The installation is fun, more designee than sculptural, impressive for its scale, architectural in its ambitions (tree houses also come to mind) but eventually falls flat as an homage to “multiple narratives of San Diego's citizenry” according to Jarman, or what is in essence to this viewer, a testament to one’s metaphorical and transient lifestyle through the banality of a cardboard box. Not exactly flattering. The work is unable to convince us that we are part of a larger narrative and remains just what it is – cardboard boxes scooped up from the nearest retail outlet. There is nothing to topple the monotony of the structures and even less to see how our stories fit inside. If there are stories to be told they are not to be found on the pristine flaps of these boxes. Part of the problem, I believe, is the inability to interact with these towers, say for example, the possibility to construct your own story other than avoiding walking into one.
"Do we suppose that all she knows is that a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose." – Gertrude Stein
I have solicited many times over the years, the necessity for artists to successfully bridge the gap between an idea and its execution. Given the right context, an artwork’s inception can waffle in-between an idea and its final physical state, sometimes riffing on its incompleteness as many conceptual language-based work did in the seventies. Artists like Lawrence Weiner and Joseph Kosuth were masters of this genre. Today it seems, at least when it comes to work that is relatively unsuccessful, an excess of verbiage (i.e. an artist’s intent or statement) justifies or defends the rather poor execution of the work. This disconnect sets up a dichotomy in a viewer that either helps in a oh-so-this-is-what-it-means-sort-of way or hinders - what Vito Acconci would have called art’s “authority” over a spectator’s understanding. For the rest of us already baptized in the secular waters of art, we just scratch our heads. In other words, what is the point?
THIS IS A CITY could quite possibly portray the journey of several cardboard boxes from manufacturer to the recycle bin, hinting at some possibly God-like act of birth to our own recycling: "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return”, but there is no sense that any of these boxes suffered or allude to anything greater than being discarded. I like stories, I think we all do, and I understand these are empty boxes to be filled with my own memories and potential uses. I am perplexed though. I would have preferred Jarman’s work to stay simple, unassuming, something to be enjoyed and walked through like some enchanted forest. That it not cloud my perception of how I should experience the work, despite his tender and earnest guidance, but that it exist solely as a friendly gesture, a welcoming handshake to not just any city, or this city, but my city. How I move through this city or my imagination depends on how much I want to un-pack and share. The Jarman’s have kept theirs sealed. Either that or offer some homeless citizen true relief by converting their cardboard beds into a tangible one, at least for one night, inside and sheltered from the storm. Its impact would not have been mistaken for a possible narrative.