If You Have Stage Fright, it Never Goes Away

It’s strange that there’s so little work straddling the divide between art and theatre. There’s performance, but that’s mostly defined by its distinction from theatre. To be a performance artist you’re expected to hate the stage, or so says Marina Abramović. Where art is about live-ness, theatre is fake. “[T]here is a black box, you pay for a ticket and you sit in the dark and see somebody playing somebody else’s life. The knife is not real, the blood is not real, and the emotions are not real.”

But that artifice is sort of the point. Theatre-craft is about approximating reality convincingly but not absolutely. On stage, as the Austrian writer Peter Handke puts it, even light is brightness pretending to be another kind of brightness and “a chair is a chair pretending to be another chair.” Layer upon layer of stuff acting like other stuff, shoring up the boundaries between the real and the stage to help us remember that those boundaries exist.

Jared Ginsburg’s Interludes plays with that stuff and the limits it describes. The title of the show holds two meanings in concert, referencing an intermission between acts but also a smaller secondary action taking place during that period. In Ginsburg’s terms, an interlude is a pregnant sort of pause…it’s waiting for something to happen while also holding that something at bay.

Jared Ginsburg, Backdrop no. 2 (backdrop as sculpture) (2017) | Oil and mixed media on canvas, 220 x 185 cm

Gesturing toward this, the show is divided episodically into ‘acts’ arranged around the gallery, many of which have an air of anticipation about them. A proscenium arch rigged with spotlights dominates the main room, sketching out an impotent border that fails to successfully divide and cannot meaningfully illuminate the surrounding space. Beneath it, microphone stands, piles of sound equipment and a keyboard are poised and ready to go. Although they resemble a set, these objects don’t have the aggressive frontality of the theatre, always geared toward an audience. It’s unclear from what angle they’re intended to be seen; only that the arch marks the whole gallery, and with it the space of the viewer, as a stage.

Jared Ginsburg, Interludes (2017) | Installation view, blank projects

In Ginsburg’s paintings the idea of an interlude is less spatialized and more about time, and specifically pacing. The series of painted Backdrops, with their titles sometimes conjuring an imagined concert hall (Horn section; Pillars), have the rhythm of a musical score, but one in which oil paint elisions obscure notes or text. Ginsburg is indebted to the improvisational and energetic touch of Cy Twombly here, and like Twombly’s work, these pieces are less illustrative and more performative.

The artist acts upon the canvas, restlessly making marks and unmaking them, with each painting becoming an explicit record of that process: its backdrop. I think these are probably the clearest extension of Ginsburg’s lasting interest in distilling the ingredients of art-making, which in the past has spanned everything from the line between figuration and abstraction to the way in which objects inhabit a gallery. They’re very appealing.

Jared Ginsburg, Backdrop no. 5 (2017) | Oil and mixed media on canvas, 220 x 276 cm

The photographs, although they share a visual rhythm with the paintings, seem (intentionally) unresolved by comparison. Offering a behind-the-scenes look at the artist’s thought process, there are divided into acts in a microcosm of the show. While some are annotated, many contain only tiny, minimalist digital prints isolated on sheets of black glass, each framing a discrete scene: water, a street, a studio, a tunnel, a helicopter, feet. There’s something tumblr-esque about the end result, partly because of the scale and partly the haphazard sequencing, but also because of the insularity of the vision that animates the images. They draw on a narrow, opaque frame of reference that excludes the viewer – they are memories pretending to be art.

Maybe that’s the challenge of Interludes as a whole. Adapting the stuff of theatre without the substance, the show manages to be acutely self-aware in a way that occasionally estranges. It’s a tactic that has instant appeal to an art world in-crowd but may not play as well to the cheap seats.

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