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Jenn Figg


Jenn Figg discusses the development of her work over the last four years and in particular her exploration of spatial and material practice. Mapping the spatial influences in her work from Henre Lefebvre to “World of War Craft”, Jenn discusses the impact of the flattened space upon the three dimensional space. Her work deals with issues of the body’s relationship to the work, the physical encounter, scale, and time compression.

I am going to talk about my work and position it in terms of its development over the past four years, discussing how printmaking and photography blend together to form an altered sense of three-dimensional space both as sculpture and as a false natural environment. This is something that I have been working on for a number of years, and really started to explore in depth recently. Five years ago I was really, really involved with making faux nature sculptural objects. I am still making faux nature, and materiality has a fundamental role in the development of my objects.

Fig 1: Jen Figg, Seed. Wood, monofilament, wax, adhesive. 14" x 40" x 40", 2005.

Fig 2: Jen Figg, Seed, detail. Wood, monofilament, wax, adhesive. 14" x 40" x 40", 2005.

For instance, this particular piece, which is called Seed, is constructed using a variety of different materials
including monofilament, wax, wood, paint, and glass. The making of it was a repetitive process; there are thousands of little objects that are put together as a modular structure, and assistants helped to make this work. By the time Seed was completed, the continual motions needed to form the individual strands had strained our hands. The form itself was intriguing; it was reminiscent of a sort of a reedy environment. It was at this time I began to realize that I was actually interested in the photograph of this work – the flattened but visually dimensional photograph of the created spatial field – an abstracted landscape of sorts. This was the start of something that began to grow intuitively as my work progressed. This was about 2005 and marked a new direction. These material processes started to meld with the photographs, and my formations were informed by this place of the square – the framed field – coinciding with Robert Giro’s idea of fitting a lot of space and surface into a very particular area. The abstracted composition in the frame alludes to physical space through the series of repeated objects. I continued in this vein: making objects that simulated nature.

Fig 3: Jen Figg, Fashioning Eden (sowing machine). Wood, monofilament, tar, silicon carbide grit, various mechanical parts. 16" x 48" x 48", 2006.

Fig 4: Jen Figg, Fashioning Eden (sowing machine), detail. Wood, monofilament, tar, silicon carbide grit, various mechanical parts. 16" x 48" x 48", 2006.

This work is titled Fashioning Eden: Sowing Machine. It is user-activated sculpture – the audience can kneel to crank the bed of “grass,” and the grass would shiver, undulate, shake, and clatter in unnerving ways. I thought of it as a seedling bed, a planter with animals living below the surface, digging their way up and wreaking havoc with my sculpted landscape. But while the object itself as a dimensional form was compelling (specifically the way it reacted to light changes), it was the digital image, the flattened space of the image that compelled a different direction.

Fig 5: Jenn Figg, Miss Muffet's Giltscape. Wood, paint, gold leaf, nylon cord, various candies. 140" x 160" x 120", 2007.

Fig 6: Jenn Figg, Miss Muffet's Giltscape, detail. Wood, paint, gold leaf, nylon cord, various candies. 140" x 160" x 120", 2007.

During my MFA program I continued to make faux nature, small bits and pieces of landscape and environment, thinking of how the viewer’s body might interact with objects with different sizes and placement. I considered the level of interaction in terms of the scale of the body and the possible physical response when walking into a huge installation. This sense of scale was also important for the smaller work, objects that were seen differently when mediated by photography. My MFA thesis show was titled Miss Muffet’s Giltscape. I processed these ideas of the flattened plane, juxtaposing objects to create a spatial field in terms of an installation – an imaginary landscape – including miniature landscapes. The hot key candy color exaggerated the falsity of the naturescape. I wondered about landscape images without horizons, the color field and the landscape, without the sense of being able to move through them, and the privileged moments of photography.

Fig 7: Jenn Figg, Sweetness Falls Flat. Wood, paint, gold leaf, nylon cord, jellybeans. Dimensions variable, 2007.

My work transitioned with this piece called Sweetness Falls Flat, made for an exhibition on the UCSB campus. I experimented again with the miniature topography using all sorts of materials that felt familiar and worked to forward the metaphor in terms of landscape, material mixture, and sweet edibles. The jellybeans, as you can see, are sort-of rolling off the shelf topography. The jellybeans tipped off and as they fell to the ground, they changed shape and scale by flattening out from an object to an image of an object; and this was all made with printed vinyl. This subtle move prompted me to think about what happens when we are seeing something moving: let’s say in video games, how do we react to space in this way? How do we react not just to the photograph (which in some ways could be very familiar), but how do we react to virtual space?

