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Art in America
November, 2002
Gillian Jagger at Phyllis Kind
By Robert Taplin

In past exhibitions, Gillian Jagger often suspended large chunks of rough wood with chains and meat hooks in a way that reminded many viewers of a slaughterhouse. In this recent show, the image of the carcass was both more forthright and more personal. Titled "The Absence of Faith," the show read as a kind of memorial to her dead horse, Faith, which died after a painful accident in the winter of 2000. As the artist explains in a video shown in the basement of the gallery, shortly after Faith died, Jagger began taking sectional plaster molds of the dead animals body. While this task was evidently undertaken in an emotional and unpremeditated fashion, these molds were eventually used to create the main piece in the exhibition, Faith I and Faith II (2002).

For this piece, Jagger set up a couple of heavy wooden uprights crossed by long horizontal beams, all of which were whitewashed. This simple arrangement provided a backdrop for two anguished body casts of Faith, which were suspended by myriad silvery wires from whitewashed wooden rafters overhead. The plaster casts were extremely rough and fragmentary but were nevertheless arranged so as to give a sense of the whole animal struggling in its death throes. The economical staging managed to evoke a fence in a snowy field, a neatly kept stable and an oversize puppet theater, while the sequence of two casts created other engaging ambiguities. Was this a time sequence, one wondered, as if a strobe light had been flashed on the horse as she staggered to her knees, or was it merely a reiteration, a doubling for emphasis? As with many of Rodin's most successful works, the effects of gravity were recorded and then ignored or contradicted. Forms taken from a dead and presumably fallen horse were stood up and set back in action. The piece read as a kind of resurrection.

The real power of Jagger's work asserts itself from a distance, where the thrust and extension of the forms have their greatest impact. However on close inspection, the essential absence of the life-cast images here inevitably reasserted itself. The matted hair and staring eyes are full of pathos, but they directed the viewer away from the actual piece to the real horse, which was, of course, not there.

The same held true for the other two pieces in the show, which were made from casts of dead deer. You felt the pain, but it was somewhere else, not there in front of you. Nevertheless, Faith I and Faith II marshals a ragged expressionist fervor and an unabashed theatricality to powerful effect.

"I never imagined I would make equestrian statues," she said. "But in a way, now, I suppose I have."

Copyright 2004 Brant Publications, Inc.

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