There is something immediately ‘likeable’ about Jai McKenzie’sSuperstructure (2010). Perhaps it’s the colourful warmth of this bare-bones structure that instantly draws the viewer in? But then there’s also an obvious contradiction between the ‘warmth’, and the fluorescent tubes that emit it. Adding to this incongruence of ‘warmth’ and ‘fluorescent’ is the implication of an indestructible quality in its title, whilst it’s evident that this structure in its most basic, elemental form is merely two lights leaning against a wall.
In discussion with Jai McKenzie she explains this dichotomy. “I was researching Buckminster Fuller and the Italian radical architectural collective, Super Studio… I was interested in their superstructures because they were propositions and they remained as propositions – they were never actually made. So, I was interested in what could exist and what does exist.”
The absence of structure is replaced with the presence of light. It cascades, golden yellow, into a pool of smouldering amber light and the effect is immediately calming. It’s beautiful to stare at; and similar to the work of Olafur Eliasson, the most common response from viewers, is intrigue. McKenzie herself was amused by their response, “People would encounter the work and without doubt they would go around it and investigate the structure and how it was made and see as much as they could of its construction.”
Trained as a photographer, McKenzie sees her work with light as a reduction of her experience as a photographer, “Photography is fundamentally a lighting structure” she says, but the fundamental difference between it and this work, is the experience had by the viewer. Here is light in its primary, physical form. It is not stored digitally or on film, nor is it obscured by figures and shapes (as it is in photography). It exists in the present and is available to be manipulated and ‘played with’ as the viewer pleases.
“I do see a difference [between] whether we explore the light within its physical space or whether it’s more contained. That’s sort of what I’m interested in – the containment of light or the spilling out of light within a space.”
When questioned on the similarities of some of her work with that of some of the art world’s heavy weights such as James Turrell or Eliasson, McKenzie admits, “I make my work with an understanding of art history in mind. I was trained as an artist in an art school so it makes sense for me to embrace that history and use it in my work.”
That said, Jai McKenzie’s work speaks extensively beyond these superficial, primary observations. Superstructure has a strong internal validity that sparks discourse about style, form, physicality and space, as well as inherent quality of adaptability. Perhaps that will ensure its place alongside the ideas of those that have inspired it?
Firstdraft, 8 - 26 September 2010