A locker, a chest, a
thermos: there are certain objects in everyday, adult life
we take for granted. For the most part, they are only important
for what they conceal - or, more accurately, for what we pack
into them. Their generic forms are beyond familiar; it's no
wonder that their functional, yet mundane, existence easily
But here, in the sculpture of Jeff Williams, these understandable
objects are placed in inexplicable situations. In something akin
to a magic trick in reverse, the concealed is revealed yet becomes
mysterious in the process. Through these slight acts of disclosure,
Williams calls to question the equally familiar human desires of
secrecy, excitement and ultimately escape.
* * *
Looking at the piece entitled Stash , we are literally
positioned on the backside of the wall. From the onset, we are
given access to visual information that is normally off-limits.
What's obvious is that we've been presented with someone's secret
-- it's the nature of that secret that becomes increasingly unclear.
The gut human impulse to hide and hoard money is understood. The
method shown here though is far from sophisticated, implying either
a hastily performed deed or some act of self-involved paranoia.
Upon closer inspection, the "money" so haphazardly stuffed behind
a mounted mirror is hand-drawn, meticulously counterfeited but
ultimately worthless. The whole tableau speaks of concealment for
its own sake and serves as a reminder that many secrets are only
important because they are solely ours.
In Trapdoor, Williams again presents us with a view inaccessible
under normal circumstances. Equally low-tech and almost adolescent
in its obviousness, Trapdoor implies a secret already
discovered. As if by knowing about what is underneath the chest,
its true function becomes transparent.
The trapdoor in question is positioned on a false floor. On one
hand, there is an implied adolescent fantasy about escape to a
parallel reality, not dissimilar to plots of classic young adult
novels like The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe or Alice in Wonderland. They present an alternative to the normal flow of life, a cherished
place to escape the increasing pressure of adulthood and all of
its mundane responsibilities.
Unfortunately, as is true with many youthful fantasies, reality
always manages to seep in, as the adult viewer is faced with the
knowledge that the door, once opened, would logistically lead only
to the floor beneath. In a way, the sterilized plexi-glass trunk
also serves as a hermetic vitrine protecting our childlike sense
of wonder, a monument preserving the memory of our shared belief
of immortality, however temporary.
Childhood and its fugitive nature are also at the core of the
sculpture entitled Young American Bowling Alliance. Sealed
within the confines of the bag are the additional accoutrements
of this very American and distinctively middle class pastime. Preserved
through the use of mortician's wax and silly putty, this sculpture
is an eerie mix of youth and death. The viewer is left to wonder
if this narrative is one of premature death (of a trauma inflicted)
or rather the slow process of aging that takes us all. a reminder
that the simple act of joining the youth bowlers consigns the character
to a life of relative monotony and decay.
Liquor City denotes a different form of societal woe.
Seen at first as an "ordinary" teen's locker, the open door invites
the viewer to peer into an exposed thermos. As if by magic, this
generic thermos becomes a portal to a miniature world, an old west
style depiction of "Liquor City." The "ordinariness" of the scene
presents a cliché tale of teen drinking, quirkily reminiscent
of the after-school-special brand of moralizing so popular throughout
The comical, cartoon-like portrayal of "Liquor City" within the
thermos again brings to mind the fantasy of escape into another,
secret world -- this time through the forbidden. The escape is
short-lived, as the action is only prohibited for a limited time.
Once legal age, the lure and excitement of drinking on the sly
can quickly turn into an accepted societal norm. When the myth
expires, the "escape" from the everyday becomes a transparent ploy;
and the adventurous journey to Liquor City becomes yet another
errand to run.
* * *
Situations such as these can be seen as a comic part of our shared
identity, but contained within their generalities is a resounding
sense of loss. The secretive nature of each piece calls out to
the desire to keep something, however absurd, truly to oneself.
As a whole, Jeff Williams' recent sculpture are monuments to our
childlike belief in uniqueness -- the belief that you are completely
unlike any of the people around you and that you can somehow remain
immune to all the pressures of life to which the others will succumb. if
only you could find the secret. As monuments they function more
like tombstones, marking the spot where these beliefs ended, where
Peter Pan grew old and died.
In these often forlorn but somehow lighthearted moments, we are reminded
of our mortal fates and the time in youth where we feared not death
-- but the increasing wave of tedium that will slowly carry us to
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