Jenn Houle: Site-specific Installation, “Featherlight (Foul Falls)”
On Friday night, Jenn installed her “Featherlight” exhibition at Ithaca Falls, what is now “and forever-doomed if not restored,” she insists, Foul Falls.
As I recall when I was a freshman, I was lucky enough to witness Jenn’s progress of creating environmental-inducing art in our very own Foundry. However, when limited within the boundaries of concrete walls, fluorescent lights, and bitter pavements, it was as if Jenn’s organic and biological work was “imprisoned” and screamed for freedom. Thus, after shifting her work into a breathing, natural environment, the effects were astounding as her work was suddenly permitted life by the environmental reality that welcomed it.
With people like Jenn, who continuously use art as a vessel to formulate environmental critique, especially through materiality, her cluttering of her studio space with masses of ‘found junk’ would be surprisingly inviting for anyone who passed her work space. Thus, the finding of ‘found material’ became an interplay for her, in stressing the story of her construction to activate the life of wildlife-simulations and environmental installation.
In the “Featherlight (Foul Falls)” installation at Ithaca Falls, former site of Ithaca Gun Co., the grounds are known to be historically embedded within the years of lead poisoning issues: water-contamination, more especially as Jenn explained, in effect not only impacts humans, but another surprising, equally terraneous guest: scavengers, such as the glorious Bald Eagle.
A second element Jenn manipulates are the walls. Through light-projected ‘cave-painting, the rocky walls which encompass the installation yield historic gestures, almost anciently reminding the audience of marks reminiscient of cultures that left behind the genesis of artistic vision.. in Ithaca. In addition to converting these grounds into a habitat for ‘recyclable bird sculptures,’ Jenn uses the advantage of time especially: the night. The dense textures of unusually protrusive walls are given the role to reflect very specific colors– red and blue light, such that the sculptures’ shadows forecast and haunt their audience with ephemeral patriotism.
As a viewer, I am more drawn to the atmosphere, the sensation of mist in a dark space, and the quality of light and color theory Jenn projects. Before listening to her conceptuality, I came to contemplate that the red and blue light, projected over the enigma of what seemed like eagles, was more of a celebration of these amazing creatures.
However, the darkness of the night, and barely-seeable Cayuga waters was hard for the audience, as well as myself, to make out any correlation with water contamination, unless explicitly explained. Yet the foamy slushiness of white which constantly fell from the falls was successfully animated by reflecting red and blue light. Any white in flexion in the lake also sparkled with color, although, more than water-contamination, I do not deny I came to indulge the waters more for its color and beauty by these light projections. I was also propelled by the way she used the tone of colored light to sculpt the soft, three-dimensional contours of her sculptured-birds against the harsh blackness of the night, almost using light itself to ‘sculpt.’
On a last note, what confused me was the intended capacity and ability of the installation. Without notice, it suddenly became a brief performance, and at the same time, I admired the spontaneity. When she engaged with the audience by using metal poles to control her sculptures’ ‘flight’ in the air and casted powerful shadows into the night, I appreciated when she flapped them directly over the lake. This then seemed to justify her message most strongly by making it seem like these birds were authoritative, territorial, and almost frustrated over the waters.