@ STREAM - Sculpture Int'l magazine
Sculpture magazine – NOV 2005 Washington, D.C. Vol. 24 No. 9, p. 73 illustrated review by Ivy Moore
“Stream,” Jennifer Pepper’s installation in Chapman Cultural Center Gallery (2005) continues the artist’s career-long exploration of the connection between language and the physical body. The stream in Pepper’s work here holds many meanings for viewers, challenging us to use all of our own consciousness to take it in completely. Built with two levels, the Central New York gallery seems ideal for this exhibition, but it is Pepper’s use of the space that actually makes it work – walking in on the higher level, you are quickly drawn to the aquatic blue lettering around the wall at the foot level, which is above your head once you descend to the lower floor, much as you would walk beneath the surface of a body of water. The lettering ripples like the surface of a lake as it quotes Meret Oppenheim, in both French and English, announcing that Il y a d’excellents jets sous ce paysage – There are excellent streams beneath this landscape (1933). And indeed, once below the landscape, there is excellence in abundance, as the viewer allows his or her own stream of consciousness free rein.
Pepper’s principal “stream” is an eruption of an undulating curtain of small, connected steel rings, raised slightly off the floor. Its texture and implied movement suggest birthing and growth. The ground-like color of the floor suggests a riverbed, and the steel form an actual stream – the source of life – as well as a strong suggestion of evolution of language and the human form. The emergence of the shining stream also suggests the birth and ever-evolving process of language.
Fertility and growth are echoed in the black sunflower seeds muting the white I-beam that transects the open space – the implied surface – between levels of the gallery. The beam is also representative of land, and it is interrupted by a twisting, blue cord that descends from it to riverbed level. Close examination reveals the cord is actually Pepper’s artist’s statement, crocheted in nylon and dipped in cerulean blue rubber, suggesting that language is man’s rope ladder up the evolutionary scale. Pepper’s use of found materials is ingenious. The viewer is struck by the clean lines of the entire installation, so that each element stands alone, yet melds cohesively with the next and the work as a whole.
On the walls, enlarged digital prints of pages from books, “Field Notes of Engineering Students (1925-1937),” exercises in physical measurement, re-emphasize the terrain of the earth and the geography of language. Where Pepper has incorporated found words and phrases in her past work, here the integration of entire pages invites the viewer to contemplate the geology of the area, measure it, contemplate its importance. Words become landscape, become homo sapiens, and the two meet harmoniously. Indeed, in Pepper’s hands, words and phrases become concrete building blocks of humankind and our world. Language, whether written, spoken or visual, takes physical form.
A brain-like helmet of cowry shells, with its rounded bumps and crevices, came from West Africa , near the supposed origin of man. As such, it evokes memory of primitive beliefs, thought processes and value systems, as the shells were used as currency by several tribes. The crown-like headwear, probably having been worn by a chief, implies power.
Pepper has always been interested in words as a physical manifestation of the human being’s connection to his or her environment. In Stream, that physicality extends the connection to the scientific process of evolution – birth, rebirth – from the mere seed of an idea represented by the oily, black sunflower seeds. The fecundity of ideas is precise, almost resembling a museum exhibit. Could evolution be so clean as the field notes suggest?
“Measure the distance between two points, both of which are inaccessible,” one assignment reads. Pepper invites the viewer to do the same. She leaves an abundance of clear space to suggest there is much room for human progress.
The germinative power of language, the necessity of the stream, ever bursting outward, reminds us of the complementary nature of language and ideas, each changing the other in humankind’s march forward. The stream is a constant reminder of movement, yet does not allow us to forget our connection to source.
Stream presents an opportunity to literally and figuratively get inside Pepper’s work and experience it as we would a landscape, as the current apex of evolution, a setting that not just invites, but lures the viewer in, makes us think and consider our own place in the stream."