Will it matter to you to know that these winding, twisted orgies of positive and negative space, these three-dimensional doodles spiraling and folding onto each other, these rigid stacks of competing planes frozen in time and space, were made from old skateboards? It would explain some things, like the flashes of painted color, or the thin layers of plywood looking like so many geological eras pulsing from the sides. The knowledge might warm your sustainably-oriented heart, or activate certain dopamine centers dormant since your skate-rat youth. Yet, you really wouldn’t need any experience of urban playgrounds, of rails and trucks and decks … you could have grown up off the grid in some lush, verdant oasis or along a rocky beach and still enjoy the sculptures of Jared Steffensen now at Current Work. They are classically formal and variously inventive pieces, examinations of line and space and form. They are also old skateboards.
Though the gray has been creeping into his beard for some time now, Jared Steffensen still skates, even if these days it may be as much with his children as with any homies. Skateboarding was something that gave him a sense of community when he first moved to Utah at the age of 15. And he brings his experience — and joy — of skateboarding into his practice, both as artist and as curator. At the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, where he is the chief curator, he has brought the skateboard world into the hallowed halls of the museum with exhibits like 2018’s Working Hard to Be Useless and 2021’s M M Murdock show. And ideas of movement and space related to his time on a skateboard has informed his own work since at least the time he, along with Chris Kelly, built a massive structure sprouting from a wall at one of 15 Bytes’ co-labs.
A glimpse of Steffensen’s current series of works could be seen at Current Work’s inaugural exhibition last fall — a single, swirling mass of lines in wood that hung in one corner of the group exhibition. Now more than two dozen of its kin are spread across two rooms of the gallery. They are hung so unobtrusively they seem almost like perched insects. The several which spread and curl out from the wall cast intricate shadows, creating a secondary, two-dimensional work. (If Ruth Asawa had spent her time at Black Mountain College learning to ollie instead of weaving, this is what she might have made). One looks like a garden hose sloppily hung in the garage, another like an intricate Mobius strip. In others it would not take a genius to see the three-dimensional rendering of a skater’s path through a skate park.
Joining this Nosey Taily series, are the Leftovers. For the most part they are linear and hard edged, and call to mind architectural elements rather than the flow of body through space. More than one looks like a Chinese character that just couldn’t keep it together; others could be remnants of a rollercoaster, abandoned in some post-apocalyptic future. And there’s one that resembles a family reunion for telephone poles, turned on its side. The associations in this exhibition are as various and open as all those spaces in between these chopped, bent and glued layers of plywood.
Jared Steffensen: Nosey Tailey and the Leftovers, Current Work, Salt Lake City, through Sep. 22
The founder of Artists of Utah and editor of its online magazine, 15 Bytes, Shawn Rossiter has undergraduate degrees in English, French and Italian Literature and studied Comparative Literature in graduate school before pursuing a career in art.