Paul Jacobsen is living deliberately. From his rustic Redhook studio to the Walden on wheels he constructed in Sullivan County, Jacobsen has mastered the art of seamlessly integrating the natural with the man-made. A self-proclaimed anti-industrial Romantic, Jacobsen approaches
civilization’s future collapse with a certain nostalgia. Submitting that his "paintings encourage a future with no place for them,” Jacobsen’s “misapocalyptic” Golden Age hovers somewhere between sublime wasteland and Edenic pastoral, more Thoreau than Kaczynski.
Jacobsen’s Mouthpiece, currently on view at Gasser Grunert, plays between prelapsarian nature and post-collapse civilization. While Jacobsen draws on the language of the Romantic tradition, his work is not an elaborate lamentation for all things past. He stresses the “importance of looking for something altogether new, because even if the post-petroleum future ends up looking a lot like a return to a natural state, it would be very different because of the wealth of experiences we have had.” What at first might appear as a return to the rudiments of a primal condition is in fact neither utopic nor dystopic. Jacobsen’s kingdom come embraces a compromise between the natural and the artificial much in the manner of William Morris, who appears in the installation almost as a patron saint.
Jacobsen has described his oeuvre as playing with the idea of the “misapocalypse,” which is “a negation of apocalypse through a controlled collapse and a collective refusal to continue our quasi-self-imposed domestication.” The artist will further elaborate in a talk at Gasser Grunert on Tuesday, December 20 entitled “Utopia, Counterculture, Mind Control, and Painting.” A recurrent theme in Mouthpiece is a critique of technology in its role as mediator between the natural and artificial. Jacobsen’s desire to “draw ties to how technology is driving us towards collapse” asks whether technology, language, or art can be neutral. “Is it futile to make or, in my case, finish paintings in the face of such grave threats to life? And to what extent can the same tools that have gotten us into this mess get us out?”
The installation begins to answer these questions by blurring the natural and artificial, challenging traditional assumptions about the very nature of this makeshift division. One of the most straightforward iterations of this theme is found in Jacobsen’s incomplete paintings of the natural world, which keep their own artifice in view. Jacobsen insists that his “refusal to finish the painting acknowledges the abstraction of the frame and brings awareness to the artifice of the idea of nature.” The incompleteness of the paintings also alludes to Jacobsen’s “refusal to complete the European process of representing the object of domination.”
Another theme central to the installation is self-reliance. The show’s centerpiece is a staged cabin retreat meticulously filled with personal ephemera. Individual governance in this instance appears as a tongue-in-cheek spectacle, a commodified experience of retreat. Positioned in the window at the entrance, Jacobsen’s shanty is at a far remove from his Upstate refuge. Littered with the material effects of civilization, the hut is also a functioning camera obscura, again pointing to our relationship with technology and the natural world. The cabin encapsulates how Jacobsen’s work “acknowledges the romantic ideals of the power of nature, while at the same time celebrating the ways that art is a direct product of a domesticated, luxury society.”
Paul Jacobsen: Mouthpiece is on view through December 23 at Klemens Gasser and Tanja Grunert, Inc (524 West 19th Street). The artist will give a talk, titled “Utopia, Counterculture, Mind Control, and Painting,” on Tuesday December, 20 at 6:30 p.m. at the gallery.
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