Text by: Kim Neudorf
Topiarium – Jenine Marsh
Jenine Marsh’s Topiarium suggests the possibility of experiencing knowledge through both private research and personal access, while reminding us of the “haptic experience of wonder”1 that can occur within spaces of study and provocation. Scientist Peter Galison writes of the way that various systems of knowledge before the 19th century claimed definitive objectivity while simultaneously evoking a subjective reading: “for the tradition of scientific atlas-makers before 1800, it was a singular good to depict the body, plants, and sky phenomena in ways that would be “true to nature.” Being true to nature allowed—indeed demanded—massive intervention.”2 The role of scientific atlases and their claims of representing what is natural, are reflected in Victorian conservatory gardens and their constructed utopias of rationality in which tropical plants were assembled into the ornate and symbolic experiences of caged fantasy. Jenine Marsh has been influenced by the seduction and artifice of these strategies for the display and housing of knowledge. The real and the imaginary within these constructed worlds contains an interrelatedness that strongly informs Marsh’s approach to installation and the process which surrounds it.
Marsh's recent installation Topiarium fills the modest space of Stride’s Project Room, emitting an eerie glow nestled within the silhouettes of peaked vegetation. The installation’s dome-shaped construction of wire and transparent materials appears self-sustaining and almost portable, as if it were the compact terrarium of a futuristic domicile or space craft. Viewable through several layers of plastic, mylar, and wire, a display of drawings is layered upon a surface which functions as a light-table, recalling displays used for the illumination of natural history phenomena. The drawings resemble fragments of schematics, mould-black patches of patterns, doodles in black pen, and illustrations of weather patterns, all placed upon a surface of subtle honeycomb texture. Other shapes pierce the sides of the dome or nest within the installation like throw pillows, suggesting a planetarium as makeshift campsite. The idea of a Project Room has been recast to accommodate a forest and inner-lit glassine dome of a conservatory-as-laboratory, the skin through which it can be viewed and accessed.
Marsh’s chosen materials of plastic, mylar, mirrors, artificial turf and petunia support towers—the props and facades of the contemporary garden—relate to what she has called “artificiality and ideas of inner/outer.”3 The “growing conditions” for this space have been “optimized” by an enclosed environment that is simultaneously private and public, and can be associated with Joris-Karl Huysmans’ visceral tale Against Nature of 1884, wherein commissioned and manufactured flowers are “sustained by artful devices under artificial equators.”4 Marsh has described her process as intuitive, activated by personal research and drawings, which serve as early blueprints for her installations.5 She resituates these plans into the site, creating a space for a working process that is ongoing. The choice to display her research through a range of transparent materials gives her findings a sense of formal suspension.
The idea of suspension is connected with the idea of a space for the reception and transmission of thought, and relates to Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s concept of “a collection of lived-through correspondences”6 that simultaneously become a habitat for the communication of ideas. Marsh describes these strategies as personal thought processes which are “day-dream based”, with “a feeling of anchorlessness.”7 The word “topiarium”, with its etymological origin in the Latin “places”, evokes the spaces that Marsh uses to contain and develop self-generative systems of research. Marsh’s references to the open-ended museum vitrine and interrupted laboratory invite the viewer to think about how a contingent world of perceptions might be contained within a tangible form.
1. Marsching, Jane D. "Synthetic Spectres." Blur of the Otherworldly: Contemporary Art, Technology, and the Paranormal. Eds. Durant, Mark Alice and Jane D. Marsching. Maryland: Center for Art and Visual Culture, 2005. Pg. 152.
2. Galison, Peter. "Objectivity is Romantic." American Council of Learned Societies, Occasional Paper No. 47, 1999, http://acls.org/op47-3.htm#galison.
3. Marsh, Jenine. Qtd.
4. Huysmans, Joris-Karl. Against Nature. Project Gutenberg ASCII text produced by "Harrison Ainsworth" (Release Date: May 14, 2004) [EBook #12341], http://www.victorianweb.org/decadence/huysmans/8.html
5. Marsh, Jenine. Qtd.
6. Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception. Routledge; 2nd edition, 2002. Pg. 236.
7. Marsh, Jenine. Qtd.
Kim Neudorf is an artist and writer interested in the contextual performance and phenomena of images, film, and the body. She received her BFA in Painting from the Alberta College of Art & Design in 2005, and has shown in exhibitions in the Glenbow Museum, Illingworth Kerr Gallery, and Stride Gallery in Calgary. In the Winter of 2005, she attended the Optic Nerve Thematic Residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts. She has been on the Board of Untitled Art Society and The New Gallery. She currently lives and works in Calgary.
Jenine Marsh is an emerging installation artist in Calgary. She has shown work in the Marion Nicoll Gallery, collaborated on Truck’s Camper Patch Project, and helped establish 809, where she is on the board of directors. Jenine received her BFA in 2007 from the Alberta College of Art and Design and has since conducted practice-based research in the United Kingdom and Europe.
Jenine’s work results from a fascination in artifice and its role in the construction of a subjective world. The imagery and implications of conservatory gardens and science-fiction utopias provide the setting for her multi-media installation topiarium, where the natural, man-made, real and make-believe worlds reveal themselves to be inseparable and occasionally indistinguishable. Here she will conduct her experiments and explorations, while always asking “is an imaginary view of the world any less valid than a real one?”