Local Expeditions, the first major NY solo show by artist Matthew Jensen, opened recently at Third Streaming, a decidedly un-sparkly yet beautiful second floor gallery on the Lower East Side of New York City. The exhibition, featuring Jensen’s photographs, video and sculptural work, is the culmination of an understated and meditative art practice, one that explores our relationship to the natural world and examines the environment utilizing humble degrees of innocence, curiosity and intellectual integrity; one that always manages to find the marvelous, and perhaps even the sacred, within the details that we regularly overlook.
A tremendously refreshing exhibition when compared with the competitive, shallow vanity found in so many Chelsea shows, Local Expeditions instead suggests the influence of Hamish Fulton and Richard Long, two artists of expansive domain that nonetheless seem to fly under the radar of obvious contemporary references. Jensen, who lives and works in Brooklyn, is a similar sort of explorer, trekking through urban landscapes, marveling at the crossroads of “raw nature” with humanity’s built environment.
Abandoned Structure, Governors Island, NY (2010), shot on the eponymous 172-acre island (off the southern tip of Manhattan), is a series of 60 c-prints; each photograph shot from the same perspective in 60 abandoned government housing units. Assembled into its installation, the effect of the series is as much a formal study of composition, line and space as it is a psychological profile of the past. Jensen’s website gives us the following on the project: “After going into several units I began to see these recurring columns, with their subtle variations, as ghostly statues still standing at attention like the many officers who once lived there”.
The most recent body of work in the exhibition is 31 Winter Walks (2011-2012), a series of c-prints which document 31 daily walks. On each walk, Jensen collected natural detritus (twigs, flowers, etc.), bound those daily findings with twine and photographed them, then painstakingly removed the background information from each image.
This passion for nature’s discarded scraps and forgotten places carries over in Cleaning a Glacial Pothole, a 21-minute video in which Jensen clears water, mud, rock and garbage out of barely noticeable ice age hole that was carved out of a (now urban) rock slab by millions of years of water seepage. Watching the video in its entirety is akin to taking a meditative journey, the rhythms and sounds of the artist’s actions bordering on ritualistic, inviting us to help sanctify a humble geological locus so powerfully able to position us within humanity’s own primordial timeline.
Perhaps Jensen is perfecting the art of the profound minor gesture, playing a metaphysical sleight of hand in which the smallest shift in our vision, the smallest refocus on the minutiae is able to open epiphanic gateways: twigs become talismans; tape remnants on a wall instead suggest a ceremonial site; a chunk of glacier becomes a communion, planting our bodies and spirits in a natural world we barely know anymore; a bread truck appears on a city street, then disappears, reminding us of a relationship we didn’t even know we had lost.
Matthew Jensen received an MFA from the University of Connecticut and a BFA from Rice University. His work has been included in exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (where it is in the permanent collection), MASS MoCA and the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum. This fall, he will be an artist-in-residence at the Delaware Center for Contemporary Art, where he will begin a major project titled The Wilmington Center for the Study of Local Landscape. Third Streaming is located at 10 Greene St, Second Floor, NY, NY 10013; Local Expeditions is open through August 12, 2013.
-Contributed by Louis M. Schmidt