‘There is neither fate nor misfortune, but forces to overcome.’ ~Niurgun Bootor, Siberian folk hero
At the end of Roman Polanski’s film The Pianist (2002) we see the protagonist disappear from view into the detritus of what was once Warsaw. Gargantuan piles of rubble define this war-ravaged landscape, all which remains of the decimated Polish city. A similar passage in The Rings of Saturn by the late German author W.G. Sebald recounts an anecdote about the reconstruction of German cities in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. Salvageable bricks were collected from the bombed-out debris and systematically stacked amidst the refuse in perfect piles of a thousand, the one-thousandth brick positioned on end atop each pile denoting its final tally.
French novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet’s meticulous description of a destroyed cityscape in Topology of a Phantom City invites superficial comparison with both Sebald’s passage and Polanski’s film but invokes a decidedly more surreal interpretation of destruction. The residue of destruction is here divorced from immediate human accountability and meditated upon aesthetically. This fictitious aftermath, available as it is for the author’s metaphoric ruminations, suggests an ideologically frozen landscape in which, at least potentially, it may again be possible to creatively intervene. These accounts form a collective and sustained meditation on the ruin and its potential for metaphoric regeneration.
Jason Fitzpatrick’s work addresses notions of ruination peripherally. Through an interactive process of establishing and refining spatiotemporal boundaries his work seeks to encompass the act of constructing and reconfiguring a place within the gallery where, for all intents and purposes, the activity of work itself is displayed and disseminated. Sculptural and performance interventions are orchestrated to harness, reorder and rebuild a kind of surrogate habitat. In this manner the very process of labour yields a sculptural environment in perpetually sustained rather than suspended animation.
This is poignantly addressed, in the ongoing work entitled Sartre (2001), through the artist’s initiative of sending additional bricks to the gallery for the duration of the exhibition to be added to the installation in his absence. Rather like pieces salvaged from analogous ruins located elsewhere, the bricks become the physical manifestation of their own metaphoric transformation.
Fitzpatrick’s continual envelopment of the gallery and its occupants in a work entitled Lucy (2004) invites comparison with the various tent-like dwellings of nomadic peoples across the globe, thereby invoking a survival strategy for proposing alternate modes of aesthetic contemplation. In this manner the effluvial matter produced through labor, in tandem with the materials configured within the gallery, becomes the alchemical stuff comprising Fitzpatrick’s oeuvre.
True metaphors are spatial in that they literally encompass the trajectory along which meaning is rendered manifest. What this in turn suggests is that work itself, this traversing from one orientation to another, is vital to the unveiling of metaphor. In Polanski’s film the aftermath of destruction is precisely that which sustains metaphor. The ruin as metaphor will generate scenarios for building anew because vision itself cannot be sustained without the apperception required to evoke change. In other words, metaphor is the phoenix that will precipitate the resurrection of ruinous structures.
Human enterprise invariably employs aesthetics to recover from catastrophe. The building of a tower of bricks, not unlike Inukshuks, grave markers or temple mounts, serves as both physical marker and visual testament to the potential for metaphoric regeneration. These traces of human endeavor culminate in the Great Wall, witnessed from a lunar vantage point, like a geographical scar on the earth’s surface.
Jason Fitzpatrick’s work invites these interpretations, by surpassing the inherently corporeal negotiation of space and time, and addressing the specifically peripatetic nature of inanimate bodies existing in tandem with bodies proper. Healing, usually thought of as a process of physical or psychological renewal or regeneration, might here be more generously reinterpreted as the means by which ethically conscious aesthetic action is both possible and sustainable.