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Traagheid: Het werk van Sebastian Jefford door Alex Bennett

The silk­worm is lazy to the human eye, yet its lazi­ness is active. Pendulous, it writes a lulling syn­tax in the air, sali­va-to-silk. Secreting near­ly one mile of fil­a­ment, the worm cocoons itself; sub­merged in hot water, the silk is loos­ened, killing the pupa in turn. The degum­ming process. Gluttonous, Sebastian Jefford cocoons the image. A regum­ming process? With fist­fuls of lan­guid indul­gence his imagery is thick­ened. Freighted with pres­ence and the bravu­ra of process, it vents intransigence.

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Salt crust pil­low; pet­ri­fied meringue; tremel­loid flo­ra — the vol­umes of Jefford’s sculp­tures con­vey a rolling bathos with man­ic preser­va­tion about the sur­faces and edges, in fren­zied paw­ing and hyper­bol­ic tack­ing. These plas­tic snap fas­ten­ers are cru­cial, fig­ur­ing the fold­ed pan­els of polyurethane foam as pelt, gar­ment, or mem­brane while steep­ing a verb ener­gy of detach­a­bil­i­ty or tel­luri­an accre­tion. Barnacled in patchy swad­dling, the gib­bous and beetling forms may be etched with rot­ted teeth eager to mas­ti­cate or heaped in flat­u­lence. Poorly padded, they require the image to take time, mat­ting it in cor­po­re­al con­tact to be giv­en a sort of life. Dust will set­tle in a but­tery thumb crease in a want for time’s creep — as though to touch the puck­ery sock­et would dis­turb the syn­thet­ic, sed­i­ment­ed evi­dence of years. Jefford’s lib­er­al appli­ca­tion of fas­ten­ers invites tem­po­ral undo­ing, like his crooked cycli­cal­i­ty — exhaust­ed tires, recy­cling sym­bols, warped clocks — express­ing a blun­der­buss of lev­i­ty, atro­phy, and indo­lence. Indeed, to extrude an image as bloat­ed qua­si-object, all wrong like a domes­ti­cat­ed diplodocus, is to goad a sym­bol­ist and struc­tur­al chaos. Its bond­ing, to re-mate­ri­al­ize the dema­te­ri­al­ized,”1 per­mits the image to reel in mul­ti­ple pasts or puck­er up for present anx­i­eties, let­ting go into the now with the spit­tle-strewn o of a gar­bled moan.

Or a yawn. The schlub out­lined in Evening Colours (2019) sinks into an arm­chair beside a tox­ic-orange view that rips a new image: an asphyx­i­at­ed fish and a torched tree. Drowsiness twines blind­ly with cri­sis, almost to sug­gest that the world has enough alle­go­ry, it is engorged — get real! Urgency is mol­li­fied in agree­able dis­trac­tion. This hiber­nal and gan­grenous ren­der­ing is not to shore up pri­va­cies or for­ti­fi­ca­tions; it is like a liq­uid that grows a skin, a bog­gy inde­ter­mi­na­cy. Moreish now for snooz­ers: coag­u­lant, cod­dling mar­su­pi­als whose fin­gered frame is bran­dished recy­clable (Lovely Pungent [2018]); a tableau of alarmist red sees pets indulge in a cat­nap despite a death­ly time stamp of 737,152days (Sleep Furiously [2019]).2 The daffy ren­der­ings of car­tooned monks, a stu­pe­fied ted­dy, or a sheep­ish pan­da ges­ture to the aes­thet­ic digestibil­i­ty of the cute — a state of sus­pend­ed agency. Imagining the world as peren­ni­al­ly cow­er­ing to human will, the cute is more smoth­er­ing divergence.

