Project Series 8: Jody Zellen
Images of the city and their history have been the primary focus of Los Angeles-based Jody Zellen's art for over ten years. In her work, the artist appropriates and alters text and images drawn from the media and popular culture. For this exhibition, Zellen presented an outdoor installation that included eleven large-scale digital banners mounted on the Museum's facade and on Thatcher Music building opposite. Together, they created a vibrant experience for the viewer who walks between the colorful, gridded images and the massive black and white banner. Zellen's grainy, fragmented images of architecture and the urban environment contrast with the pastoral setting of the College, generating a dialogue between the suburban and the urban, between the real and the imagined city.
This exhibition of Zellen's work extended and expanded the artist's explorations of images of a city fragmented into grids and reveals new variations on the photographic montage. Whether making individual photographic works, artist's books, photographic installations, or Web sites, the artist addresses issues relating to the urban experience. Her focus is on the way we navigate space, both mental and physical, and how that experience relates to the experience of the city. Using extant images, Zellen finds her source material in newspapers, magazines, and books. Often, she includes segments of text selected from critical writings about architecture, and urban theory. By recycling and fragmenting images and text, the artist gives renewed importance to scenes often overlooked in everyday life.
This exhibition of the work of Jody Zellen was the eighth in Pomona College Museum of Art's Project Series and the first outdoor site-specific installation. The Project Series' ongoing program of small exhibitions brings to the Pomona College campus art that is experimental and that introduces new forms, techniques, or concepts. During each exhibition, participating artists work with faculty and students in relevant disciplines.
Essay by Colette Dartnall
In an investigation of media's representation of the urban landscape, Los Angeles-based artist Jody Zellen combines appropriated photographic images and segments of text, creating two-dimensional urban environments as well as installations, Web sites (www.ghostcity.com), banners, and artist's books. Her photomontages consist of images excerpted from the public domain-from newspapers and popular magazines-and focus predominantly on the representation of the city and its architecture. By combining such images, and occasionally overlapping them, Zellen achieves a virtual re-creation of the experience one has in an urban environment, simultaneously emphasizing a sense of serenity and beauty, as well as the isolation and oppression resulting from an overload of information generated by the city. Based on the grid format, the structure of her work parallels that of a cityscape on which she literally builds her own city and its history. This formal structuring creates a sense of narrative in the combination of cityscapes and fragmented text.
For this exhibition, Zellen created an installation in an outdoor courtyard at the Pomona College Museum of Art. She hung thirteen large-scale digital banners on the Museum's facade and on Thatcher Music building opposite the Museum. In so doing, Zellen addresses the suburban nature of this site. Featuring grainy, fragmented images of architecture and the urban environment, her images contrast with the pastoral setting of the College, creating a dialogue between the suburban and the urban, the real and the imagined city. This current exhibition of Zellen's work extended and expanded her explorations of images of a fragmented, gridded city into new site-specific interventions. The themes and issues she deals with in this outdoor installation are consistent with the issues she explores in all of her work.
Appropriating images solely from media sources, Zellen selects art historical, architectural, and cityscape imagery ranging from archival to popular images, from somewhat identifiable full images to indecipherable details, from Byzantine and Gothic cathedrals to contemporary structures, from interiors to exteriors. While her subject matter consists predominantly of fragmented architecture, Zellen occasionally includes dramatic images of bombed buildings or otherwise damaged structures. In addition to the use of commanding buildings and wartime ruins, she often fragments the image to focus on shadowy, faceless figures or disembodied body parts. By de-contextualizing the images-taking them out of the controlled arena of the media world-and creating new associations by the juxtaposition of fragmented, disparate images, Zellen reveals both a stark beauty in violent images of explosions and acts of terror and a sense of mystery in the more familiar and seemingly serene.
Zellen is also interested in the relationship between urban space and the language used to describe it. She often includes text ranging from her personal notes to published writings, from excerpts of popular culture magazines to the literary investigations of such texts as Umberto Eco's Invisible Cities or Maurice Blanchot's The Writing of The Disaster, from entire legible passages to more abstract, conceptual, and seemingly inarticulate text, even cut-up letters. Whatever the source, composed or appropriated, the text relates to the imagery by subject: whether architecture, the city, and/or the individual. Specifically chosen to complement the image or group of images to which it is attached, each word, floating within and framed by an image of urban space, acts not as a labeling or didactic reference but as a means to enhance the image and its allusion to city life and the media.
Through her choice of text and the recycling of images, Zellen comments on mass media's representation of the city by specifically selecting images originally chosen for journalistic purposes and editorial publications and providing her audience with a different reading of these very images. Through methods of fragmentation and shifts in focus, she instigates a reaction by the viewer that differs from, and conflicts with, the way these images were first meant to be seen or read. In addition, Zellen questions the notion of whole as she converts a fragment of an image into its subject, thereby making it complete. By doing so, she also redefines each image. Zellen offers different perspectives to her work by varying its accessibility, viewed either transiently by car, through rapid juxtapositions on the web, or in direct confrontation as still images in a traditional gallery setting.
Jody Zellen achieves the city dweller's dream of stopping time. Her use of the camera is a step removed from the photographer. She is the "metteur-en-scène"-the director or editor-who constructs a narrative without manipulating the actual image. In the same way a photographer takes an image to preserve the moment or to capture an action, Zellen freezes a moment in time in a cityscape montage composed of myriad events from countless geographies. She juxtaposes images of extreme chaos-violence and war-with those of quiet, seemingly peaceful moments in time. Zellen silences and makes still all that is otherwise a blur of heightened sensory stimulation. By recycling and fragmenting images, Zellen gives renewed importance to the scenes often overlooked in day-to-day life.
These seemingly everyday images resonate in our consciousness. They reverberate in our memory, as we inherently attempt to make sense of them by placing them geographically and historically. We do so as a means of finding some comfort in the safety of the familiar embedded within these images while fighting the feeling of vulnerability in their abstraction and looking for meaning in the words put before us. Mixing the contemporary with the anachronistic and nostalgic, the public with the private, the familiar with the unknown, a sense of safety with a sense of vulnerability, the still image with the feeling of constant motion, Zellen combines many conflicting yet complementary notions in her imaginary city.
Colette Dartnall has curated numerous exhibitions at The Museum of Contemporary Art , Los Angeles, including "Catherine Opie" and "Matta in America: Paintings and Drawings from the 1940s." Dartnall is also Project Director for The Museum's Permanent Collection Catalogue.