The landscapes of the video game MMORPG “World of Warcraft” reference art historical paintings – paintings in the romantic style – that capture an emotional moment. You have a sense in “WOW” that this world is actually just constructed of these polygons that are wrapped with texture, totally falsified objects, falsified space to meander through. The environment looks real, but is really a false front. It’s surface that you move through and your body is reading this as a physical space. I don’t know exactly how to describe that sensation of being within this virtual space, but the game-space in something that I am absolutely fascinated by, both as a physical space and also as a social space.

There are three different kinds of space that Henry Lefebvre articulated in the 1960’s. There is physical space, mental space and social space. The physical space would be what we have here: we have this table, this room. There is mental space, the place of thoughts (a limited access situation). Finally, there is social space. The social space is what we are finding ourselves in here: which is, we are a panel discussion and you are the audience. We are functioning in different roles – you are playing the audience role and we are playing the panelist role – we are following these conventions to a certain extent and hopefully we will break them in a little bit! The constructed social space is another level of space that I am interested in. These organized spaces where we function socially is an abstract concept; and in video games we find ourselves bound by a set of similar social rules. I find this spatiality interesting and question how these concepts translate visually.

I started to locate artists who are playing with this idea of surface space, looking at how they respond to the visuality of the digital, and the ways in which they use the effects of that digital technology to create form and another sense of space altogether. One such artist is Srdjan Loncar who just exhibited at Prospect 1, the New Orleans Biennial. He uses printed photographs to re-create objects and environments within the gallery space. These objects are similar to those within video game space; in our world of the ‘real’ they are simplified forms that look like texture-wrapped polygons. In his work, “Pond with Flowers and Butterflies (2006) the use of photographs force a hyperreal landscape reading; we are given the sense that it is water, but it is actually paper and vinyl – it is the light reflection in this photograph that gives the sense of dimensionality. When viewing Loncar’s work, we encounter the “uncanny valley”; what I regard as a state of suspended disbelief.

Another artist that I am really interested in is Sterling Ruby. His work, “Grid Ripper, also at Prospect 1, gives a sense of what happens with texture wrapping an object. Another artist who comes to mind in response to Robert Giro’s discussion of conceptual space is the artist Midori Harima, who creates sculpture and material spaces with objects, paper, and photographs that compress space. She uses photographs, adhering them on simplified forms to make something that is in some ways very realistic, startlingly similar and familiar. Her work transforms shape with the photograph again to form an “uncanny valley.” “Negativescape” is a projection by Harima on paper shapes with high contrast of light and shadow. It is an ocular artifice to create a sense that there is actually something there when it is basically texture wrapped on a simple object.

Fig 8: Jenn Figg, forest rat's absence of need.Cardboard, digital pigment print, adhesive, wood, paint. 76" x 72" x 72". 2008.

Coming from this, specifically thinking of photography contributing to flattened space, and considering temporality, I started to create forms and objects that were reminiscent of the digital gamescape. About a year ago, I started making large-scale tableaux.

Fig 9: Jenn Figg, forest rat's absence of need, detail.Cardboard, digital pigment print, adhesive, wood, paint. 76" x 72" x 72". 2008.

This work, “forest rat’s absence of need” is 7’ x 6’ x 6’, influenced by the digital graphics of videogames – their simple forms and texture-wrapped objects that mimic landscape. It is constructed with very simple material: corrugated cardboard, adhesive, and paper. The mundane “everyday” quality and economy of the cardboard worked to forward the notion of reductive landscape. Within the sculpture we see “bushes” and a “tree,” and in this way it emulates texture wrapped polygons (simple shapes covered with textures to simulate natural objects). Using these images creates a false sense of landscape. Aside from the photographs I took, all the images are open source and Creative Commons. I see this work as a suspended moment.

From here, I started thinking about not so much of laying out the story but of a temporality that we use as a place for the audience to fill in the gaps. I am also thinking about the relationship of our bodies to the work, the physical encounter with the work in terms of scale, how this actually engages physical space and brings about a consideration of time compression.

Fig 10: Jenn Figg, Deadfall (canopy gap). Cardboard, vinyl print, adhesive. As installed: 120" x 108" x 96". 2008.

My next work is called “Deadfall (canopy gap)”. The dimensions of this installation are 10’ x 10’ x 9’, it is made of corrugated cardboard, vinyl print, and adhesive. This work is scaled to simulate a ‘real-life’ situation. Narrative intention is fore-grounded with this work; here the tree has fallen, anticipating the deadly triggering of the box trap when the “string” is pulled. Again, this work emulates texture wrapped polygons, responding to the digitized visuals of gamespace. Here the economy of form, simplicity of materials, and narrative create a new visual reality.

Fig 11: Jenn Figg, Deadfall (canopy gap), detail. Cardboard, vinyl print, adhesive. As installed: 120" x 108" x 96". 2008.