Colter Jacobsen, Take a Deep Breath . . . Hold It . . . Hold It (The Vancouver Sun) (detail), 2011, newspaper, tape, dimensions variable. Installation view.


Colter Jacobsen is a San Francisco–based artist. Last year he was awarded SF MoMA’s 2010 SECA Art Award. Here, Jacobsen discusses his installation Take a Deep Breath . . . Hold It . . . Hold It (The Vancouver Sun) for “11 Lights on the Bay,” a group show at The Apartment in Vancouver, British Columbia. The show closes on May 30.

I’VE ALWAYS LIKED THE WORD WINDOW, because it means “wind” and “eye,” apparently. Once when I was reading the obituary page, I noticed the way the paper became transparent when I held it up to the sun. There was a woman, whose name was Wentworth, and on the other side of the page was an atomic bomb explosion. Her head appeared to be inside that explosion. The immediate doubling gave me something to compare and contrast; I think we as humans are fascinated with comparing. It comes out of copying. Copying is an attempt to retain something, like a memory. Even memory is the beginning of doubling, in a sense.

So I began to cut out the obituaries every time I read the newspaper. I once did an installation in the window of a video store; it was sort of like a stained glass window based on my collection of clips. But I wasn’t satisfied with that piece. I knew there were newspapers around the country that were called The Sun, and that using them, if I ever tried the piece again, would further the poetic conceit. On a previous visit to Vancouver, BC, I had learned that one of the city papers was called the Vancouver Sun. When I was asked to be in this show at the Apartment, I proposed redoing the obituary piece, because I’d heard that the space had a window with an astounding view of all of downtown Vancouver. So I asked a friend to save the obituary pages for me. I think she saved about six months’ worth. It was quite a big stack. I had two days, basically, to go through and select from it all.

There’s a lot of chance involved. I’m searching for these serendipitous moments or occurrences where faces are transposed upon either a certain comic or a word. In this version I used twelve copies of the same advertisement for a company that installs windows, which seemed appropriate. The ad took up the entire page of a newspaper. On the other side was a featured obituary, usually someone more well known, someone more selected, and someone that seems to have done a great service to have been singled out by the paper.

During the process of going through all these obituaries, I noticed a number of people that I was not interested in only because there was nothing on the other side of the newspaper. There are many people, many many people, who aren’t in the obituaries to begin with. Obituaries become very selective—who gets in and why. It’s such a strange custom, especially the more you look at it. The pile of discarded obituaries below the window is everything left from the cuttings. I wanted to show how much there was that was left out—how much wasn’t put into the window, how much waste there is. How much is left over.

— As told to Aaron Peck