NOW Magazine (Toronto)
Vol. 25 No. 35


Stuff Happens: For Jennifer Stillwell, the Process is the Art

by David Jager


Jennifer Stillwell explores ideas about material, space and process in her series of videos, photos and installations at Pari Nadimi Gallery. Using only mundane, everyday objects, she explores the characteristics of material as they relate to process, accident and play.

Stillwell’s work is insistent in its neutrality, borrowing some cues from both minimalism and formalism. Her materials are of the hardware-store variety, and the things she does with them are straightforward and only slightly whimsical. Most present in her work is a rigerous commitment to including every aspect of her process.

In the video Drift, three television monitors show different helpers dutifully tearing sheets of paper towels and placing them in piles. These accumulated piles are then stacked in groups on a gallery floor, forming an abstracted landscape. A photo of this final sculpture together with a video “performance” of its creation documents the process from start to finish in a way that’s oddly satisfying.

In Wall Plow, another video, Stillwell pushes a large section of drywall through a hallway, scraping along a strip of roofing tar paper that is salted wth plaster fragments. With Stillwell concealed behind it, the wall awkwardly approaches from the far end of the hall toward the camera, ploughing through the plaster fragments in front of it.

In front of this video is a sculptural installation in which rolls of the same roofing tar paper are covered in saltine cracker crumbs. Together, the pieces mirror each other and give rise to distinctly Canadian associations: highways covered with snow, and the gravel roads of the rural North.

The unadorned neutrality and reductionism of Stillwell’s work can seem a bit extreme, especially some 40 years after the heyday of minimalism, but its subtle investigation of material and process point to the richness lying beneath the surface of so called ordinary things.


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