Burning Bridges: Jarod Charzewski
May 30 – September 27, 1997
a response to the exhibition by Alison Gillmor
The first and probably the most accessible way to see Burning Bridges is as a series of ten wooden doors that are either rising triumphantly or falling into despair, depending on your viewpoint (physical and emotional). Taken with the work’s site – a scrubby open field in Winnipeg’s North End – the doorways act as a striking metaphor for a community in uneasy transition. But it’s important not to stop there, at that intellectually comfy construct. Artist Jarod Charzewski, blindsides the paradigm of public sculpture as monumental, untouchable, timeless product, looking instead at processes – weather, decay, human interaction, and most of all – time and what they do to materials. Responses to his work need to do something like that too, not worrying about neat conclusions but enjoying uncertainties, unresolved tensions – the practice of thinking about art and not just the final results.
Doorways. They can be opportunities; “when one door closes, another opens.” They can be strength; they’re where you crouch during an earthquake. They can be ancient; it’s the post-and-lintel system that holds up Greek temples from the 6th century B.C.E. Usually their scale is human, measured more or less by the men and women who will walk through them. When they’re outsized, they take on a horror-movie atmosphere of implacable doom. Charzewski plays with, and against, the doorway’s connotations in language, architecture and art history. First of all he takes perfection – the cut-and-dried right angle of the 15th-century Christian God, viewed as the master geometrician; the stock-in-trade of architects, surveyors and draughtspersons – and skews it. I’m conditioned to assume order, regularity and symmetry in built structures, and Charzewski’s – with the large doors at least – are mischievously close enough to an ideal standard to lead me in that direction. But when I look down that arcade, expecting to see space unfolding before me in the structured, disciplined intervals of Renaissance perspective, everything’s just a little off. the doorways list and lean gently to one side; they jut too tall or come up short. And even the glitches aren’t systematic; they’re just the everyday, workaday “mistakes” made by the artist and his friends as they banged the doorways into place – a few centimeters here and there, the kind of niggling irregularities that had helpful passer-bys giving Charzewski and his crew construction advice.
Then there’s the site – not a triumphant city square, but a funny, leftover bit of ground between the Kekinan first Nations Seniors Centre and some public housing, covered on a June morning in dandelions and tough, turf-hugging weeds. the field doesn’t neatly frame the work of art; neither does Burning Bridges impose itself on the land. The relationship is gentler, quieter, as if the work is growing out of, or decaying back into the earth.
Charzewski is interested in the organic, not just in his material but in the processes that affect that material. The sun moving across the sky and casting shadows; rain staining and darkening the unvarnished Norway pine and rusting the bolted black steel plates; the unstinting light of winter flattening out textures; the mists of a wet spring hazing them over – these are all part of the piece. Monet liked to paint the same haystacks or poplar trees again and again to capture not the things themselves but the the fugitive atmospheric conditions that surrounded them. Charzewski’s “multiples” are all contained within one work, because that one work shifts and changes from hour to hour, day to day, month to moth. And these transformations quicken perceptions – both of the doorways and of their changing environment.
There is also the possibility of more drastic and sudden interventions, coming not from the natural but the social world. For Charzewski the possibilities of graffiti, scarification, and damage are part of the Burning Bridges piece. Far from seeing his work as untouchable, he welcomes physical proofs of community reaction. There are hopeful reports of kids piling up shopping carts against the doorways and climbing up, but in June the only semi-permanent human marking is a small and incongruous city of Winnipeg Police sticker, about 4 cm in diameter, placed modestly on one doorframe. Is this tenderness a sign of respect and affection? Or does it signify an alien distance between art and audience, an overly respectful silence in the face of “difficult” contemporary art? For now that question remains open. Like other issues concerning Burning Bridges, this might be resolved by next spring, after the work has spent a hard winter outside. But just like doorways can lead nowhere, these intellectual searches don’t have to have destinations.
Alison Gilmor is a freelance writer on art and film, based in Winnipeg.