Jacqueline Surdell: Adoration Garden
Chicago-based artist Jacqueline Surdell has her first solo museum exhibition at the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts (AEIVA), in Birmingham, Alabama.
Invited by Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts (AEIVA) to create an exhibition that engages with the gallery space of the museum, Jacqueline Surdell, presents Adoration Garden, an installation that includes two-large sculptural works made of rope and cord and a series of small altarpieces, which are in part an homage to her late grandmother Busia, who passed away in 2022. The exhibition is also a tribute to the women of previous generations who have shaped her life and a sort of reckoning of her Catholic upbringing.
For Surdell, weaving and the repetitive manipulation of ropes and cords to create her sculptures and wall pieces is a way of processing “that transition between the thing happening, understanding it, and then letting go and coming out the other end”, as she told TLmag in 2021. The physical movement engages both sides of the brain, releasing in a sense, the tensions and apprehensions that we hold onto during moments of transition but which need to be let go of in order to process. A former college athlete, Surdell channels her strength and physicality into her work, bringing the work to life as she does so. As Pia Singh writes in the exhibition’s essay: “Utilizing her body as a shuttle, the artist improvisationally weaves dock-cord around found metal structures that provide a loom, a starting point, for organic sculptural forms dictated by the eye and rhythm of her hands, arms and body”.
Adoration Garden: Component 1 is a large hanging sculpture of lavender coloured rope that is centrally placed in the gallery space. It appears to be part totem part shelter, perhaps part shrine, with an almost animistic quality to its form. While the sculpture takes visual reference from the monumental bronze canopy or baldachin in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the piece is almost an unravelling of those ornate twisting columns and the Baroque structure that imposes its majesty on passers-by, becoming more of a soft, cocoon like space where people can enter and connect with it in their own way. The large woven circular wall piece, Our Light, is left partially open in the centre, as if revealing its inner-self, a vulnerable altarpiece. As the curator of the exhibition writes, “Activated by light and shadow, gravity and weight, these sculptures—reminiscent of nests, shells, and second skins—blur the boundaries between painting and sculpture, inviting viewers to get close to the tactile and visual elements of her work”.
Religious references are made as well through the small altars, formerly her grandmother’s, which Surdell has placed on the wall and floor of the space. She notes, “In many ways for me the icons are representations of my relationship to family, to my Busia’s sense of self and our relationship, as well as to art history”.
Through these works, Surdell is questioning ideas and traditions of the memorial and how we honour those who have passed. The artist wants to invite viewers into her works to find their own way of thinking about these deeply personal moments and find their own voice and form of expression.
Adoration Garden is on view at the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts through December 9, 2023.