Josh Garber by Kathleen Whitney, Sculpture Magazine, fall '00.
Josh Garber is a process-oriented artist; his body of work is not only what it is imagistically, it is also about the transitions that occur in the shift from concept to material during the process of making an object. His work is defined by the nature, size, and quantity of his materials during the time he is working with them. The process that Garber is engaged in is one of serial repetition; his work is formed from slight dislocations from plane of identical, welded modules. If these objects were far more rigorously geometrical, they could be described as a hyperbolic curves. The work is more complex than the merely mathematical: it is formed by the mating of an interest in geometry with the behavior of chance. This emphasis on forms generated by small accidental changes occurring during fabrication places the work in an unnamable arena between formalism and anti-form. These objects offer an idiosyncratic topography of consciousness with their recurring oppositions of hard material and soft form, interiors and exteriors, inorganic substance and organic shape, grotesque and beautiful. His constructions clearly allude to nature, to the figure as vessel, to a skin wrapped around a hollow space. His open mesh forms are directly influenced by landscape elements such as trees and foliage.
Garber uses process as a way of recuperating the ritual resources of art. His work evokes ancient time-consuming crafts and rituals without being primitivist or negligent of the moment it is rising from. His forms and images are the direct consequence of his meditation practice and acutely focused concentration. The conceptual issues this work brings up are far removed from the usual concerns of most Western artists; the work is entirely derived from notions that are spiritual rather than formal in nature. The fluctuation of empty spaces with intensely concentrated areas of detail are typical of his work as well as Buddhist Tankas and Mandalas. What Garber's work has in common with these ritual objects is the intention of triggering a shift in consciousness through contemplation of visual complexity.
His fabrication techniques closely mirror some of the principles of Vipassana yoga, a kind of meditational practice that stresses the body as a channel for every kind of awareness. Vipassana, also known as "insight" meditation, emphasizes what is called 'bare attention'; a kind of foundational state that concentrates on the immediate presence of the body yet also leads to powerful feelings of dematerialization; to an emotional space where the body's boundaries seem to open up and dissolve. This meditational discipline with its extreme focus on inward states and mental sensation is mirrored by Garber's use of repetitive detail created from identical units. Garber's work is also about 'presence' as expressed through absence and volume. His forms are extremely heavy, very physical and massive yet weightless in appearance.
The contours of the pieces are rarely solid, they are perceptual rather than concrete, emphasizing spirit over matter. Formally, these objects are roughly geometric metal 'shells' that follow the contours of an interior volume that is either completely concealed or is simply invisible. Although Garber's material of choice for the past decade has been metals of various sorts (stainless steel, aluminum, brass), a great deal of his sculptural technique is borrowed from ceramic practice.
Garber, who studied ceramics at Alfred University, makes use of basic clay-construction techniques such as coil and slab by redirecting them to his use of metals. He works his materials intuitively; using identical elements, he patiently and repeatedly welds small sections into place, piece by piece. The forms appear to be totally spontaneous, ruled by the logic of aggregation; a slow accumulation of gesture and direction circling around on itself until there is no place further to go. The shapes follow two archetypal forms; cellular structures and linked grids or, enclosed forms and linear shapes. The changing play of light on the metallic surfaces alter the distribution of light and shadow and lend the illusion of breathing to these softly biomorphic shapes. Garber may be one of the few sculptors able to make forms that retain a sense of the time it took to make them; the way he generates shapes slowly and in small increments.
Garber's sense of curiosity and play leavens his seriousness. For the past 5 years, along with the closed vessel pieces, he has been making large, standing loop pieces; not unlike Möbius strips. These loops are reminiscent of Hofstadter's term "Strange Loops" found in his seminal book, "Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid". Simply put, "Strange Loops" refers to self-referential (recursive) constructs, certain special swirly, twisty, vortex-like, and meaningful patterns that arise only in particular types of systems of meaningless symbols. These strange, twisty patterns are little known, little appreciated, counter-intuitive, and quite filled with mystery.
Garber's strange loop: "Untitled" (steel 96" x 56" x 35") is a ceiling high ribbon of steel rods held together in a circular shape, then heated and bent into loops, knots and twirls. Although these pieces also give an impression of the time demanded to create them, they don't speak of the physical effort: they embody contradictory themes of upward impulse and downward gravity but don't yield a clue as to the heat and physical effort that gave them form.
Garber's work stresses the separation of the geometric from its historical association with reason; in his work, the universe of hard, modernist geometries gives way to soft, subtle ambiguities that mask the industrial means that produced them. The work is concerned with non-European, anti-Euclidean, non-art historical ideas: myth, compression of time, orchestration of gesture and mood. Much like Jackson Pollock, he creates no focal points, no area is more important than another. Rigid lines, supple lines, lines of escape: there is no beginning or end to Garber's universe of lines; they are always in the middle of dynamic movement. His strange loops and endless curving skins refuse to yield to logic. His art is of a rare type in that it is simultaneously intellectual and very sensuous, his shapes always light, porous, demonstrating a deep affinity with oriental thought. The work melds chance with aerated space creating an intense energy; an effect the philosopher Gaston Bachelard refers to as the "ascensional imagination."