Marie Jager, “The Magic Mountain” IMAGES UPLOADED 5-8 @ 10 pm
“The Magic Mountain” as an exhibition began at the Barlow Sanitorium in Elysian Park with Marie Jager’s attempt to make a narrative film using the place and adding the words of, or reflections on, Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain.” She filmed (or photographed for slides) the more abandoned parts of this historic tuberculosis hospital and spoke a story to accompany the film. I think this did not work the way Jager wanted it to. She spoke of the overpoweringness of her narration and of Mann’s novel, and she regretted the lack of interpretive power left to the viewer. The images however, were (and are) beautiful.
There is a slide show upstairs at Pepin Moore, 160 images on a random five second repeat. Jager told me that she enjoys seeing “her film make itself” and loves the fact that she can reinterpret the work each time she sees it, as the juxtapositions of imagery change and flow. Not for the last time in Jager’s “The Magic Mountain” an agency of the medium and the process brings the present to our awareness. In the case of this slide show the immediacy of the random repeat feels active and engaging; freed from being in thrall to documentary historicizing I am encouraged to search out my own readings and to find patterns in the images and finally to quit and simply appreciate their beauty.
Of course I consider the place – Barlow is a lovely garden of near ruins in one of LA’s best and prettiest parks. (As it happens, we are about to lose this place: built in 1902 to house tubercular patients during a long recuperation or a slow death, it lost that purpose after WWII when penicillin was discovered and its use became widespread. Since that time portions of the sanitorium have hosted sleep centers and lung disease institutes. Now I understand that the whole is to be demolished, half the land will be sold to developers and on the other half will be built what sounds like a poorly planned and not very attractive hospital. That end of the mountain range the bisects our city seems to be cursed. Amidst all the beauty are gargantuan plugs of ugliness and mistaken intentions: Dodger Stadium, three freeways (four if you count the 101 slot cutting the hills of Chinatown away from the rest of downtown), and now something new… but I digress.)
Lacking pictures I feel I should tell you about some of the images I wrote down. (Do not worry! As soon as I get images I shall upload them for you. And of course the show is up through June 4, so you’ll go see it for yourself.)
Fat, old medical record files through dusty wood paned windows.
Skinny, long tree stumps sticking out of small plastic pots.
Another dusty window, this with a broken pane resembling a leaf.
Cracks like fault lines in an asphalt driveway.
Cracks again in an old concrete walkway.
A single minimalist CMU block at an angle on the ground and a pallet leaning against a wooden wall.
“Closed indefinitely for renovation.”
Massive fleshy tree root that looks like a fat snake.
A yellow looped cord (like a jump rope) hanging on a redwood plank wall.
A clock caught at 5:55.
A broken eyewash station – a desuetude of formerly working equipment.
Amazing linear and angled pipes visible partially against a low retaining wall, the wall colored in fading terra cotta. A moment of Morandi. (Just wonderful Marie, thank you.)
Caution tape on ficus.
Goldfish swimming in a fountain, captured in the reflection of a wrought iron cage.
A disturbing lump on a garden shed roof.
I suppose I could go on, I shan’t though.
An interesting thesis that Jager is pursuing with this work places the beginnings of architectural Modernism coincident with the design of these sanitoria. They were meant to make light and air available, and to be clean. No decoration that might harbor dirt or disease, no intricacies at all. Walls, floors and furnishings were painted white; windows were huge, balconies generous.
Images of the Queen Alexandra Sanitorium in Davos, Switzerland (built in 1907) make this quite clear. Jager has printed them as large format blueprints, in a sort of Prussian Blue and then bleached a triangular portion with sunlight as though the life-giving sun were shining on the hospital. Life-giving and destructive, I might add. The paper becomes wonderfully brittle and the image is partially obliterated by the very thing that allows us to see the print.
I’ve managed to find an image of the Queen Alexandra in a text by Hugh Pearman, published originally in the London Times as a review of Paul Overy’s “Light, Air and Openness: Modern Architecture Between the Wars.” (This will give you an idea where Schindler and Neutra came from.)
At the risk of incurring trouble I quote from Pearman’s review of Paul Overy’s 2007 book:
“In a Europe ravaged by industrial pollution and tuberculosis, with antibiotics yet to be discovered, the Victorian obsession with fresh air was taken to new heights. Sanatoria with large windows and open balconies were built in mountain resorts and forest retreats. Old ways of building did not lend themselves to this kind of healthcare. Doctors insisted on light and air, the dissolving of the barrier between indoor and outdoor. These new super-clinics could not be allowed to harbour germs and dust: they had to be efficient wipe-clean places. As early as 1907, the astonishingly modern-looking Queen Alexandra Sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland, contained all the key ingredients: flat roofed, big-windowed, concrete-framed, balconied, white-painted, minimalist. Architects were Otto Pfleghard and Max Haefeli. Structural engineer was Robert Maillart, deploying the Hennebique reinforced-concrete system. Nor was this the first of its kind – a prototype, also in Davos, had existed as early as 1902, developed by Dr. Karl Turban and architect Jacques Gros. The key was the openable all-glass, south-facing wall. It quickly became apparent that conventional bricklayers and carpenters could not produce such a building. New techniques were duly borrowed from industrial and transport buildings.”
