That the world is unfolding as it should is not a foregone conclusion.
While occasional signs indicate that some unseen master-plan is in operation, guiding us all toward our future destiny, whose plan it is and what they hope to achieve is not entirely clear. It is these cloudy truths and moments of uncertainty that illuminate the work of Jordan Wood. Hers is an art of discomfort, ambiguity and unease, of future and past colliding at speed. Her varied works are the shrapnel of just such a collision, the beautiful wreckage where identifiable forms have become warped, splintered and decayed. To admit that Wood’s art practice is autobiographical is somehow not enough; it represents the accumulation of actual lived experience, and tangible proof of life (and all its cosmic debris). As such her ability to control the forms that emerge is subject to her own faculties, resulting in a violent power play between the maker and the made. Wood’s art pours from her inner depths like so much bile, majestic in its flow.
To gaze upon Wood’s works is to enter a universe of the uncanny. There are few points of reference and even fewer sources of security. The safety handrails are absent, and so we step forward into this rich, psychological quagmire with trepidation but nervous excitement. The unpredictable aspect of her work—which surprises even the artist – keeps it on edge. Wood has an insatiable appetite for new forms, matched by a conceptual and material agility that sees her bounding between practical applications. While sometimes far flung these forms nevertheless occupy points within the same constellation of ideas and neurological impulses. We sense a primal need for Wood’s objects to communicate – with us and with each other – but an occasional lack of success on this front does not automatically equate with failure. It is often this very failure and gambolling with futility that invests her practice with much of its sad, poignant humour.
Wood’s art skitters around the fringe of oblivion. It is this proximity to the void that animates the peril within her work, issuing a precariousness that teeters between becoming and unbecoming. Captured within its sway, we feel the push and pull along its connecting tissue – a tension on the verge of a violent snap. We feel also the magnetism of these objects, which lures us into a depth from which emergence is not assured. Wood taps into the same fascination we feel for horror, death and carnage, without making light of their gravitas, in order to curl the hooks and clamps through our sub-being in an implicit mortal coil. The objects she presents might be assembled from a future Wunderkammer. A disconnection of time brings incongruent meanings and histories into ungodly alignment, cumulatively unpicking the threads that hold the universe together.
The exchange of ideas and uncertainty of forms climax in Wood’s sprawling collage works, which serve to undermine our faith in materiality. Flesh fuses with foliage, bodily organs spill into galactic whirlpools and what is growing is simultaneous rotting. It’s a delicious spectacle but not for the faint hearted. Our approach to the collages is best mediated through Wood’s masks and sunken heads. These are the keyholes through which we peer; the outer faces hiding inner turmoil. The serene, quixotic masks are props within a greater theatre, which is literally composed of curtains and scaffolding, lighting and set decoration. As a stage it lacks neutrality; it baths its subjects in black light, implicating them in a spectral doomsday.
The cumulative effect of the objects is to invoke a dense ethnological spectrum, with each item acting as an exemplar of the sole subject, namely the artist. Here, Wood’s neurological pathways become the fields from which this mutant crop of misanthropes are yielded. The influence of tribalism and primitive cultures on early twentieth century modernism was pronounced – it was Picasso’s discovery of African tribal masks that led to the formation of Cubism – but Wood calls on their spirits for a different purpose. Her own masks are distorted and distended, often pitted with multiple eye sockets, fine features and mouths that silently cry out. They exist not as aesthetic playthings – as a superficial pastiche of tribal cultures – but serve an actual purpose as the guardians of Wood’s private, internal world. They are legitimately ethnographic in the sense that they fulfil a spiritual and cultural role, albeit a culture of one – the artist. As such there is no Rosetta Stone to untangle the psychological knot presented to us. This we must unpick ourselves with infinite care and respect.
There is, too, a sense of solace and consolation. Wood’s constructed armatures frame skeletal spaces of healing, housing the fragile heart that beats the lifeblood of her practice. From this core seeps the dreams and memories of the artist, infecting their material surrounds and resonating through all those within their midst. For all their gothic glamour there is a focussed immediacy present within these objects and installations. They are a means for healing, the shrouds that veil private space, but they are also beacons for communication, calling together spirits in a surreal melange of soporific light. As an ensemble, the masks, heads, collage and constructions sing to one another – their haunting melody completing the hallucinatory apparition that holds this intricate system together. As we wander in, through and about the collective of objects we might feel a giddy disorientation, but their contents are an open book. Wood, as seer, never preaches. Her role is to foretell and forewarn, her presence is a welcoming light in a sea of darkness. Who the dark passenger is remains a mystery; he whispers in our ears only that we keep faith – observant to the wondrous world that continues to unfold around us.
Jordan Wood, The Dark Passenger, Gippsland Art Gallery November 26, 2016 to February 12, 2017.
Wood will also feature in the group show As Long as the Night is Dark, curated by Simon Pericich from February 4 to April 23, 2017, Wagga Wagga Regional Gallery and then tour to Mars Gallery in Melbourne from May 11 to June 4, 2017 http://as-long-as-the-night-is-dark.tumblr.com