s photography can be seen all over the city right now.  Her work hung in several booths at the Next Fair, she is part of a group show at the Hyde Park Art Center, and she was recently chosen as one of NewCity’s Breakout Artists of 2010. Her solo show “Lazy Shadows” opened at Golden on Friday, a gallery somewhat uniquely located in Lakeview.

The show features a series of photographs in which carefully considered everyday objects have been captured in highly theatrical formal arrangements.  These tightly manicured tableaus are neatly composed and play with how our eyes are directed though pictorial space.  The works carry a sort of deadpan humor to them: Green Spectrum is a photograph of a cucumber, lettuce, and an apple, with green tape lines drawing a triangle between them, while Linear Flexing depicts ghost-like white cubes propping up thin red lines of color, literally lifting them off the surface of an indeterminate plane. Extremely high in contrast, these objects take on a sort of Peter Pan syndrome, with the outline of their shadows seeming to be tacked back on as an afterthought.  The impression that the objects are somewhat untethered contributes to the atmosphere of familiar other-worldliness exuded by these images, allowing them to hover between being a part of and separate from the material world.  Smart and visually appealing, the works play both into and with the rich history of abstraction in art.

Chasing the Carrot, Jessica Labatte

“Lazy Shadows” contained what seemed to me pieces comprised of two distinct strategies.  In works such as Untitled (Gels #11), the objects photographed (gels), which are used in the production of art, are flattened into a gesture of mark-making with result of an image that became largely about the making of an image. In contrast, works like Chasing a Carrot, while still somewhat self-referential (with the pair of scissors and a roll of duct tape presumably used to create the scene captured in the shot) left much more room for the possibility of narrative. Seeing that dusty carrot, I had images of being led astray via the classic idiom of the carrot on a stick.   And this is exactly what Labatte is doing in her works.  In a game of smoke and mirrors, she leads the viewer through to points of near resolution, only to pull the rug out from under them when they get too close to a sense of logic.  Golden is a good venue to have presented the show, with its multiple rooms each work had space to breathe and be considered on its own terms, with little else to visually compete.  Happily, these photographs of accumulations, while formally reminiscent of Jessica Stockholder’s visual strategies, are really much more absurd.    I let myself get lost among free-form associations, which helped prevent me from getting mired down in what might otherwise spiral into something overly self-consciousness.   Instead, the withdrawn coyness of the images paired with a quirky sense of humor remained engaging.