Jason Middlebrook at DODGE Gallery

Like abandoned totem poles, the woodbased sculptures that comprise Jason Middlebrook’s first solo exhibition at Dodge mostly lean against the broad white walls like the planks that they are. He turns a simply serviceable object into an example of nature as a source for abstract form, marrying its original silhouette and texture to a series of colorful and evocative markings that accrue the potential for esthetic enjoyment.

In Once again a version of nature through my eyes (2011), Middlebrook turns a randomly selected silhouette into a metaphorical rendition on the nature of wood. In its simplicity of line and its denial of illustration it brought to mind the early white-and-black line paintings of Frank Stella; but there is a visual heaviness in the raw surface. A plank becomes a seismic map of time as recorded in the pulp of the wood itself.

Vertical Landscape Painting (2011) possesses a certain feminine grace as it reaches gracefully from root to branches from which one can trace the structure of its growth. Middlebrook has matched this one with symbols that suggest cosmic or molecular motion, a sequence of linked diamonds over a hush of spiraled lines, all of them in the black and green shades of a Malachite stone. These simple forms, immanently drawn, throb from within the imagined spirit of the tree.

Finding Square (2011) is perhaps the most intentionally constructed. Four planks have been cut and beveled to form a square with a center that is delineated by the rough bark normally associated with the exterior of a tree. Between the bark and the outer edge are a series of straight red lines that look like they are echoing the force of an event which, unseen by human eyes, is taking place in symbolic rather than real space. The forest is a place of symbols, and in Freudian language, it is the origin of innocence, where we return to be born again. Middlebrook’s planks resolve to be symbols for an en masse forest, where we discover what content really means. 



The installations of Michael Zansky achieve a high degree of empirical encounter that combine paradox and spectacle with an air toward transcendence. “American Panopticon" at The Hampden Gallery of The University of Massachusetts in Amherst presents the karmic transgressions a of a popular sports figure as a rumination on the shortcomings of hero worship, presenting a vivid and macabre scenario combining dramaturgy and totemism into a metaphor that questions the very fate of the soul.  
   The person’s name in the title of this artwork was a popular sports figure, a quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons football team, who was tried and convicted of running a corporation of kennels that were a front for the criminal enterprise of running dog fight clubs. As a sports figure, a success story in his own right, it was not only ethically negligent for him to be involved in such a venture, but it was also a betrayal of the values that contribute to our appreciation of such persons as role models in comparison to our own workaday lives. Not only did Vick break laws and transgress ethical boundaries, but did so with little regard for the sensitivities of his many fans or for the lives of the many dogs which he put into jeopardy.    
   Two elements make up the installation: a projection of a silhouette of a dog obscured on the side and magnified on the other by large industrial lenses, with its brooding shadow spread out on the wall behind it. The other is an extremely bright and intense searchlight that wanders across an opposite wall, floating down to the floor; disappearing momentarily; appearing and rising, then traveling to the right; eclipsed by the corner; moving back out again; and then up and away.
   These two projects are each a depiction of karma, and so referred to as “the transmigration of the soul” and what Buddhists in particular describe as “stream of consciousness.” One, the light, is the soul in motion, wandering through the universe, limited by the frame of mortality, but always moving from birth to rebirth. The spotlight is large and bright and seems to love quirkily, with meaning but without specific intent. Many times it disappears from sight, and eventually it fades altogether, or at least our understanding of it does. The spotlight is radically contrasted with the refracted and projected image of the dog. If we look close we can see the transformation that Vick takes from humanity to beastliness. There is a trace of pain in the eyes of this effigy, and a weariness as it leans down to stand on all fours. From afar we see only a slim and penitent creature that exists to fulfill a specific bidding, whether as a beast or burden or as man’s best friend. We gaze back and forth between the light and the shadow, slowly discerning their obscure connection, distracted and compelled by each.


David Gibson is a writer and curator native-born and bred in New York City, the New York Art World, and the greater world extending in all directions. He and Jennifer Junkermeier recently curated the exhibition “Beauty’s Burden” at The Ernest Rubenstein Gallery of the Educational Alliance. He is availlable to write essays for artist and gallery websites and catalogues.