Mennour opens an exhibition of works by Elizabeth Jaeger
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Mennour opens an exhibition of works by Elizabeth Jaeger
This shift between observer and observed is central to prey, which unfolds across two distinct environments.

PARIS.- To live in a densely populated environment is to be on view while viewing others; to exchange intimate moments with strangers. Elizabeth Jaeger’s curiously animate clay worlds reflect the psychological effects that accompany this experience of looking and being looked at. Sculpted by hand, her objects and beings embody the effects of the gaze through a number of distortions including scale shifts, fragmentation, and anthropomorphization. These expressive traits impose an indistinct fluidity between figures, beings and things. If looking often implies a relationship of power, Jaeger’s objects complicate expected hierarchies between humans and our surroundings.

This shift between observer and observed is central to prey, which unfolds across two distinct environments. In the first, a series of black cubes line the walls of the gallery. What appear here first as stark, minimalist sculptures reveal themselves upon closer inspection to be containers for shadowy worlds populated by miniature beings and their tiny belongings: a room full of unclaimed luggage, an inscrutable domestic exchange, a kept critter. Though the boxes share similar features such as slats, holes and windows, a simple rotation transforms their functions: an oculus becomes a pond for fishing, cell bars become blinds to peer through. Viewing these collective moments reproduces the experience of intimacy at a distance that is a hallmark of city dwelling.

As Susan Stewart has pointed out, miniatures have the capacity to interrupt our perception of space and time. “In its tableaulike form,” she writes, “the miniature is a world of arrested time; its stillness emphasizes the activity that is outside its borders. And this effect is reciprocal, for once we attend to the miniature world, the outside world stops and is lost to us.”1 As we are compelled empathically towards these tiny scenes, we are also made profoundly aware of our hierarchical distance and isolation from them. We are reminded of the simultaneity of other life, and, as the exhibition’s title suggests, the precarity of our own.

Descending into the second gallery we are returned to our own scale, but to a world that is not our own. We emerge into the marsh, another scene populated once more by small beings: canines, rats, birds and insects, but this time they are watching us and each other. Following their gazes reveals tiny dramas acted out between predator and prey. Since Laura Mulvey used psychoanalysis to construct her seminal theory of the male gaze, scholars have turned to question the limits of an anthropocentric perspective altogether. Whereas a human-centered gaze is predicated on the notion of a single world inhabited by a hierarchy of living beings, we might instead consider perspectives held by other forms of life. As the philosopher Giorgio Agamben has suggested, “the fly, the dragonfly, and the bee that we observe flying next to us on a sunny day do not move in the same world as the one in which we observe them, nor do they share with us—or with each other—the same time and same space.”2 So too it is in the marsh, where a multitude of worlds coexist across species. The dual environments that make up prey allow us to imagine a world where humans are no longer observers at the center of the universe, but rather interdependent within an ecology of living beings who watch us back.

—Marie Catalano

1. Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, 1st paperback ed (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993).

2. Giorgio Agamben, The Open: Man and Animal (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004).

Born in 1988 in San Francisco, USA, ELIZABETH JAEGER lives and works in New York. Elizabeth Jaeger’s dissonant yet poetic sculptures pose a challenge to binary systems, revealing them to be arbitrarily organized and driven by a hidden affective order. The artist says: “My working process is to take logic to its illogical conclusion, or a rationale to its irrational end.” With and through this, the work is an exploration and practice of empathy; empathy as both feeling beyond the limits of language, as well as considering the cognitive and emotional reactions of the viewer to the work as an integral part of the work itself.

The artist has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions including Yours Truly at Museum Morsbroich, Leverkusen, GR; Licking the Walls at Callie’s, Berlin; Persona and Parasite at White Space, Beijing; How To Survive at the Sprengel Museum, Hannover; Mirror Cells at the Whitney Museum of American Art; Greater New York at MoMA PS1; In Practice: Fantasy Can Invent Nothing New at Sculpture Center, New York; 99 Cents or Less at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, and Zombies: Pay Attention! at the Aspen Art Museum.

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