Monday, April 7, 2014

Jordan Wolfson and His Casual Intimacy


Jordan Wolfson, installation still, Raspberry Poser (2012) at David Zwirner, 2014

The other day I walked around Chelsea and I looked at a lot of art and most of the art had me so underwhelmed that it made me vaguely cranky.  But maybe my crankiness was due to how I started my art walk that day.  I started at David Zwirner at Jordan Wolfson’s show.  It is a three-part affair, a video called Raspberry Poser (2012), some wall sculptures, and an animatronic sculpture (Female figure).  It was very good, at least the parts I saw, and it had me cranky because it was so effecting that seeing many of the other shows later that day in Chelsea seemed useless and dull. 

Jordan Wolfson is young, born in 1980, and he joined Zwirner in 2013.  Joining Zwirner most certainly means something and that something means amazing art future but in this instance Zwirner having an artist like Wolfson also reflects certain things.  Wolfson is known for his animated works that are heavily created by computer-based rendering.  This is a new form.  A form that a lot of young artists, many younger to much younger then Wolfson’s 33ish years, but Wolfson just does it way better.  The way better is not so much in the use of technology but in how he uses it with content of imagery and ‘narrative.’ 

His probably most associated character is a comically exaggerated Shylock Jew which is in his 2011 Animation, masks and this is a perfect place to start if you don’t know Wolfson’s work at all.  Here you will see what I am talking about re: way better.  He uses animation/video to accentuate, confuse, or lead away from what is being said.  It is unnerving and anticipatory with a clingy tainted hypnotic pull. 

This pull is in Raspberry Poser as well.  This 13~ minute video is lighter in some ways then his previous videos as it mixes a variety of video form such as traditional video, hand drawn animation as well as rendered animation and image culling.  The video has him as a proto punk looking bemused around New York and Paris and climatically humping some grass.  There are montages of lifestyle displays of furniture, cityscapes and connotative interiors.  Throughout these scenes there are two reoccurring characters, a casually self-mutilating cartoon that is reminiscent of School House Rock styling and a spoinging 3D red abstract form that is actually a HIV virus.  Think red rubber mixed with identity crisis Koosh ball.  Oh, I almost forgot, there is also a floating animated condom with red candy hearts that floats around in a very relaxed sort of way.

So these are the characters/visual settings.  The video proceeds to travel through this referred landscape and it has a sense of the linear but this obviously isn’t that important.  There is music, Mazzy Star, Beyonce, and other recent pop songs that make the visual travelings easy, paced and collective.  The kid cartoon has fits of disembowelment, the virus bounces on this or that high-end couch and Wolfson as punk chats in black face and tries to look very dirty.  It is not a single character, setting or song that makes Raspberry Poser so fascinating.  It is the compilation effect, the deck of cultural cards being shuffled in an almost cathartic way.

So what is it all about?  Oh, you know, nothing, everything, love, death, sex, life, you know, all of that.  I say it like this because this is how Raspberry Poser feels (how many if not all of Wolfson’s videos feel).  It presents the external in a very internal way.  It is intimate but so distanced that it seems voyeuristic.  There is a perviness about his work in this ‘you know you like it’ type of way and for some reason you realize that yes, you do.  This is the brilliance of Wolfson.  His work makes you feel uncomfortable.  In that discomfort there is confusion, and in that there is actually potential for resonance, meaning, impact all that stuff that art is supposedly supposed to do. 

I wasn’t able to see the much talked about (Female figure) because I didn’t have an appointment and I’m a plebian so I have to make an appointment.  Apparently it is booked through next week so this will probably not happen.  Anyways though, it is worth a trip to Chelsea to just see Raspberry Poser.  Really, I just can’t stop thinking about it and everything else seems dull in comparison ever since I did. 

On a final note, I think it should be remarked upon how Wolfson is a new breed of artist and an evidence of a shift in art.  I was reading Calvin Tompkins recent profile on Ryan Trecartin in The New Yorker and I couldn’t help but compare the two, Trecartin and Wolfson.  They are basically the same age and grew up in this wedge of time where they are not “digital natives” but close enough to it that they are completely transforming/creating the technology/art thing.  Them being in this pre-internet-everything is possibly why their work has so much more heft then many younger artists working in these shared mediums.   

Trecartin is a mischievous Buddha god that is art sanctified for certain but already, at least to me, he seems familiar.  His work is about the chaos of outside inside, projecting and reflecting, becoming and being the internalized external.  Brands, chaotic dystopia of the suburban, and role-playing to be embodiment are his devices in creating his type of visual language.  Wolfson on the other hand is hyper personal, to an exaggerated point that it becomes mute.  He uses the language of commerce and capital signifiers but there is a casualness, a nothing ephemerality that makes these things seem important but also meaningless.  Everything is expendable.   I think Wolfson’s sort of world, vibe, this casualness of intimacy reflects our ‘now’ acutely and with an unsettling smugness that is not so much about spectacle but more about this joyful nothingness we find ourselves happening to exist in.