More often than not, Jason Fitzpatrick’s work requires labour. Whether lifting logs, working as a security guard for art openings, or being tattooed for three hours straight, his work foregrounds the body’s physicality over other traditional sculptural elements. Fitzpatrick writes:
“Sculpture (is) decentralized, not limited to exist within a static form but … (as)
transformation of form (sculpture-body)… the body is used as a point of departure:
my height, weight, strength, mental capacity, sexuality, gender and endurance are
utilized as material to establish the initial context in which I work.”
Fitzpatrick’s “action/sculpture” at the grunt gallery, titled bite & burn, is the second of three installments in this series. In the first installment, at Open Space (Toronto), the obelisk-shaped tattoo that is to run down the length of his spine was begun near his neck. At the grunt (Vancouver), the bottom third was completed. The middle third will be completed within the next year, at a (to-be-named) location in Atlantic Canada. In this sense, Fitzpatrick’s work is not so much about the finished product, as it is a work-in-transition through time and space, across his changing body (as site), and across the body of a changing nation.
As one enters the gallery, a death metal tune drones from the back room, which at once beckons and repels; the music is to the ear, what the tattoo needle is to the skin. The music becomes a “wall of material” that the audience member must necessarily penetrate. Inside the gallery, the viewer is confronted with a pink cub(e)icle that has the appearance of an unfinished basement: a two-by-four construction padded with fiberglass insulation on the outside – “a skinned Judd,” as Fitzpatrick calls it. A walk around the cube reveals a Duchampian sliver of a window at eye-level, a deliberately confining and thus frustrating design that allows only a voyeuristic peak into the ritual being performed inside. It is only when a music track ends that the buzz of the tattooing-in-progress is heard, overlaying one sensory experience upon another. The cotton-candy appearance of the pink insulation tempts the viewer to touch, but the knowledge that the microscopic glass particulates would “bite and burn” after, is perhaps a warning not get too close to what is going on here.
Confined inside the cubicle are three (white) men, methodically (and importantly for Fitzpatrick, without theatricality) engrossed in their designated labour: tattooing, being tattooed, and printing from the resulting blood/ink/sweat admixture. The tattooing, despite the presence of blood, seems gentle in its controlled application. The artist being tattooed, with his eyes closed and laying still, appears more like a sculpture than an artist-in-performance. And the “monoprints” that are coming off the body read as codices or transcripts of an arcane ritual-in-progress. As they are sequentially hung on the cube’s interior walls, the still-wet red/black liquid begins to run; yet the pattern is such that the bloody ink appears to drip upward and not down, seemingly defying gravity. Enclosed in such a small space that is reminiscent of a dank basement of a suburban home, the atmosphere seems particularly arcane, that of a secret rite of passage. Fitzpatrick describes his evocations in this way: “it’s about teenage boys growing up in a culture where they were trying to find a new culture because they somehow knew that they were cultureless.”
There is a self-acknowledged desperate pathos here, with perhaps a tinge of nostalgia. This may be particularly poignant for Fitzpatrick, looking back in time at a collective boyhood, now himself as a parent of an infant son. Nothing is static in Fitzpatrick’s ouevre, neither sculptural form nor life forms. For Fitzpatrick, responsiveness to changing social and cultural conditions is vital. Fitzpatrick’s oeuvre – sculpture, installation, performance, video, and drawing – points to the diverse ways in which the artist grapples with the changing relationships between form and formlessness. While it may be trite to name this relationship a “transformation,” the relationships between actions, objects, and bodies in his work point to the artist’s grappling with layered and multivalent narratives that resist easy readings.
(*brunt Magazine 2007.)