Nostalgia” is a dirty word, churned with fic­tion and encrust­ing com­merce. So bor­ing. Jeffordian time, rather, is a sub­stance dis­or­dered and gar­bled, as it is often felt. The plas­tic­i­ty of the past is a fal­li­ble plug for the leaky, needy holes of the now. Time as a force of defor­ma­tion in the mate­r­i­al world,” as Jefford says, asks how the past is formed or unformed, which in turn forms or un-forms the way for­ward.”3 Jefford’s seg­ment­ed time, then, is spas­mod­ic and clog­gy: clock­works dete­ri­o­rate, rota­tions stam­mer, sheer daysare absurd pageantries. Content is intu­it­ed like water­marks on loose sheets of con­scious­ness, priv­i­leg­ing blotchy impres­sions over hard fac­tic­i­ty. The imag­i­nary numbs the edges of inher­it­ed pasts and may cir­cu­late strate­gi­cal­ly or igno­rant­ly, like the apocryphal’s dena­tured log­ic or the red herring’s arti­fice. The gorge between his­tor­i­cal tra­jec­to­ry and imag­i­na­tive leap artic­u­lates Jefford’s preg­nant moments. Little dif­fer­ence between liv­ing and lying — the thought squirts into my brain.

The large rosettes of the Buffering series (2020 – 21) show medieval European imagery of moral­is­tic nar­ra­tives along­side more every­day grav­i­ties of diges­tion and duty. Dread eats itself in paral­y­sis and over­drive, fatal­ism and trans­gres­sion. Mottled and sinewy, each quashed flo­ret resem­bles a warp­ing of that omnipresent sym­bol of sta­sis: the buffer­ing wheel. Of iner­tia and tech­nic dead­lock, it is a rich and trea­cly cipher. In Buffering: the smell,Jefford excerpts Pieter Jansz Quast’s depic­tion of scent (De Reuk [1618 – 45]) where a peasant’s defe­ca­tion is met by a snuf­fling pig — the scat­o­log­i­cal cir­cle of life. Image and sur­face fuse like the dead­en­ing process of flower press­ing. In their tor­por as stut­ter­ing doom­say­ers or drea­ry lode­stones, these discs con­jure the faulty infra­struc­ture behind the image; defect snags at accel­er­a­tion in an unin­ten­tion­al ouroboros. Elsewhere, the beast of igno­rance is licked in mag­ic4—its appetite can dis­ap­pear things, abra­cadabra, and for­get about it. Servers, sweat­shops, coral, coela­canths, poof! It’s a tac­tic that Buffering: Not then not now not ever negates: time, though intol­er­a­ble, is express­ly charged as unforgettable.

Through cur­dled motions and exhumed his­to­ries, win­dow views and mod­eled stair­ways, Jefford hints at speculation’s bend­ing of time to carve space. Unrealized pro­jec­tions or acci­den­tal fis­sures serve as tem­po­ral loop­holes to think time mate­ri­al­ly. Archaeologies are a kind of por­trait, too. Omens breed in the night. Lost keys full of secrets. Victories of nau­seous dis­so­nance … look at the time! Sweet dreams.

Liebaert Projects Sebastian Jefford4

Sebastian Jefford (b. 1991, Swansea, Wales) lives and works in Berlin. He attend­ed the Royal Academy Schools, London. Selected recent and upcom­ing exhi­bi­tions include Des champs de frais­es pour l’éternité, La Galerie, cen­tre d’art con­tem­po­rain de Noisy-le-Sec (2022); Natural Gas, Liebaert Projects, Kortrijk (2021); Severance, Gianni Manhattan, Vienna (2021); Invitation to Love, Kunstverein Bremerhaven (2020); This Margin Will Be Your Vantage Point, In Situ Fabienne Leclerc, Paris (2020); This Tragedy, Fonda, Leipzig (2020); the Lyon Biennale (2019); V22 Young London, V22 Foundation, London (2018); Doors of Paradise, Union Pacific, London (2018); Procrustean Flatulence, Gianni Manhattan, Vienna (2018); The Sleeping Procession, CASS Sculpture Foundation, Goodwood (2017); RA Schools Degree Show, Royal Academy of Arts, London (2017); Romancing the Biscuit, Lockup International, London (2017); A Rose Is with­out a Why.’ It Blooms Because It Blooms, Carl Freedman Gallery, London (2016); Modest Villa Immense Versailles, Kinman Gallery, London (2016); Bloomberg New Contemporaries, The Bluecoat, Liverpool + ICA, London (2016); Qwaypurlake, Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton (2015).Alex Bennett is a writer and crit­ic based in London. He is a UK cor­re­spon­dent for Flash Art and has been pub­lished in mag­a­zines such as the Brooklyn Rail, Art Monthly, and The White Review.

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LR Liebaert Projects Sebastian Jefford2