In Jessica Stockholder’s site-related works an invented world intersects the real world. The artist uses familiar objects—their color, scale, and materiality—to create compositions that enter into a dialogue with their surroundings. In her sculpture for Kunstplatz Graben titled Slip Slidin’ Away, the forms of a car, a street lamp, and a flag or slide hint at things that occupy public space: cars carry people and goods, lanterns turn night into day, and flags signal affiliations. As part of the historical city center, however, the Graben is not only a place of conviviality and commerce but also of representation: it conveys to visitors the image of a city with history—a city in which the plague raged in the seventeenth century and which is marked by Catholicism, as the public monuments in the immediate vicinity testify. Yet unlike the Plague Column and the two fountains, which have defined the cityscape for centuries, Stockholder’s sculpture deliberately operates with moments of instability. The title of the work alludes both to a song by Paul Simon, which deals with the imponderables of life, and to a so-called Slip ’N Slide, a plastic foil for outdoor use, which is sprayed with water to become a slick surface to slip across.
The surfaces of modern life, which—from metallic car bodies to reflecting windows, from mirrored sunglasses to colorful rubber boots—even populate the venerable Graben, are the focus of Stockholder’s artistic interest. Their seductive brilliance stands for the new, for rapid change, but also for mass-produced exchangeability and a throw-away mentality. In Slip Slidin’ Away, Stockholder makes use of these associations, suspending judgment; she looks for the pleasurable and sensual dimensions of existence in a mass-reproduced landscape—not least through calculated interventions in its functionality. Thus her “flag” also serves as a slide over whose smooth surface water drips; her “street lamp” becomes a public monument by means of an oversize pedestal; and her “car,” whose lights direct the viewer’s gaze to the pedestal, presents itself as an eccentric composite of individual parts that do not belong together. In a similar way, the geometric floor painting touches on the normative aspects of modern life and at the same time subverts them: as an irregular form that seems to have been cut out of a regular grid, the picture lies aslant the paving pattern, its concave curves opening up to the urban surroundings.
Slip Slidin’ Away is also concerned with the destabilizing effects of a society whose techniques, conventions, and values are rapidly changing. Depending on the point of view and pace of passers-by, the elements of the work merge to form coherent images, only to fall apart again just as quickly. In contrast to the Plague Column, for example, whose symmetrically self-contained structure has provided orientation for centuries, Stockholder’s sculpture addresses us in a completely different way. Asymmetries and multiple perspectives make Slip Slidin’ Away a projection surface for the work of the imagination, without ever letting us forget our physical existence: the material basis of our thinking and feeling. Both the pictorial and the performative character of this kind of experience are marked by the form of a “signpost”: positioned next to the pedestal and the car, one of its sides reflects the surroundings while the other shows an aerial photograph of the scene. In the interplay of painterly and sculptural qualities, of volumes and surfaces, Slip Slidin’ Away presents itself as an interface in which the real and the possible meet. Stockholder may have had something similar in mind when she said, “We humans use metaphors to build elaborate abstract and concrete structures to live within. In this way I find form to be full of significance.”
Text: Manuela Ammer
Kunstplatz Graben, Höhe Graben 21, 1010 Wien
*1959 in Seattle, USA, lives and works in Chicago