Finding Poetry in Jel Suarez’s arrivals, retrievals

The titles of Jel Suarez’s arrivals, retrievals reflect care in evoking a certain image. They speak of a great outdoors, and of quiet, scholarly adventure. Softly alliterative (first and field, gathering, guide, green, and gold, soft and stones), one can imagine the titles as excerpts from a poem. The works follow suit; Suarez’s practice is akin to writing, where each word is deliberately selected for its essence, to form a line, a verse, and ultimately an image. Diction.

Wending through the art like a poem allows for different shapes to resonate. Unlike prose, the experience is nonlinear; it is looser, open to interpretation and multiple possible meanings; it allows itself to be studied, to be read again. Every element in each assemblage or collage is handpicked to rhyme; each piece echoes and supports another - pulp and paper, wood and fiber, flecked with greens, golds, and browns, cutouts in organic shapes and pages forming strata beside the true randomness of rock - to create a cohesive whole. It details a landscape without once painting neither tree nor hill.

Exhibition view of 'arrivals, retrievals.'
Always beginning. Collage on handmade paper, reclaimed wood. 63.5 x 115.57 cm (framed size). 2021.

Even so, there is narrative. Gathering the field stones introduces us to the “speaker” (the persona of a poem), a collector. On a wall hangs a wooden grid that forms compartments, each containing a collage on handmade paper. Each shape forms something organic - alternatively, she is a geologist, keeping rock specimens for study in individual cubbyholes. The practice of collage, of gathering stray pieces, almost parallels a gathering of data - it gathers to interpret, to study, to display, through the lens of the collector’s bias and taste, her hand and eye. 

On soft lands and Always beginning establish the setting. Here, the collages between the wooden grids merge to form a continuing landscape. From the distance, the dark green handmade paper forms the grass beneath rock outcrops, trees, tents, a moon. The grid, perhaps longitudinal and latitudinal lines, situates the landscape in a particular time and place. On closer inspection, the shapes turn into primordial nuclei, transporting the landscape into a realm other than present reality.

First green is gold. Assemblage with two artist’s books, limestones with wooden base, wooden blocks, playing pieces, collage on wooden cover, tomobako boxes, and wooden floor board. 46 x 42.5 x 68 cm. 2021.
Honeycombs. Assemblage with sewn artist’s books (5 pieces), collages on cards (278 pieces), limestones, wooden blocks, playing pieces, tomobako boxes and wooden floor board. 45 x 41 x 60.5 cm. 2021.
Field guides (detail). Assemblage with seven artist’s books, limestone, wooden blocks, bowl, playing pieces, tomobako boxes, and wooden boards. 40 x 43.5 x 40. 2021.

Four assemblages,
Mapping the pieces, Honeycombs, Field guides, and First green is gold 
 flesh out this created landscape, and the temperament of the speaker. They provide tactile imagery through artefacts ritually arranged, through the charting of territory, alluding to its crevices, jotting down notes into booklets. The study and the studied merge as boxes and wooden game boards form abstracted sections of desk or shelf, a vanity table or toolbox, while doubling as a cliffside, a bamboo forest. All is situated atop a grid, locked in intense gameplay or pinpointing coordinates.

On the other wall hangs a series of 32 smaller collages. Each piece, though unique, blends among the others in comforting anonymity. They are punctuated by stretches of empty wall, like line breaks, or caesura, giving the series a certain cadence. It allows for spaces to be quiet, contemplative, a tone that extends over the rest of the exhibit. The title, like a grounding affirmation to self, repeats, I’m here, I’m here.

That grounding and creation of a space where self, or an object, can be underlies all of arrivals, retrievals. It is constructed by the things it holds - things that are salvaged, retrieved - whether an archaeological dig, a file, or a memory. It carves out a place of rest, mapping the unfamiliar into the familiar. Veining through the exhibit is a sense of warmth, of gold.

Jel Suarez’s solo show, ‘arrivals, retrievals’, continues at The Drawing Room gallery until December 11.

Shireen Co is an artist, experimental cook (of leftovers), and mid-range chess nerd. Tap the button below to buy her a coffee: