by irina d. costache, ph.d.


"I live like an explorer. The more I advance in the search for the labyrinth’s center the further away I am from it. I sail very well among fragments, chance finds, the sudden recollections of books, lives, texts or simple individual sentences…" —Enrique Vila Matas

Jane Brucker’s work in the recent exhibition Winter Wheat is an astonishing visual trail of fragmented memories that come together in a coherently reflective narrative. Her work operates within a complex and mysterious framework defined by continuous multi-sensorial experiences. The first encounter with Brucker’s art is intentionally an ambiguous one. Small objects and pieces with concealed histories create a seductive dissonance that puzzles and simultaneously marvels spectators. The artist skillfully transforms personal mementos and private spaces into public memorials. These unknown, but visibly cherished relics emanate a sense of spiritual materiality, which is the key to deciphering hidden connections and inherent meanings.

Brucker’s work is an archeology of mundane articles that have become enigmatic bequests. Vacillating between ancient vestiges and modern found objects the artist establishes sophisticated visual and conceptual links across time and cultures. The preciousness of imperceptible details and prosaic items recall traditional still life representations in Western art. The tactile spirituality of materials and objects and the intricate visual languages align Brucker’s work with projects by Ann Hamilton and Cosima Von Bonin. These erudite historical quotations firmly position Jane Brucker as a vital contributor to the contemporary art discourse.

Lost, the fitted title of the largest work in this exhibition, is an installation comprised of multiple small objects which seem to have been placed erratically on a flat surface. Initially, this interrupted calligraphy appears to be a heterogeneous field. The singularity of the silent articles reinforces the fugitive tale they were once a part of. The disquieting binary opposition between abyss and mass and between absence and presence lures spectators. On a closer examination individual items emerge. Pins, jewelry, tea bags, bells, small pieces of wood and other familiar items prompt viewers to recall their own past and reconnect each element into a new and harmonious story. The preciousness of the diminutive things and irrecoverable fleeting moments transforms the fear of loss into a meditative found.

From the distance, the sense of tranquil reverence produced by Memorial Project suppresses inherent genesis and meanings. The installation, composed of three hundred panels, is assembled as a grid. The monochromatic display forms an abstract field with a rigorous arrangement reminiscent of Agnes Martin’s minimalist works.

The discreet contrast between familiar patterns and geometry erases the dichotomy between emotional and rational. The deception is exposed and the sources of fabrics revealed: these are fragments of clothing and home items. Blouses, pants, shirts, drapes and sheets are the artist’s palette and designs. Buttons, pockets, collars, and seams, once an important ingredient in one’s life rest now quietly. Cropped and detached, the patches of fabric outline a melancholic chronicle. Remnants of completed journeys and symbols of treasured moments they now establish new genealogies. Multiple voices, indicative of known and unknown personal moments, produce a collective homage to forgotten histories. This distant and nostalgic choir of ancestors is here, as elsewhere in Brucker’s art, a powerful and haunting presence.

On the surface, Chalice, an installation comprising goblets displayed in various formats on wooden pedestals, is reminiscent of Dali and Bosch. The unexpectedly distorted forms appear both playful and disturbing. However, Brucker’s comments are neither concerned with artistic practices nor theoretical exercises. Rather, the dichotomy between the rigidity of the material and its apparent malleability projects contradictory meanings: is it a solemn tribute or a joyous festivity? The unexpected softness of the chalices blurs preconceived assumptions and implied chronologies and becomes a powerful contemplation on life and its inevitable end. The material, glass, states with serene acceptance the brevity of life.

There is no despair, defiance or desolation, just a quite reflection on the delicate balances between inception and conclusion. As with other works, the artist encourages viewers to come near, pause and observe.

Brucker’s art is a complex and comprehensive anthology of memories. While visually exquisite, her work questions the value of art based solely on superficial viewing and pleasant decoration. Minimalist monumentality and inherent spirituality are the artist’s signatory traits. Indeed Brucker live[s] like an explorer and sail[s] very well among fragments, as she converts simple personal souvenirs into meaningful public fables. The subdued and faded pieces the artist carefully collects and thoughtfully assembles commemorate the past and acknowledge the future. This eclectic accumulation from family as well as anonymous sources is an irreplaceable evidence of gestures, events and experiences. The pensive mood their inner harmonious dissonance creates is slowly changed by viewers’ solitary contemplation into a peaceful dissonant harmony. An emerging panoramic saga effaces all starting points and establishes a mesmerizing and never-ending visual epic that reaffirms the transitory nature of life.

IRINA D. COSTACHE, Ph.D. writes on contemporary art and is a Professor of Art History at California State University, Channel Islands.