Seeing the heart of Phillipa Jones’ Suspended—1300 resin-formed orbs containing flora, fauna, and ephemera the artist foraged herself from the wilds of Newfoundland—put me in mind of two things: Jacob’s Ladder from the Old Testament, and the shimmering, incandescent light of the transporter from Star Trek—the frequently malfunctioning teleportation device onboard the Enterprise. In a dream, Jacob beholds “the angels of God ascending and descending” upon the ladder, and it’s through this experience that Jacob comes to understand the totality of the divine in the material world around him. Through a more literal alchemical transformation, Picard et al are frequently made incorporeal—zapped in the blink of an eye into new worlds, alternate universes. It’s that moment, when Data or Worf or whomever appear mid-teleport—neither zapped, neither fully present either— that I’ve always found most interesting.
While falling just a little short of a divine, miraculous vision, Jones’ nevertheless stunning and sprawling exhibition addresses the apparent contradictory nature of our experience of time and space, and our conception of death and a potential after-life. Hung in a circle from infinitesimal strands of nylon, the orbs form a glimmering column into which viewers are encouraged to enter through a gap in the nylon lines, or to lay flat on benches provided to gaze up through the resin orbs into the gallery lights and the darkness beyond.
Off-set with a series of massive pen and ink drawings featuring birds either plummeting to their deaths, or taking flight from death, as well as a depiction of a moose being eviscerated—Jones’ exhibition seeks to investigate the brutal material transformation of living matter—the inevitability of death—with our ever hopeful notions of the spirit, or at the very least, the transcendental. As curator Darryn Doull writes in his text, Jones “freezes time and preserves… a transitional space that is at once dead and alive, departing and arriving.” Like the instant of Jacob’s epiphany regarding heaven and earth, and the moment the crew of the Enterprise are neither there nor not there, Jones’ attempt to crystalize time straddles the ephemeral and the eternal.