Notes on a Selection of works by Jackson HallbergDec 12 2018
“Life is hell, a sinister conspiracy, a cold mechanism, a hall of mirrors, a closed room, a quicksand of language. And hell is theater…” (Mirrors of Our Playing: Paradigms and Presences in Modern Drama, Thomas R. Whitaker)
—though Jackson Hallberg’s solo presentation at viabizzuno makes lighter fare of such lamentations over semblances. In this exhibition, which he left untitled, Hallberg chose to intermingle his photographic works with lighting and furniture displays, as well as a central dining room table which was laden heavily with stacks of blue and white China mugs, crystal and glass cups and plates, blue vases, pitchers, and ash- and butter-trays. The glassware is blue as an aquarium, and what remains of cigarettes, lipsticks, tannins — the only imperfections giving humanity to an otherwise immaculate room — traces the glasses’ edges. The table’s blue, mirrored surface throws glinting shapes of light across the glittering crystal collection every time the showroom’s giant chandelier is shaken by a draft of wind from the opening door.
It is impossible not to be aware of inhabiting a body, thrown into relief by this room’s sharp slickness. Not long after, then, is the impression that the long dining room table is setting up a bodily symmetry in the room. The central column of the dinner table, the spine, is lit up by a hot, medically-white light. On the ground, hand-knotted rugs were laid down in curvilinear form on each side of the table like ribs or flanks. In the absence of a head-of-table, a bright yellow bunch of grapes made of glass perches on a ledge. Strongly reminiscent of the Bacchanalian image, perhaps, but acidic; cold; unyielding. The highly symmetrical treatment in tandem with the objects’ fragility, fluorescing under multiple clinical lights, calls to mind the chill of an operating room more than the warmth of a communal dining table.
My eye scans to one of Hallberg’s meticulously composed photographs — gorgeous, yes; but whose components have received that same chilly treatment as the elaborately outfitted dinner table. In Hallberg’s photographs, the depth of field is always shallow. In “rainbow, cylindrical snake,” a printed backdrop occupying the center of the photograph blocks our eye from traveling into deep space; here, an image of potted plants in sand hangs just behind the front legs of a dining table. Textiles and chairs jut into the frame like limbs. It seems important that none of them really touch. The printed image, suspended from just below the dining table, keeps my understanding of the elements that compose the photograph shallow, blocking my entrance on optical and figurative grounds.
Perspectival control — or perhaps, I think grinning, control of optics, is a trick that Hallberg has finessed variously in his body of works. In “Fence Reconstruction #2”, a stock image of a white picket fence floats at close range. Yellow autumn leaves and bungee materials pierce the illusion, causing the image to fold, crease, tear. The edge of the paper is revealed; the real suburban rips through the image of the suburban. However, the leaves and bungees behind the printed image look just as flat and dematerialized as the printed image. The bright yellow autumn leaves in the image appear waxen, acid, and fake; a pretty version of the spinal and moldering New England leaves which often snarl under the foot. Behind Hallberg’s lens, everything competes to be seen; put differently, the absence of depth of field, of shadows, creates an illusion of near-scientistic equalism between all pictorial elements.
These echo worlds of artifice bleed out from the edges of Hallberg’s photograph into the reflective surfaces in the store display itself. In viabizzuno’s interior, all surfaces are live. The watery blue plane of the dining room table picks up the red architectural lines of a plant-climber that Hallberg has furnished the scene with, echoing the fragmentary architecture in his photographs. The glass beads of that Bacchanalian bundle of grapes ooze afterimages of the light fixtures which drip down from the interior of the ceiling. The formal play here, it must be emphasized, has direct analogues to Hallberg’s photographic strategies, where everything collapses into a flat, photographic planarity— as when in “Umbrella Umbrella Umbrella”, a flat image of an umbrella is counterposed with an actual photographed one.
The immediate repetition of forms, from image to architecture to the stacking reflective planes in Hallberg’s glassware, creates a zero-point of visual hierarchy, where everything is moving equally towards the plane of the eye. Material traces of life and presence haunt the things in viabizzuno — ash is left on ashtrays, sneaker marks are left on the linoleum, fingerprints might or might not appear on the glossy surfaces of the dinner table. But the impenetrability of the material surfaces (an analogue to the photographic surface, antiseptically trapped behind glass) effectively keeps us out of the scene. I wonder, walking around, if this is what it is like to be inside a photograph. The planarity and reflectivity of the materials in the room are immediately and continuously turning everything into images, throwing the very fundamentals of materiality into question.
In a flattened zone of bouncing reflections, all is at play; no shadow permits secretiveness. It’s fun! A crystal totters in the background, throwing rainbows askance. Perhaps transparency has forsaken family secrets. Things are overlit, disarmingly bright; but in this as in many places of commerce, all of the brightness begins to become unsettling. Because here, nothing, not even a mote of dust, can hide.