Preview: Jesse Stecklow

Jesse Stecklow (born 1993, Cambridge, MA; active Los Angeles, CA), Ear Wiggler, 2016. Dried corn, drawing, aluminum, duct fan parts, powder-coated aluminum, wood, hardware, and cables; 33 × 45.7 × 33 cm, 16 lb. Collection of the artist. © Jesse Stecklow / image courtesy of Sweetwater, Berlin, photo: Jason MandellaWhether examining the global spread of a highly contagious virus, the impacts of preventative measures on the economy, the biases built into our systems of law enforcement, or the algorithms that govern the spread of information and shape popular opinions, scholars and artists of every stripe are contending with the ways in which abstract, invisible (to the naked eye), and immaterial elements of our world are borne out by very real consequences for our bodies, our environment, and our communities.

For the Los Angeles–based artist Jesse Stecklow, collecting, analyzing, and building systems to represent environmental data are defining acts of his practice. An installation of his sculptures and conceptual works, cocurated by curatorial associate and doctoral candidate Alex Bacon, is slated to be the next in an ongoing series of exhibitions at Art@Bainbridge. Stecklow began this body of work by taking as his starting point an air sampler machine, a device that pulls a known volume of air through a specific material in order to collect particulate matter for analysis. Carefully crafted and housed in a polished anodized-aluminum shell, the air sampler, a basic tool of environmental quality control, is presented here as a sculpture, serving as the conceptual anchor and original catalyst of this entire installation. Throughout the run of the exhibition, the air sampler will stand sentinel, silently building a record of the chemical elements circulating in the environment. Once removed, the data is submitted to a lab for analysis, and its findings provide a conceptual foundation for a series of other sculptures in this body of work. A past such installation of an air sampler, for example, revealed elevated levels of ethanol in the air, and Stecklow’s subsequent research investigated the connection of the element to current systems of agricultural production, the energy economy, and more. A grouping of kinetic sculptures that include ears of corn emerged in response to his findings. Moving on from these—and noting the homonymic relation between ear of corn and the human ear—Stecklow began a playful series of explorations of language and sound, which resulted in a sequence of vinyl anagrams (different phrases made from the same group of letters) that appear alongside each corn sculpture.

Just as these sculptures develop responsively in relationship to one another, the other sculptures in this exhibition are likewise designed to heighten a visitor’s awareness of their own relationship as a body in space—physical, perceptual, and imagined. Some are designed to replicate the contours of each room at Bainbridge House to scale; others reflect those rooms in polished surfaces onto a scaled sample of the patterned spaces of the artist’s Los Angeles home. In these ways Stecklow’s practice prompts us to consider our environment and what we can see as well as that which remains invisible. His works remind us that there are physical realities around us, and yet spaces are collapsed through travel and in our imaginations. The circumstances of the past year have conditioned us to consider the tightly intertwined nature of the seen and the unseen and of the real and the imagined as determining factors.

Mitra Abbaspour
Haskell Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

Art@Bainbridge is made possible through the generous support of the Kathleen C. Sherrerd Program Fund in American Art.