Marie Jager


Artforum - September 2011

The passage of time is a major leitmotif of Thomas Mann’s 1924 novel The Magic Mountain. Indeed, one chapter of that bildungsroman, set in a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps, is even titled ‘Excursus on the Sense of Time.” Borrowing Mann’s title, Marie Jager’s recent exhibition at Pepin Moore was likewise concerned with the passage of time, but the works gathered presented less an excursus than a demonstration of temporal forces, marshaled and rendered visible.

Queen Alexandra Sanatorium (Davos) (all works 2011) is one of three pieces featuring an image of the imposing modernist building thought to have inspired the setting of Mann’s novel. For each of these works, a photograph of the sanatorium was made on architectural blueprint paper, each sheet partially masked, then exposed to the sun for an undisclosed amount of time, allowing a discernible triangle of the paper to fade. The effect of replacing the artist’s proverbial hand with sunlight is surely a slight gesture, but also an efficient one. After exposing the prints for several weeks, Jager reclaimed authorship by removing them from the sun and suspending the process.

Similarly, the gradual accumulation of dust across three small vertical canvases resulted in handsome near-monochromes of consistent, allover grayish marks that, on first inspection, appeared to be graphite or watercolor. One of these surrogate paintings, Landscape Painting (Elysian), features a subtle “frame” of lighter gray at its edges - an impression of the stretcher bars beneath - presumably caused by the weight of particulate pollution or other environmental effects on the canvas that had previously lain flat.

The title of these paintings refers to Los Angeles’s Elysian Park, which is home to Dodger Stadium as well as the lesser-known Barlow Respiratory Hospital, established in 1902; the park is also not far from this Chinatown gallery. A series of historical images of the Barlow institution, again reproduced on blueprint paper but here mottled by rain, neatly articulates a parallel between the two sanatoriums; a slide show of Jager’s casual photographs of the decrepit facility, presented in the gallery loft space, revealed the artist employing a more familiar documentary approach-one that recalls Robert Smithson’s slide lecture Hotel Palenque, 1969-72, itself an excursus on time. Titled A Hundred Years (Barlow Respiratory Hospital), Jager’s randomly sorted images of the building and its grounds - cracked concrete steps, a roof in shambles, mature trees now overgrowing their plastic pots and barrels, stumps, rust - all depopulated, so swiftly signify entropy and decay that it seems hard to believe that the clinic is, in fact, still in operation.

The slogans BUILT INTO THE SUN and OCCULT TOURISM appear bluntly stenciled with spray paint onto two other canvases yet operate like heavy-handed captions, and, given the light touch applied to the rest of the show, these felt out of place. Jager has frequently drawn from literary sources (having previously adapted Karel Capek’s visionary 1921 science-fiction play R.U.R. {Rossum Universal Robots}, and M.P. Shiel’s haunting global-disaster narrative, The Purple Cloud [1901]), yet her most compelling work takes us outside the precincts of language, exploiting the poetic possibilities of unexpected materials (rain, soot, sunlight) that simultaneously evoke the sublime and the mundane. It’s clear that the artist pays attention to both, almost in equal measure, as the minutes, hours, and days pass by. - Michael Ned Holte

Art Papers - June 2011

In her exhibition The Magic Mountain, Marie Jager subjects blueprint technology to the serendipitous effects of sun, rain, and smog to create understated yet highly resonant works [Pepin Moore; April 30—June 4, 2011]. Building on an earlier series that dealt more generally with the geography and atmospheric pollution of Los Angeles, she turns her attention to the history of a specific institution: the Barlow Respiratory Hospital, a treatment center for respiratory diseases situated in a hilly, still verdant section of the city. The result is a spare but evocative meditation on the relationships between health, medicine, architecture and modernity.

The show opens with five early-twentieth century images of the hospital—then called the Barlow Sanatorium. Made of blueprint paper, a wispy, brittle paper, they depict low-slung, open-air bungalows and arcades where people rest in lounge chairs or recline in beds. The patients’ infirmity is echoed by the blueprints, which are unstable and fade over time. Pinned to the walls like scientific specimens and dappled with rainwater stains, the prints look as frail as the breath of the hospital’s tubercular patients. On one visit to the gallery, a corner of one print came unfastened, wavering in the breeze from the open door. It inadvertently illustrated the hospital’s then-innovative healing philosophy: the belief that exposure to fresh air and sunshine would cure patients, allowing them to breathe as freely as the wind.

The blueprints, which evoke the provisional quality of architectural plans, are also printed in negative—dark and light reversed. This makes the patients look a bit ghostly. Across the room, three small canvases echo this notion. Left outside on the hospital grounds over extended periods of time, they are lightly textured monochromes of dust, condensations of the pollution that exposure to “fresh air” in Los Angeles now ultimately brings. They are reminiscent of little tombstones. This sense of loss is felt even more keenly when the blueprint images are compared to Jager’s current photographs of the site, presented as a digital slideshow in the gallery’s upstairs loft. These full-color shots of rotting buildings, crumbling walkways, and weed-choked gardens speak of neglect and disrepair as well as the passing of an era and of a certain idealism.

Indeed, the exhibition is titled after Thomas Mann’s 1924 novel, which used a Swiss sanatorium as a setting for the philosophical debates of the day. Accordingly, Jager also has created three blueprint images of Waldsanatorium, a multi-storied structure in Davos at the base of an impressive mountain range. As grand as the Barlow is humble, the building’s classic modernist lines are overlaid in a each image with a lighter, triangular section that has been left to fade in the sun. This “beam” of light mimics the prescribed healthful rays, but also marks each image with an abstract version of the majestic mountains in the distance. Across the room from these prints is a white canvas on which Jager has stenciled the words “BUILT INTO THE SUN”. This ambiguous phrase refers not only to the way sanatoria were designed to maximize sunlight, but also suggests something “built into” the sun itself—a healing energy that takes on almost mystical tones.

Modernism stripped away the frippery of the Victorian age and espoused a direct, unvarnished relationship to nature as a path to healthy living. We still largely subscribe to this view. But as the decaying buildings and walkways of the old Barlow Sanatorium attest, nature is as much a destructive force as a beneficial one. Jager’s work poetically charts the demise of early modern ideals, revealing how they represented not a clearer understanding of nature, but merely another way to forestall the inevitable. – Sharon Mizota

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