Photos will never do justice to Jason Middlebrook’s installations, nor will reviews. His current exhibition, titled “Less,” is experiential, requiring your presence and your time. The reclaimed and reused wood—no new materials are used here—alters the air. It has a scent, as does the chewed gum on a school desk that spells out “I am so sick of Sarah Palin.” What is new, however, is the vitality imbued in each dirty, chipped, warped, partially painted and haggard piece, each turned and crafted but ultimately discarded segment.
“Floral Arrangement #2,” an imploding collection of bits of furniture and lumber that stretches through most of the central gallery space, needs to be walked under and around, and interacted with to see where these individual scraps of wood might have once intersected with your own lives. A bit of a bed, what’s left of a chair—this all belonged to us at one time. Our own remnant scents might linger, our weight might be seen in the fibers, our intentions in the cracks and dents.
“Less” asks us to exist with less, to use more wisely and to reuse, to see the importance of what we call ours, as Middlebrook has done with absolute clarity and thoughtfulness. He repurposed an empty box of ammunition labeled “Violence” into a tribute of sorts to his daughter Violet. The box now bears her name and shares her exact height, thanks to a car jack, which can elevate the box appropriately as Violet grows. This is indicative of the life Middlebrook pours into his art, the connection to each object he remakes. It’s possible that if we were to follow his instruction, Middlebrook would run out of materials someday, but as the odds of us significantly changing our ways regarding how we consume and throw out materials seem so uncertain at times, we can at least be grateful that there are artists willing to show us how we waste, and that what we consider useless can be filled with breath and speak to us with relevant poetry and sincerity. There is an intrinsic value in everything if we only allow it, and if we need someone with fresh eyes to remind us of this, we have found such a person in Jason Middlebrook. (Damien James)
Through July 31 at Monique Meloche Gallery, 2154 W. Division