Fluent~Collaborative & testsite are pleased to present Flotsam and Jetsam, a collaboration between Jack Risley and Veronica Roberts. The project opens on Sunday, March 20, 2022.
Flotsam and Jetsam are nautical terms for the detritus that surfaces in a shipwreck, and alternately, the stuff that is thrown overboard to be salvaged later. The two pieces in the exhibition Flotsam and Jetsam are just that—a castaway—a recreation of John Risley's Three Panel Screen, 1960, and a newly salvaged version, Imposter Screen, 2021, made sixty years later by the artist's son Jack Risley. What ideas and images float to the surface, and what is jettisoned?
Flotsam and Jetsam gives introspection to the question of what degree does an artist recognize and give attribution to their sources? The artists John and Mary Risley met at Cranbrook in 1948 and lived according to the credo of the Mid-Century American Crafts Movement—"invent your world from scratch." They did so with abandon, making everything themselves, at a furious pace—clothing, furnishings, furniture, buildings, and not least, artworks. In the Risley universe, all things held equal value. A ceramic pot was equal to a chair which was equal to a sculpture, which was equal to a building, and so on. Their home was a futuristic spaceship that had landed in Yankee New England.
I took an exhibition at Testsite as a chance to engage a project outside of my routine. In generating a proposal for Testsite, Three Panel Screen, 1960 resurfaced after a long hiatus. I always thought it was one of John Risley's best works, but also, the product of an alien universe disconnected from our moment.
Having grown up in a family of artists, I made sure I didn't inherit their artisanal ticks, aesthetic, dress codes, or institutional accents. While my parents were alive, I went out of my way to make sure they couldn't recognize my work as passing on the family genes. To that end, I succeeded wildly, but in retrospect, I have come to recognize the familial resemblance.
The harder you ignore something, the larger it looms. Scale is something sculptors can't resist, and I fell for the elephant in the room. Decades since John and Mary Risley's passing, Flotsam and Jetsam channels a world where everything is made by hand, where the mantra is to create your world from a blank slate, to thrive in the margins, not in the middle.
When I was a student, it was widely held among my peers that the auteur theory had betrayed us and that the future would be doomed by a pastiche of influence. There were exceptions, peers who believed they had found an escape hatch, a way to make protean work that entered the world fully formed, immaculately conceived. But for me, riffing, mashups, and sampling have been my favored method of construction for years. Flotsam and Jetsam extends the catalog to include that which I had previously deemed off-limits.
John Risley's Three Panel Screen has the cozy coolness of 1960. It's a script for everything rejected by subsequent generations of artists —it's crafty, it's retinal, it's decorative, it's compositional, it relies on pattern and variation, and it's elegant. Not least, it asserts that those ingredients are all you need in an artwork. In our exigent moment, those qualities seem quaint, but also irresistible.
The first piece in the exhibition is a recreation of Three Panel Screen made by John Risley in 1960. It's not an exact replica, it has shed some detail and is simpler, but it captures the signature moves of the original.
In keeping with the domestic context of Testsite, the exhibition includes a replica of the screen that John Risley created his own home. It disappeared into private hands in the 1990s. The second piece, Imposter Screen, is a riff on the original, albeit with liberties and discretions, to give it some semblance of the present tense. Imposter Screen adopts the hanging metal structure of the original, but it has picked up some debris along the way—a paper chainsaw, topo chico, oranges— and other pieces of Flotsam and Jetsam.