April 13, 2010

Blurred and Renewed: Sam Jury Speaks at The Johnson

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In her April 8 lecture at the Johnson Museum, Jury gave the audience an overview of her work since graduate school as it related to the development of her practice from analog to digital. She has long been interested in working “between meanings,” a concept to which her early digital practices lent themselves well — her first projects that used a computer were digital collages that began as mock-ups for paintings and gradually became autonomous, finished pieces. She layered found photographs into unreal, or non-real, hybrids; she painted onto found images in order to both complete them and give them the iconic weight painting implies.Jury’s move to Sharjah in the UAE in 2002, to set up at an art school at the university there for London’s Royal Academy, prompted her to move into photography. The tenuous existence of Sharjah’s people “between nomadic and air-conditioned” and within the context of the Iraq War inspired Jury to take — rather than find — photographs.     After returning to London two years later she noticed that her still images seemed like stills from something else and so she expanded her media vocabulary to include video. Shortly after she suspended her painting practice because she “didn’t know why [her works] were paintings anymore.” This transition was courageous and undoubtedly the reason her new media works have retained their traditional, analog and rather melancholy aesthetic. Her work necessitates its medium, rather than vice versa.The vague settings and growing importance of scripting and performance in Jury’s work serves to negate or obfuscate identity by denying the figure any defining characteristics other than his (her?) actions. There are two locations Jury uses in her photographs and videos: First, the landscape, which is grassy or rocky or backed by a row of trees but devoid of real place signifiers; second, the shallow, claustrophobic interior which is truly ambiguous. These places could be your backyard or Mars (Jury cites sci-fi as one of her inspirations), in front of your bathroom mirror or inside a psychiatric ward. The subjects that inhabit these spaces — distant, “beleaguered” figures in the landscapes and alarmingly close oversize portrait heads in the interiors — are no one and everyone, ageless, sexless and raceless, impossible to identify with certainty because of the way new media representation homogenizes humans (and this is an intentional critique Jury makes, not an incidental result of her process). The figures in the landscapes in particular are hard to identify and relate to , a condition that Jury attributes to the experience of watching the news. Camera and television screens, as well as commercial breaks, remove the television viewer from proximity to or understanding as humans of the subjects of news reports. Choreographed, performative events further serve to blur the identity and purpose of Jury’s figures. They might be human or animal, coming or going, benign or sinister. The large-scale portraits might be male or female, but they resist stating androgyny as an overt characteristic. They are simply unidentifiable, resisting above all traditional portraiture. Similarly, ambiguity regarding the passage of time, rate of motion and actual occurrence of motion reject traditional standards of still and moving images. Her photographs seem to be in a constant state of subtle shifting, while her videos — including “Forever is Never,” which was on display at the Johnson through last month — are sometimes at a standstill. In the relatively new medium of video, she is making work that both references the outdated and advances the field.Sam Jury’s work is psychological, observational and investigative. She is both allusive and innovative. Her interest in technology’s role in our daily lives, perception of reality and self-perception is certainly not new but, coming from her, so refreshing.

Original Author: Sarah Carpenter