Jump Cuts (C Magazine, Spring 2012, issue 113)

Crystal Mowry

The “jump cut” is all about shooting a singular subject with minor variances in the camera angle. As an editorial act, it is a means to create subtle disruptions in the experience of watching a single narrative trajectory. Thus, it seems fitting that Laurel Woodcock’s tightly edited exhibition of work from the last eight years borrows its title from the cinematic lexicon. Through careful curation by UWAG’s Director/Curator Ivan Jurakic and a keen sense of context, Jump Cuts offers various examples of Woodcock’s multi-faceted practice.

Explicit references to cinematic history and the double-edged sword of genre 1 have shaped much of Woodcock’s work which predates the range of this exhibition. Woven into this work is the artist’s own complicated relationship with genre as both structure and symbol of belonging. Though cinematic genres might serve to organize tropes, the strategies for restaging said tropes can create opportunities for criticality or even subversion. Woodcock’s practice in the past decade has expanded beyond installations that are anchored by their video components. Text, often in the form of unauthored platitudes or fugitive punctuation rendered in laser-cut aluminum and neon, now round out Woodcock’s body of work. The sentiment courted by Woodcock in that early work, however, persists in much of her current work.

At first blush, one might look at Woodcock’s works as a series of clever visual one-liners crafted by an absentee—or in certain critical circles, “dead“— author. Woodcock’s one-liners, however, could be seen as succinct conveyances of our complicated relationship with cliché and communication. In the last decade virtually every written discussion of Woodcock’s practice has cited its connection to the now familiar blend of the process and poetics (and occasionally sentimentalism) gathered under the rubric of Romantic Conceptualism.2 They are pitch-perfect in their ability to convey our complicated relationship with clichés and communication. The artist’s work is often linked to Romantic Conceptualism and one of that movement’s key artists, Bas Jan Ader, makes a cameo appearance in the lone print work in the exhibition. untitled (play list for Bas Jan Ader) is a list of 41 songs, represented by their title and respective performer, rendered in blue foil sans-serif font on an expanse of white paper. Part paen to the artist and part cheeky nod to the sentimental culture surrounding the creation of mix-tapes, untitled conveys Woodcock’s aptitude for combining sincerity and humour with the language of minimalism.

Within the context of this exhibition, one gets a sense of a series of minor shifts that have led Woodcock’s work towards more concise gestures, often highlighting the language of banal directives and ubiquitous declarations. In one of the earliest works in the exhibition, wish you were here (2003/2004/2011), Woodcock offers evidence of an ephemeral act of sentimentality writ large in the sky. During the month of September, Woodcock hired an airplane to circle the sky above the University of Waterloo’s campus trailing a red banner with the phrase “WISH YOU WERE HERE.” It is worth noting that one of the flights occurred during the university’s convocation weekend when returning graduates were likely to be feeling a mix of longing and detachment. At once a banal cliché and conceptual dismantling of methods of communication, the work’s strength is in the vagueness of its declaration. The phrase, which could be understood as belonging to both the romance of some form of elsewhere and the nostalgia evoked by popular music, is rendered inert and illegible when the banner’s letters are brought into the “here” of the gallery space.

Opposite the limp banner letters is done (2008), one of Woodcock’s works in which punctuation marks or related symbols serve as the text. Here, the artist invites the notion of progress in one of its most quotidian manifestations: a checkmark. But Woodcock’s symbol is no paltry graphic gesture. Fabricated with laser-cut Plexi-glas and red adhesive vinyl, it seems to float against the wall, light bouncing off its highly polished edges. Most importantly, this luminescent checkmark is unmoored from any specific achievement. Somehow that approval of something completely ambiguous (at least in the mind of the viewer) works in Woodcock’s favour.

In other instances, the undefinable seems to overlap with a sense of anticipation. In the video location shoot (2003), we see a series of brief, static shots of various chairs against “found” locations: a woven lawn chair against a garage door, a modernist leather and chrome side chair against a similarly hued wall of wood panelling—and so on. In each shot, the chair is just right of centre, facing the camera, as if awaiting the entry of a subject from the left. There is a quality to location shoot that seems intentionally unfinished, as though it is the artist’s ongoing archive of arrival backdrops. The well-worn modernist furniture as both subject and site injects aspiration and failed idealism into the work. It is subtle, but Woodcock effectively co-opts the “less is more” maxim popularized—but appropriately, not coined—by the iconic Mies van der Rohe.

It only requires a quick glance around Jump Cuts to recognize that the works in the show all share, if only in some small measure, references to the highlighting or isolation of important information. And yet Woodcock conflates strategies of identifying the exceptional with content that is intentionally undefined. stickies (2011) are a series of small steel sheets, all blank, all painted that recognizable canary yellow that is associated with the Post-it’ brand. Differently sized and turned slightly upward, Woodcock’s stickies are convincing proxies for the real thing. Still, they are more than an exercise in effective mimetics: their placement throughout the gallery seems arbitrary, like the real ones that might have been left over during the process of installing the exhibition, waiting to receive directives from the artist, or even the curator. Their blankness, more than any conceivable inscription, tells us more about a collective desire to define the exceptional or, at the very least, something memorable. Like monuments to the mundane, they mark the transformation of the ephemeral reminder to something concrete.

—Crystal Mowry is an artist and curator based in Cambridge, Ontario.

1 For a thorough illustration of the evolution of genre Films, with a particular emphasis on musicals, see Leo Baudy’s excerpted “Genre: The Conventions of Connection” in Film Theory and Criticism ed. Gerald Mast and Marshall Cohen (New York, London: Oxford Press, 1979), 443-463.

2 For an early, oft-cited introduction to Romantic Conceptualism, see Jörg Heiser, “Emotional Rescue,” Frieze Magazine no. 71, November—December 2002, p. 70-75. Heiser’s article is anchored by an extensive discussion of Bas Jan Ader’s work.