Aaron Flint Jamison's new still life breathes. It is not even remotely contained by the gallery that commissioned it. It is deflective and diffuse and startling, starting with its title, Peeling Layers Yields Brief Openmouthed, "Oh!"
The gallery is Open Satellite, on the first floor of a high-rise tower in Bellevue, and the project was curated by TARL, a group of Seattle artists and curators. The elements of the work slide around, refusing to stay in any arrangement as you try to consider them. There are so many elements that listing them would not be possible—they include a bladeless Dyson fan, reflective safety gear, and a cast of about 30 people.
Jamison seems to want to juxtapose a mind-bogglingly open system with the super-artifice and enclosed purity of a still life. The piece includes text and stills from Harun Farocki's 1997 film Still Life, which follows advertisers composing photos of beer, cheese, and a watch, while also narrating the shift in 16th-century Dutch still life paintings from religious subjects to delectable goods, newly available to the moneyed merchant classes of the Netherlands.
Jamison also incorporates a giant sculpture inside Open Satellite into Peeling Layers. The sculpture is a bony kite form made of charred wood by Heather and Ivan Morison; Jamison drapes it with huge sheets of a trendy new "green" bamboo veneer called Plyboo, turning a firm structure into a sort of floppy architecture. (The title of the show is an acrostic for "PLYBOO.") Meanwhile, business cards of the Plyboo supplier, Keith Schradar of Bamboo Revolution, are displayed for the taking at the gallery's reception desk. When the light from the windows passes beautifully through the Plyboo sheets—which also are parqueted over the windows—the effect is of a kind of postconsumer James Turrell light installation.
Jamison independently sought and embraced sponsorships from signature Northwest businesses for PLYBOO, intentionally polluting and leveling the high-mindedness of the art environment. Yet another element in PLYBOO: an intentionally undocumented one-night-only performance, with performers drinking blueberry Kirkland Signature brand smoothies from Costco, wearing pants tucked into Kirkland Signature brand white socks, and depositing half-finished smoothies on top of the show's catalog, spread out on a table in the gallery. (The fact that no Northwest artists have used the Kirkland Signature brand in their works before—when Costco was originally headquartered in Kirkland—is a testament to the blindness that ubiquity causes, and the privileging of the ideal over the real.)
Instead of being a bound book, Jamison's catalog is a piece of paper printed on the largest offset printer in America (at Metro Graphics in D.C.; it's almost five feet high, four feet wide). On one side, this piece of paper is a poster featuring a very large photograph of a sheet of Plyboo curled up and standing, like a column—a burlesque of the huge concrete columns at Open Satellite. (The columns are a menace—the installations at Open Satellite are often large forms that respond to and are controlled by them.) The Plyboo, meanwhile, is a burlesque of the wood of the original bony sculpture—and wood is a well-worn cliché in Northwest art. Plyboo is wood in pretty, caramel-toned enviro-drag.
On the other side of the poster, text is printed in columns divided into numbered pages, like a book waiting to be folded—and in fact, the poster is folded down into book size for distribution (it will be available at Open Satellite and art bookstores). The text is divided in two parts, running side by side: a transcript from the Farocki film with time-stamped stills from it, and a technical essay written by Jamison with graphs describing the physics and mechanics of air compression. The exhibition itself is a pressure system that compacts in certain moments, then releases.
Jamison's open universe of objects, actions, and words relate to each other in a kind of accordionism. He is a utopian artist, trying to make art that is more like breath, so that the "Openmouthed 'Oh!'" of the title might happen again and again. It is no surprise, then, that it is hard to grasp.
If you believe in art as an alternative to entertainment that requires labor, then you will find yourself in the middle of a vast poem here, and you will be happy. If you resist laboring over art, then you will hate this art very much. You may hate it very much during moments when it makes you tired, even if you are not the sort of person who resists this labor. That is also part of the art; nothing is going wrong. It is a vast fuck-you of a poem.