With a rectilinear arrangement in white, accessorized by a looping yellow line, Jessica Machacek transforms materials from the garden section of any Home Depot or Lowe’s supply store into a sculptural installation of clear aesthetic intent. What the work on view in the MFA Candidate Exhibition at the Georgia Museum of Art, entitled plot (2015), suggests is the equally transformative, aesthetic nature of people’s efforts in their own plots of land: the suburban American yard.
Suburban America is invoked not merely in the yellow rubber hose, coming from a water spigot attached to the museum’s wall, but in the perfectly level grass of white, synthetic turf and pavement it lays upon. Absurdly the hose is not functional, nor does the artificial grass require watering. On the wall, a grid of nine white plaster squares backs this tableaux. A spotlight from a bulb on a tripod refocuses the viewer’s attention on what seems to be a product built for decorative garden edging, a pile of white rocks. In fact, the artist made each rock by hand, replicating an easily obtained consumer object through time-consuming and repetitive labor. Consumerism fascinates the artist. Machacek’s labor not only critiques the easy consumerism with which we prune and ornament our little fiefdoms of outdoor space, but indicts the artist as a willing participant in the endless cycle with which we try to uphold artificial standards for natural beauty.
The consumerist interests of the artist are subdued in the ghostly plot, which functions like the photographic negative of a twinned work, Vivarium Dream (Model #701634). Vivarium Dream, a multi-part installation comprised of a commercially available greenhouse, sound, garden items of faux materials, and printed images, formed the basis for plot quite literally. The artist cast the white plaster squares of plot’s back wall from the clear plastic windows provided for the DIY greenhouse. The turf and tile in plot matches the footprint of the greenhouse, which also contains handmade rocks. The artificial ambitions of man’s engagement with “nature,” as manifest in the American backyard, is seen more clearly in Vivarium Dream, where an impossibly long and bright fake fern dangles in front of the reproduction of a waterfall.
Taken together, these works show the artist’s concern with clarifying her and our relationship to something as simple as a smooth green lawn. Particularly in an installation like plot, one sees how much ideas of nature have become unnatural. While such considerations are hardly new—one need only look as far as the picturesque reaction to the formal gardens of Versailles—in Machacek’s work they speak to a contemporary American moment inherited from the 1950s and closely tied to suburbia and the American dream.