I am proud to present Jackie Matisse’s Heads and Tails: Hommage to Merce, her second solo show at ZONE: CONTEMPORARY ART. The exhibition encompasses a wide range of her art--her signature kites, assemblages, memory bottles, and works on paper--and features a unique re-imagining of her theater design for the late choreographer Merce Cunningham. Jackie Matisse’s work is an exploration of movement. Her hand-painted, kinetic mobiles may be anchored to “points in space,” to borrow a phrase from Merce, but they defy gravity, flying on ambient currents of air. The principle of fluidity, of metamorphosis, is a touchstone of a particular strain of modernism. Merce’s collaborators-- John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Andy Warhol, among others-retained creative autonomy: music, visual elements, and choreography came together only with their first performance. The improvisational process continued when the different work were recombined in Events and Happenings.
In honor of this intuitive and open-ended ethos, Jackie Matisse has reinstalled her décor for Merce (Events, Joyce Theater, 2004) in the main gallery. Usually, Jackie exhibits the eccentrically shaped, sometimes sculptural heads and banner-like tails of her kites separately. ZONE is offering a rare opportunity to see the richly colored 26-feet-high kites, as the mysterious, totemic figures whose fluttering movements interacted with the human performers. Gallery visitors can use artist-painted fans to stir up the air currents and bring the tableau to life. They will experience the art in a new way: not as a stage picture from the audience’s perspective, but moving through the floating heads and tails, like dancers. The ZONE installation becomes an Event, in which the décor from a repertory piece is adapted to a particular space and occasion. Jackie also flies her kites in a form of performance art that celebrates the chance operations of nature, using what she calls “the canvas of the sky” to create “Art Volant” (flying art). Jackie recalls “listening to and watching Merce trying out new ideas and rhythms” and experiencing his performances as a dancer: “like an explosion of legs, arms, chest, head, flying over the stage, advancing then retreating.” This rhythm, the tension of coil and release, governs the dynamism of dancers and kite-flyers.
Capturing the ephemeral is part of an important modernist tradition, a tradition that Jackie Matisse knows intimately. Growing up in Paris and New York among artists, she assisted her stepfather, Marcel Duchamp, in assembling his portable museum, the Boite-en-Valise, and has worked with artists from many disciplines throughout her career. Jean Tinguely was another mentor, and the influence of Tinguely’s motorized contraptions can be seen in Jackie’s low-tech clockworks to mechanically operate her kites in the indoor spaces. Continuing the magpie-collecting habits of the Surrealists, the Fluxus artists and John Cage, she finds unexpected resonance in objets trouvés. She uses broken ceramic shards as both stencils for flat shapes and assemblage pieces. The most haunting of these works are her memory bottles, temporal reliquaries in which she suspends tiny, personally significant objects and fragments, literally capturing time in a bottle. Often, she uses single strands of hair from friends and family to string these fetishes, which have the evocative power of Voodoo spirit flasks. Like kite strings, such threads simultaneously tether us to the earth, the past and our physical beings while allowing our imaginations to soar.