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In search of the sublime: The multifaceted artistry of Jessi Reaves
Exploring modernism through sculptural design with Jessi Reaves’ Better if Locked creation
Image: Courtesy of Form group

In search of the sublime: The multifaceted artistry of Jessi Reaves

Traversing the labyrinthine landscape of Reaves’ artistic mind, where sculptures and video merge to redefine the essence of modern art.

by Aarthi Mohan
Published on : Jun 07, 2024

Have you ever found yourself lost in a memory, drifting in and out of consciousness, as fragments of a movie soundtrack play in the background? That's what the sensation artist Jessi Reaves captures in her latest solo exhibition at the Crèvecœur art gallery in Paris, France. Walking into the gallery, you are immediately struck by the warmth of the space. The artist’s work attempts to blur the lines between decorative art and fine art, as well as between functionality and aesthetics. For nearly a decade, she has been assembling sculptures that engage with the legacy of modernism within Western design culture. Each piece is a testament to her skill and imagination, inviting viewers to reconsider their relationship with the objects that surround them. Art historian Kate Nesin shares that Reaves’ creations transform formal tenets into idiomatic expressions, showcasing her unique approach to art.

The exhibition on view from April 26 - June 15, 2024, presents a collection of sculptures, which at first glance, appear to be ordinary furniture design pieces such as a chair here, a table there; but upon closer inspection, they reveal themselves to be something more. The furniture designer aestheticises and eroticises these everyday items, revealing the mystery of their composition, function, construction, materials, and interactions. By reversing the properties of familiar furniture, she challenges our thinking and the binary categorisations still prevalent today.

For her first exhibition in France, Reaves presents a series of recent sculptures alongside a video work entitled Reflect as one (2023). This video is projected onto a piece of furniture screen fabricated by the artist, creating both an audio collage and a dramatic reconstruction. The American artist explains, "The idea here is obvious. The familiar voices of the actresses in The Women have been cut and collaged, aiming to create the effect of a movie playing in the background while passively watching it."

Reaves' video work draws inspiration from her personal experiences. She describes how listening to the 2008 remake of The Women while on an evening flight reminded her of childhood. This passive absorption of television laid the groundwork for her artistic exploration. The main character in the video is her niece, who stands in for Reaves herself. The young girl’s loose movements and innocence contrast sharply with the melodramatic audio, creating a poignant and reflective piece.

In a strategic move, Reaves repackaged a generic monitor as a sculpture, with her creations working hard to distract from the video. Some even offer opportunities to sit and watch, though comfort is not guaranteed. "Maybe something's digging into your back, the outline of a Hollywood star making a temporary impression through your shirt," the object designer muses, highlighting the playful discomfort she introduces to the viewing experience.

Born in Portland in 1986, the artist studied at the Rhode Island School of Design. Her work has been showcased in numerous prestigious exhibitions. The artist’s nod to modernism isn’t just about aesthetic choices but also about challenging the modernist ethos. Her work questions the notion, that form follows function by creating pieces that transcend this boundary. This subtle critique invites viewers to reconsider the rigid doctrines of sculptural design and think about the potential flexibility and playfulness in modern art.

Reaves' method of creation and appropriation fundamentally questions our perceptions of art and design. Her sculptures are not just static objects but active participants in the exhibition space, engaging viewers in a dialogue about the boundaries of art. This is evident in how her pieces serve practical purposes while also being visually striking, merging art and utility.

The video work is a prime example of the designer’s ability to merge different mediums and ideas. By using the familiar voices from The Women, she creates a sense of nostalgia and disorientation, reflecting her own experience of television watching. The fragmented audio and the playful yet unsettling visuals draw viewers into a contemplative state, questioning the nature of memory and perception.

Reaves' sculptures, with their rigorous construction and playful details, invite viewers to reconsider the objects they encounter daily. An armchair becomes not just a place to sit but a sculptural piece that challenges its own function. A shelf is no longer just for storage but a canvas for artistic expression. This recontextualisation of everyday objects encourages viewers to see the world through a different lens, appreciating the artistry in the mundane.

Reflecting on her creative process and emphasising on the importance of experimentation and play, the artist says, “I don't have the best attention span for video art. When I encounter it in the midst of an exhibition I usually resent the duration. I worry that I am spending so much time on one artwork when I could be seeing dozens of others, or that I'm coming into the work too close to its ending. I do, however, envy and adore the medium for its contrast to sculpture: its weightlessness and ability to be in two places at once.”

As you wander through the exhibition space, you are struck by the sense of intimacy and connection that permeates the sculpture artist’s work. Whether sitting in a chair or admiring a shelf, you find yourself drawn into a dialogue with the objects around you, reflecting on your relationships with furniture and the spaces you inhabit. Perhaps that is the true beauty of art; to open our eyes, to stir our emotions, and to remind us of the wonder that lies hidden in the everyday objects that surround us. In that sense, Reaves' work is a triumph, a testament to the power of creativity and imagination to transform the world around us.

Reflect as One is on view from April 25 - June 15, 2024, at the Crèvecœur art gallery in Paris, France.

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