The Exhibition Formerly Known as Passengers: 2.5 Colter Jacobsen
San Francisco-based artist, Colter Jacobsen uses an idiosyncratic collection of found source material to create drawings and assemblage. Exploring the concept of memory his highly detailed work focuses on notions of disappearance, remembering and forgetting. In his practice, the artist draws from a wide range of unusual objects bought in thrift stores, lost personal items found in the urban environment, or recycle packaging with unusual details. Swabbies (2007), an example of the artist's ongoing series of memory drawings, is a rendering from a found photograph that the artist drew first by looking at the original and then a second time from memory. Displayed side by side, the drawings are technically meticulous. Using personal photographs from an unknown source creates a displaced quality and a feeling of restlessness related to peeking into someone else's life. For Passengers, Jacobsen responds to the concept of the exhibition with a new untitled work based on a postcard that was given to the artist a long time ago depicting a man watching a river go by. One drawing will be created by the artist each month and added to the exhibition in a constant accumulation that correlates to the structure of the exhibition itself while creating a composition in which the river on the different drawings will appear continuous.
MAN CONTEMPLATING A RIVER
Romanticism emerged as an artistic and intellectual movement in the late 18th century mainly in Western Europe as a response to a rising pragmatic and overly logical worldview introduced by the Enlightenment. Specifically the rationalization of nature through the advancement of natural science was a major point of disagreement, with Romanticism stressing emotions as the main source for an aesthetic experience of the world rather than scientific facts. A human's relationship to nature was the focus of Romanticism's artistic and intellectual exploration, which often examined issues such as loneliness, escape, human emotions such as melancholy and love, intuition, freedom of the individual, and the constant flux in nature.
One of the main protagonists of Romanticism was the German landscape painter Casper David Friedrich who concentrated on a human's emotional encounter with nature. Most of his works are marked by wide and open landscapes often populated by a few small human figures gazing towards the horizon. His two best-known paintings, Wanderer Above the Mist and Chalk Cliffs on Rügen, both made in 1818, are prime examples of Romanticism's idea of the insignificance of the individual within the wonders of the natural world.
The work of San Francisco-based artist Colter Jacobsen continues a path laid out by Romanticism. Subjects such as the power of nature, solitude, and the ephemerality of life play a strong part in his practice, which is also marked, similarly to Romanticism, by an interest in folk art, the dichotomy of nature and the artifice of human civilization as well as an exploration of the spiritual self through the contemplation of nature.
For the last twelve months Jacobsen has made the same drawing over and over again, or so it seems. For his untitled contribution to the Passengers exhibition, Jacobsen selected from his archive a post card that had been given to him long ago. He memorized this image to create twelve drawings, one for every month of his participation in the exhibition, made each time just days before it was included in the show entirely from the artist's recollection. The drawings each depict the bank of a river near the bend of a stream in the middle of a forest. A man sits on a large boulder glancing over the water.
Apart from the visual information contained within the image itself no other clues are given as to what we are actually looking at and what this work may be about. At first glance, the image seems mysterious; it does not depict a typical postcard motif yet it clearly relates to romantic landscapes and dreamy natural scenes. We cannot see the person's face and it is impossible to tell whether he is terrified or enchanted by the natural beauty in front of him. Once aware of the process behind these pictures, however, the different drawings make us look more carefully at the work so that we can begin to notice the differences between them. It is hard to tell if the artist missed certain details just by simply not remembering them or if he forgot them on purpose, bored with having to draw the same image over and over again.
All twelve drawings are presented in a row in the exhibition, each a mirrored copy of the preceding one. The river in the images now turns into a long, winding stream. Many of the drawings have personal notes of the artist on the back, which are invisible to visitors. For instance, notes on the last drawing in the series read "Death is like birth backwards", a sentence that points to Jacobsen's interest in the river as a metaphor for life, always the same but constantly moving and changing. Somewhat appropriately the man on the boulder begins to slowly disappear, he has vanished on the last drawing while the stream continues to flow.
Jacobsen's delicate and poetic work presents itself without much noise. It is subtle and humble, opening up thoughts regarding the ephemeral nature of being and the possible insignificance of our life.