header image: Jeffrey Michael Austin, “You Have No Idea” (2014)
A white pillow is suspended in the center of the room under the warm glow of a single lamp. Objects float inexplicably. Long chords of taut string flash in and out of focus. The ghosts of letters write themselves sporadically on the walls, then disappear. Fragments of a phrase flicker but are never realized as a total line of text. I strain to fix the objects in space, and yet they flow and jitter as my pupils tighten and dilate.
You Have No Idea opened last Friday at The Sub-Mission, Mission Project’s subterranean special exhibitions space. This latest iteration of Jeffrey Michael Austin’s A Language Older Than You series explores “the plasticity of the oral and written word.” Reminiscent of earlier work Austin showed at Manifold in 2013, You Have No Idea relies on perceptual slippages that force a handful of optical tricks into stunning, impossible forms. I was glad to come to The Sub-Mission off-hours – led down the stairs away from the brightly lit main room of The Mission’s storefront gallery and into the half light below, I found myself completely alone, as in a temple or cave.
As with earlier work, Austin’s installation is formally volatile, changing entirely as the viewer’s vantage shifts however subtly throughout the small room. What remains a consistent formal anchor in the dim chamber is the illuminated centerpiece. This glowing pillow and the floating halo of powerful magnets above it read like a shrine or axis-mundi, the collecting center or tethering locus of the heavenly and terrestrial, sacred and profane, veiled and empirical. Austin’s “writing on the wall,” (literally the phrase “you have no idea”) forces us back into the primordial darkness of caves and ancient dwellings, to places outside of time where language (as the hand print, the hatch-mark, the letter and so on) began and continues to wrestle with undifferentiated infinitude.
Staged in the contemplative quiet of Austin’s installations, natural properties of the physical world reemerge as magical, interrogating the perceptual and phenomenological as sites of spiritual and psychedelic possibility.
You Have No Idea will be on display at The Sub-Mission thru April 19, 2014.
Jeffrey Michael Austin is pursuing the Bachelor of Fine Art in Sculpture at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago. Work from his Bright Future series will be on display at the School’s Spring BFA Thesis Exhibition, on view at Sullivan Galleries thru April 2, 2014.