Having done this, I also offer you a link to Pearman’s home page, which gives us a recent article titled Absent Friends: “Modern British Sculpture” at the Royal Academy, as well as a lament for James Stirling’s lost Utopia. Both are well worth looking at and reading. The link above under Overby’s book title takes you to the article in question.
It is now 12:45 AM on Friday. I am tired and going to sleep. Back tomorrow with more.
(oh lord, so much more – Jager, the weekend, LACE auction (this time downtown with easy parking!), a little Otis / Homeboy Industries action, Joy Division’s “The Eternal” playing at Cafe Via, Liat Yossifor exhibition at Angles extended, Charlene von Heyl (did you see her speak at the Hammer Thursday night??? I missed out) opening at 1301PE, and of course Tom Johnson piano music by Susan Svrcek at Piano Spheres on Tuesday. Eek.
Oh dear, now it’s 1:14…………. and I’m listening to “Decades.” Aah, where have they be-en.
“Weary inside, now our heart’s lost forever. Can’t replace the fear or the thrill of the cha-ase.”
Good Morning Vietnam! 7:30 and time to get rolling.
A significant fact about the Queen Alexandra is that a brief stay there inspired Thomas Mann to write “The Magic Mountain.” Mann took his wife to the spa in 1908, apparently Mann decided leave and the novel grew (partly) out of his imagining what it might have been like to stay, to continue treatment and to “join the lifestyle” as we might term it today. Lucky us!
I asked Jager about the architectural differences between the hospital in Switzerland and the Barlow in Los Angeles – the first being crisp, sleek and suggesting an elite clientele and the second being more rustic and even funky. She assured me that while “European and California design used varying means to get there, the goal was the same: cleanliness, access to the sun and the air and a restful atmosphere.” In fact, the Barlow won design and technical awards when it was built in 1902 so it was considered very advanced.
In the first room of the show (although it was the last room I visited), Jager has installed large format blueprint images of the Barlow in the early 1900s. Being blueprint these are negative images and do not resemble antique photographs. There are inmates, in one picture seated in Adirondak type chairs, who seem to be peering out of the image through a misty screen – of time I guess. These prints are all in blues and faded purples, Jager has caused them to be spotted with raindrops – essentially she has captured a recent downpour in her prints just as some past photographer captured these patients and buildings on photographic paper. Again she brings now and a distant past together, and she loses both. Instead Jager finds what she termed “an elastic present” that exists outside of time – the way literature does, the way fairy tales do: out of our firm grasp and yet always within our reach, always open to interpretation.
Facing these on the wall opposite are three small canvases, paintings really, paintings that were made by wind and sun and rain and air (and smog). Over the course of one year these small canvases were left outside to capture and accrete the stuff of Los Angeles – each moment exists in the space of these paintings, as does the whole of the time. Pretty sweet are these little puppies.
I mentioned before Jager’s use of a medium and process specific action or dimension that unsettles our sense of time. This and the light touch with which she adapts, borrows from, and investigates her sources in literature make the intellectual content of her work mirror and support the subtle and lovely objects that Jager presents.
Marie Jager, “The Magic Mountain,” April 30 through June 4, 2011
Pepin Moore, 933 Chung King Road
I made the above reference to Giorgio Morandi in response to a particular color I saw in one of Marie Jager’s slides. Do you know? Having taken a break (it is now 11:22 AM on Friday) and driven around the city, I’ve had time to recall Jager’s past projects (L’Heure Bleu at Light and Wire in 2010, The Big Nowhere at Kunsthalle LA also in 2010, the 2006 California Biennial and back to my first experience with her work in Celine and Julie Go Boating at Anna Helwing in Culver City). Over the years, Marie Jager has employed a limited palette of blues, purples and dirty grays and she comes close to the subtlety and depth of expression that was achieved by the Italian master in his still lives with their similarly restrained use of color.
In fact, at the risk of pushing this analogy too far, Marie Jager’s use of sunlight and rain and air as the media for and co-equal subjects of her prints and paintings gives them a timeless still life quality; as with Morandi’s vessels and containers Jagers repetition of visual subjects (the elements in our atmosphere and literature) is quiet and durational and gives us space to breathe and to grow.