Statement from the 2019 Utah Visual Arts Fellowship Juror, Laura Addison
There is a quotation that I keep on my office bulletin board, by a curator whom I admire, Nicholas Baume. It reads, “Simplicity in art is rarely achieved without a struggle.” It reminds me daily of the hard-won triumphs of artists, and that each art object is the product of an artist’s investment of time, talent and technique. It is an act of courage to speak one’s deepest thoughts and convictions through making, to take that risk to create and be heard. I thought of this quotation when I saw Jim Jacobs’ sculptures. He makes the seamless transition of wood from its natural form to its sculpted counterpart appear effortless. Yet one recognizes simply by seeing Jacobs’ sculptures, the years of creative fortitude and accumulated knowledge about wood and sculptural methods that coalesced to make that transition so…simple. Simple they are not, however. Jacobs’ sculptures disrupt. At first, there is a certain whimsy and wonder to the works. Is that toppled chair metamorphosing into a tree? Or, how is it possible for wood to transmute into hair? Slowly, the disjuncture inherent in the object unsettles our sense of the “natural” order of things. Jacobs calls these transitions “grafting,” a decidedly scientific term that reveals an uncanny, even grotesque, insinuation of the works. How did such an anomaly as this object come to be? The answer, the artist tells us through his sculptures, is that modern society has had an unnatural impact on the natural environment.
Laura Addison is the curator of North American and European folk art at the Museum of International Folk Art, Santa Fe, a position she has held since 2013. Previously, she was curator of contemporary art at the New Mexico Museum of Art (2002-2013).
Intersections fascinate me. Grafting, in the traditional sense, is a process used to join two distinct plants, often trees, to make them more productive. In many of my works natural tree limbs are grafted to milled lumber, wooden tools, furniture, and human hair. These works—gangly, elegant, contrived, fragile, and at times self destructive—are reflections on our peculiar relationship with the natural world. In one sense, as evolution has shown, humans and their productions are clearly as much a part of the natural world as any other life form. Our skyscrapers are as much a part of nature as the honeycomb of the bee and, in fact, replicate some analogous structural principles. Noted conceptual artist and systems thinker, Hans Haake famously said, “The difference between ‘nature’ and technology is only that the latter is man made.” Yet, there are reasons to believe we are somehow different from the rest of the natural world. We’ve invoked both science and religion to explain the apparent division. We position ourselves above nature by declaring that we are its stewards. We position ourselves below by elevating the rest of nature to a romantic ideal. We look for natural cures and natural foods. We seek Natural Light beer and Nature Valley granola bars. And, even if we erase the ideas that purportedly separate us from the natural world, the most powerful factor distinguishing us as a species remains: our disproportionate impact on the environment.
Some of these works are influenced by the matapalo trees of Central and South America. After birds deposit the seeds, the matapalo, or strangler fig, starts its life as an epiphyte high in an established tree. Over time, the vine's roots reach the forest floor and gradually weave themselves around the trunk. Eventually they encircle the tree so thickly that the host tree dies leaving a tightly woven mass of vines that take the form of the tree.