another piece of history

A Journey in Time at Power House

PUBLICATION: Commercial Appeal, The (Memphis, TN)
SECTION:  Playbook
BY: Cory Dugan
DATE:  June 25, 2004
Page:  G30

Logic and mathematics teach us that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. But that's true only if the two points are on a flat plane. On a sphere the line would be an arc. If the two points exist in time (and supposing one could actually draw a line in four dimensions), the line might take a circuitous and somewhat organic path.

That's what is suggested in Terri Jones's exhibition, "Drawing a Line from 1993-2004," at the Power House through Aug. 1. Jones makes and follows those logical straight lines and arcs in her artwork, but thankfully she also makes the intermittent loop and takes the occasional unexpected leap.

The first artworks on view comprise a compact retrospective of her mature career, collecting (or re-creating) pieces that have been exhibited previously. Jones's work in this segment is cohesive, due less to a distinct style than to her distinct attitude. A tangible signature during this period is her use of nearly intangible materials. Glass, water, light and shadow, vellum and graphite are her media of choice; color, except for a few startling intrusions of blue neon, is limited to white, gray and natural finishes.

The most striking of these works is "Merging Histories, Shared Secrets and Not Yet," an installation from 1995. Water-filled drinking glasses are lined along a sturdy steel shelf; each glass contains a fishing hook, and the hooks are collectively connected by string to a single dipping gourd on the floor below. This is a lyrical and disturbing allegory, an open narrative that merges sentiment, penance, hope and dread all in one potentially hazardous reflection. Jones here is able to successfully fuse the underlying current of romanticism (the good kind) in her work with the crisp and nearly ascetic conceptualism that dictates its execution.

Also disturbing but far less openly romantic is "Sack," which appears to be exactly what its title implies: a trompe l'oeil grocery sack expertly assembled and rendered from fine art paper and archival adhesive. Like Jones's earlier "Lost Penny" (also in the exhibition, a facsimile of a penny painted directly on the floor), "Sack" could be viewed as a comment on perception, banality, disposability and commerce — especially as it applies to art. But it has a disconcerting presence. Rigid, sterile white and completely empty, it presents itself as both a ghostly void and a waiting repository.

As welcome and still impressive as Jones's previously exhibited work is, it is her new art in the bowels of the Power House downstairs that puts "Drawing a Line" a few steps above everything else on her estimable exhibition resume. Much of Jones's art has always been about perception, be it of self or art or society, often teasing the viewer's preconceived notions about what he is actually seeing. Jones takes her new installations to a next level and succeeds at manipulating our perception of space and atmosphere. She also adds color to her long-pallid palette, and it is appropriately red.

"Hot Wax Line" is a slender copper trough in a dark little cave at the bottom of the stairs, about a foot off the damp floor, a narrow aqueduct filled with molten red paraffin that dead-ends 9 feet into the room. Its sculptural image is modernist, a sleek minimalist miniature; but starkly spotlighted in this claustrophobic grotto, its effect becomes sensuous and ritualistic.

In a similar gallery, Jones posits a vitrine filled with dirt and planted with red zinnias — still seedlings at this viewing, but promising flowers before the close of the exhibit. Situated at the darkest recess of this underground room and illumined by grow lights, the installation assumes an air of artificial drama. A large circular mirror in the corner, facing the entrance to the room, offers a view of the vitrine from outside.

Jones classifies her artwork in the south gallery as seven separate pieces, but as a solitary installation they define a peculiar space that no previous exhibitor has been able to tame. Five wedges, cast in red glass and the size and shape of doorstops, are placed somewhat symmetrically around the room. With their tapered glass ends butted into the concrete juncture of wall and floor, they represent the ultimate futility.

Meanwhile, Jones accumulates red sweeping compound (a mixture of oil and grit used to clean industrial floors) inside the exposed chimney and along the sills of the windows overlooking the gallery. Like red snow, it provides a soft counterpoint to the brittle wedges and, like any good chapel ceiling fresco, draws the viewer's eye up to the cathedral height of the space.

From outside, the "Power House Red Line" in the windows matches the color of the exterior brick and serves to subtly blur the industrial angularity of the building.

Terri Jones is one of only a handful of local artists who could legitimately attempt to tackle the architectural challenge of the Power House. She not only tackled it; unlike the nationally known artists who preceded her, she brought it to its knees.