Jody Zellen
The Waking Dream

Nan Rae Gallery Woodbury University
October 22 - November 16, 2022

Combining elements of animation, collage, and sculpture the Nan Rae Gallery is pleased to present the exhibition titled The Waking Dream by Jody Zellen. The artworks in this exhibition speak to our collective cultural zeitgeist of the waning pandemic. Mandated isolation during the initial phase of the pandemic slowly transitioned into the discombobulating ebb and flow of variants combined with shifting health and social protocols. The visual thread throughout Zellen’s intriguing approaches to various media is the strangely weird abstract duality of isolation and community.

People, Places, and Isolating Spaces by Johanna Drucker

The droll, enigmatic, figures in these works move effortlessly through screens, scenes, and structured spaces. They assemble, break into sections, move alone or in synchronized patterns, always coming and going from part to whole. A subdued whimsy wafts through the animations and collages, while the glyphic minimalism of the figures makes for a curiously rich iconography. A ball for a head, a curved shoulder and stick legs, and with the simple tilt of one element to the other the figure comes alive with animate expression. A head turns into a ring, a line into an eye, a wry mouth, a frown and all in a smooth transition from one position to the next. These are beings with little apparent agency beyond motion and direction—and yet, they are uncannily evocative.

Two years of pandemic confinement have made us keenly aware of the boundaries and limits within which we live and work. Our individual isolation has been physical and social, but, paradoxically, has also produced curiously collective shared experiences. In these works, the dividing lines that structure limits suggest structures of shelter and protection, but at the same time, they appear as conduits of networked communication. Separation and connection are simultaneously present and the many structuring features have double meanings. The very schematic quality of the imagery lets it read in multiple ways, suggesting social space and the mental world simultaneously.

Jody Zellen tracks the mood swings that come with trying to fill time, feel purposeful or useful, recover some sense of joy or pleasure in the face of current events. Like kids spinning a wheel or kicking a ball or swinging their feet in a combination of random motion or incidental play, the figures in these images seem choreographed by their distraction. Sometimes sitting, waiting, watching, sometimes pacing, walking without getting anywhere, or moving through a space without coordinates, blank, and unremarkable. In collaboration with musician Jonathan Zalben, Zellen creates a broad palette of emotional tones in her animated sequences.

Whether static or dynamic, the individual figures are stuck in their structures and spaces, as we all have been. Occasional references to a larger world appear as background images, a photograph, a pattern, or a reference to a window, a landscape, or a door. The ambiguous ground of the surface sometimes transforms with a simple addition of a horizon line—suddenly we are situated within an experience of viewing, identifying with the simple figures and their plight. For plight it is, in spite of the lightness of Zellen’s touch. These beings inhabit a condition of trapped-ness, with no exit to their circumstances, a poignant and gentle reflection of our own, and yet they manage to move and connect with each other.

Who knew that such profound emotion could be communicated with such a deft and minimal approach, in animations that are joyful to watch even as they generate a certain sadness. Humor and play are also palpable throughout. Disks of flower-sun-planets spin and spin as a single silhouetted figure treads the rotating globe. So the repeated routines of day to day register against the constant and inevitable passing of time in this suspended era of Covid. Through mood rather than message, Zellen’s works offer a poetic reflection on recent experience and current conditions, combining joyful melancholy and sympathetic recognition of our individually shared fate.

More info: Nan Rae Gallery