Whitehot Magazine

On Gravity was an entity: Amorelle Jacox and Jessi Li (February 23-March 31, 2024) at Management, NYC

Amorelle Jacox, Mechanics of an undercurrent, 2023, oil and pastel on canvas, 76 x 60 inches / 193.04 x 152.4 cm

April 3, 2024

In the duo exhibition Gravity was an entity at Management, New York, Amorelle Jacox and Jessi Li raise existential questions playfully with image association, color, and absurdity, through painting and sculpture. Consumption becomes a grounding metaphor as they consider the unbound, unseen metaphysical and spiritual dimensions. Jacox explores the wave-particle duality of light and matter through fractures of color and form that dissolve and morph, while Li delves into the tensile quotidian and fantastical forces of time by sculpting symbols of life cycles. Their philosophical lines of inquiry into transformations of light, material, and psychology are centered around one’s place in relation to the vast cosmos. The exhibition is accompanied by a short story, written by Meleah Moore in response to Jacox’s and Li’s work, that follows a hiker stumbling up a hill, destabilized by the laws of nature. 

Jacox does not paint all the way to the edges of her canvases, instead preferring to leave hints of past layers visible. In her painting Quantum behavior, this results in an alluring transition from dark purple to marigold yellow and red-orange, to blue-green, to navy blue, to golden hour green, running off the right edge. The bleeding colors culminate on the bottom right corner where small points of thick yellow, peach, blue, and orange gather detritus, as if reaching a hand out to beckon a viewer into the otherworldly space.

Amorelle Jacox, Quantum behavior, 2024, oil and pastel on canvas, 60 x 45 inches / 152.4 x 114.3 cm

In search of the answers to questions physicists have yet to answer, Jacox employs icons developed through image association as a way to meaningfully engage with the abstract world of quantum mechanics. She builds her own lexicon intuitively by sequentially expanding on and refining each icon. Motifs in her paintings in this show include a line drawing of a figure, spirals, and the digestive system. Among many visual metaphors, she dissects the stomach as a black hole. If “you are what you eat,” then breaking open the belly unlocks entryways for Jacox to access her swirling, shifting sense of self. As peristalsis is always moving without the mind’s conscious awareness of it, the quantum universe is functioning without our full awareness and understanding of it as well. And in fact, we can’t be fully aware of its constant churning: just by observing the actions of an electron, an observer affects where it is and how it moves. Her stellar paintings depict a dimension beyond our present abilities of observation, uncovering omnipresent relations that are ordinarily invisible, undulating in what she calls “undercurrents.” In an attempt to understand her place within the vast cosmos, she looks to how particles move, congregate, and are dispersed. 

Amorelle Jacox, Continuous Matter (all my little selves), 2023, oil and pastel on canvas, 90 x 76 inches / 228.6 x 193.04 cm

Jacox paints fractures of color and form that dissolve and mutate to echo the wave-particle duality of light and matter. The exhibition’s title takes its name from a line in Moore’s short story that illustrates the counterintuitive properties of this duality. Moore writes: “It seemed as if all water was pushing down and gravity was an entity instead of a force. You think a hill is solid, but it’s all water. And it’s all falling.” In Jacox’s painting Continuous Matter (all my little selves), a figure at the bottom is severed at the belly, opening like a book as her top half is swept up in a spiraling pull. Thus begins the opening to the black hole, where line drawings of figures spiral all the way down. Two streams of diving figures flow through a channel with elliptic openings on either end, to eventually be flushed down a final black hole in the top center register of the canvas. Her dark purples and blues provide a contrast for the glowing flashes of light that punctuate the negative space. Even these bright sparks are no match for the “undercurrent,” as they accompany the small figures into the spiraling depths. Perhaps these flashes of light represent the movement of particles in the body. Light waves beam out of Jacox’s paintings, just as all objects, including oneself, also emit and contain these waves. Each figure, light flare, and brushstroke is an extension of the artist herself. Leaving these traces on the canvas and illustrating her unraveling and coming together, she generates wonder for where we begin and the world around us ends. How much is our own? What do we get to keep, if anything?  

Jessi Li, Chiasmus 2 (green), 2024, lead crystal, clay, 21 x 21 x 26 inches / 53.34 x 53.34 x 66.04 cm

With cast glass and modeled clay, Li considers what collisions of natural and unnatural forces may reveal about the cycle of matter. Li embeds ouroboros in clay made to look like construction detritus in a series titled Chiasmus, a nod to the repetitive and affirming nature of the snake forever eating its tail. The triangular edge where she joins the cast glass segments resembles the mouth of the snake meeting another part of its body, but other defining features of the possible head are left ambiguous. It’s implied that inside the detritus, the head of the snake is hidden, forever slithering out of and back into the fissures in the concrete, much like how the core continual workings of the quantum universe are obscured. The concrete is textured with pock marks, craters, dashes, and white specks. These fast gestures appear both controlled and spontaneous, recalling the small congested areas of dense marks in Jacox’s paintings. Portraying this ancient symbol of eternity stuck inside a contemporary mundanity, the artist probes the stability of how to keep spirituality alive within our often artificial, contemporary world, finding the cosmic in materials often considered trash.  

Walking around the gallery space, a viewer encounters Li’s glass sculptures of fluorescent dead rats in corners and behind pedestals, engendering a brief moment of moderate disgusted shock that resolves with relief and humor. Li’s replicas accurately capture the textures, scale, and lifeless limbs of these creatures who proliferate in New York City, living off of our trash, scurrying through the darkened edges of the streets, sewers, and subway tracks. As New Yorkers, we often witness death in the form of a dead rat. Full repulsion is suspended by the transparency of the glass and their surreal artificial colors, including red, yellow, and emerald. Enabling this suspension of belief, Li welcomes a viewer to contemplate these rats’ final resting places and how their collections of atoms will transform. Perhaps it is easier to contemplate the death of a rat than it is to contemplate our own eventual final transformation.

Jessi Li, 50 (gray), 2024, lead crystal, 7 x 5.5 x 1.5 inches / 17.78 x 13.97 x 3.81 cm

The four rats in this show are titled 47 to 50 (with their main color following in parentheticals). Moore understands Li’s numbering system as a marker of time, each rat a minute, wherein her short story exists between minutes 49 and 50. Equating the rat to a marker of time pokes fun at temporal measurements. The writer underscores how Jacox and Li undermine what we think we know to be real, introducing doubt in the fundamental way we understand the laws of science that govern the world around us.

In the wake of cosmic zoom, all materiality is equalized, trash and dead rats are at once the same as the human form, each of the same origins and endings, moving in the same way as light. That Jacox and Li can hold these existential threats with the ebullience of color and can play with notions of gravity and material is a testament to the artists’ intellectual rigor, strength of spirit, and grasp of material foundations. WM


Kirsten Cave

Kirsten Cave is a New York-based writer and gallerist. Cave wrote the catalogue essays for the publications Freya Douglas-Morris: This star I give to you (2023) in the Hurtwood Contemporary Artist Series, Madeline Peckenpaugh: Detours (2023), and The Natural World (2022). Her writing has also been published in Whitehot MagazineArte Fuse, and Degree Critical. She holds a BA in economics and math from Rutgers University and an MA in art market studies from the Fashion Institute of Technology. 

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