Sunday, June 16, 2002
A Head, a Leg, a Flank: A New Kind of Monument
By Edward M. Gomez
For 24 years, the British-born sculptor Gillian Jagger, 71, has lived and worked in this small town in the Hudson Valley, near Mohonk Mountain. Respected by her peers and admired by her students, Ms. Jagger, who teaches at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, has kept spacious studios in the old barns of a former dairy farm here, where she makes art that defies easy classification.
The sculptural environments that she creates avoid the easy-pastiche construction and mixed-media formulas of most mainstream, postmodern installation art, which for many art-makers and viewers alike has become virtually synonymous with sculpture in our times.
Ms. Jagger usually works on a large scale. She uses animal skeletons, sections of fallen tree trunks and cast-off, rusted farm implements to make walk-through works that can feel like abandoned theater sets or sites for mysterious rituals.
To make her most recent sculptures, which are at the Phyllis Kind Gallery in SoHo, Ms. Jagger used a conventional cast-plaster technique. The show's title, "The Absence of Faith," refers to the subject of the main work, a horse named Faith that Ms. Jagger owned and that died in a fence-jumping accident. The work consists of "Faith I" and "Faith II," life-size depictions of the animal bucking up against a wall that resembles the fence on which Ms. Jagger's horse was impaled.
Months ago, working with a friend on an icy winter evening immediately after learning that her horse had died, Ms. Jagger applied plaster of Paris to its corpse to create molds for body parts. Later she cast the parts in plaster.
The resulting sculptures are both vividly realistic and decidedly abstract. Instead of recreating Faith's body as a whole, from head to tail, Ms. Jagger offers only a handful of disparate body sections head and neck, a leg, a convex flank that are suspended by wires from the ceiling and placed in anatomically accurate relation to one another. More than mere support structures, the thickets of fine, precisely arranged wires can be seen as integral parts of the piece.
Like partially assembled jigsaw puzzles, "Faith I" and "Faith II" give viewers enough visual information to "see" the animal's entire form. Even these ghostly fragments exude a powerful sense of the living creature's raw energy and physical presence.
"I'm interested in the confrontation between humans and nature, and in the essence of an animal, the life force that we sense when we're in its presence," Ms. Jagger said. Without sentimentality, she cites "the pure, unaffected emotion or lack of guile" that animals often seem to express. Her work recognizes and quietly celebrates their dignity and power.
In addition to the two horse figures, the show includes cast-plaster sculptures of deer. With these works, Ms. Jagger, who is the daughter of the sculptor Charles Sargeant Jagger, the creator of the Hyde Park War Memorial in London, literally and figuratively deconstructs traditional monumental sculpture.
"I never imagined I would make equestrian statues," she said. "But in a way, now, I suppose I have."
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
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