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Four Quartets – Jeanne Jaffe’s liminal landscape at Marginal Utility


Jeanne Jaffe’s Four Quartets takes you on a journey through time and space. But this is not a National Geographic tour: In her three-chamber dreamscape at Marginal Utility, the artist — asking you to let go of consciousness and embrace the liminal world in between — presents tableaux of whimsy, solitude and a web of darkness.

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Detail of Four Quartets, by Jeanne Jaffe, at Marginal Utility. This piece is kinetic-the figures twitch (a pre-dance motion) Photos by Ken Yanoviak

With her canny and uncanny sculptures, cast in resin or in one case involving motors and kinetic elements, Jaffe, a long-time friend of Artblog, continues her work with language and pre-language in this show, which takes its cue from T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets.” Her work inhabits Marginal Utility like pages of a pop-up book, in which the poem and its ideas come at you non-verbally, a delectable puzzle. We think T.S. Eliot would like it.

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Jeanne Jaffe’s Four Quartets. This is the first room, where you encounter a figure with no head but a thought bubble/brain trailing behind. Jeanne calls this the supplicant. Photos by Ken Yanoviak

Jaffe’s work has long plumbed the depths of the unconscious using text as a take-off point. A previous piece at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education re-created the tale of Red Riding Hood, turning that tale inside out and making the viewer a witness to murder. And until Nov. 30, you can see another fairy tale reconstruction/deconstruction of hers at Abington Art Center.

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Room Two in Jeanne Jaffe’s Four Quartets. This is the passage.

You might not think you speak the language of this interiorized world. But Jaffe’s issues in Four Quartets are the universals of darkness, acceptance, and hope. And what you need to bring to the table is an openness of mind, senses and emotions.

Jeanne Jaffe, speaking about her work on Oct. 5 at Marginal Utility

We took a group on an artblog art safari last First Friday to see this work. Jeanne spoke very movingly to us about the personal meaning of the piece. She talked about being in her comfortable world and taking a risk to move beyond it — into the liminal — daring herself to move into a place that was not comfortable.

Four Quartets is a quiet work with a visual and conceptual afterlife. What Jaffe asks is for the viewer to contemplate, to feel the liminal space and acknowledge both its seduction and risks.

For more discussion of Four Quartets, get yourself to the Review Panel at PAFA on Wednesday, Oct. 17 at 6pm. Free and open to the public, this David Cohen-moderated panel will discuss Jaffe’s show, Ann Agee’s show at Locks, Valerio Spada’s show at PPAC and Rose Wylie’s show at Rosenwald-Wold. Panelists are Edith Newhall, Edward Epstein and Lily Wei. Cohen is the editor of