“Heavy Metal: Iron and Zinc” was an exhibition of film works, a collage and two prints, all from 2011, by L.A.-based artist Jennifer West. The four short films screened in the gallery’s two main spaces. Heavy Metal Sharks Calming Jaws Reversal Film and Heavy Metal Sharks Calming Jaws 2 Trailers—Jumping the Shark Film were projected in an alternating loop onto a wall in one room. In the other, I ♥ Neutrinos: You Can’t See Them But They Are Everywhere and Mascara Rorschach Film occupied one wall each, projected continuously. In the office was a collage made from the vinyl record and jacket of the Jaws soundtrack, treated with heavy metal elements, and two inkjet prints of film-strips from West’s Dawn Surf Jellybowl (2011) and the Heavy Metal Sharks films shown in the gallery.
To create her short, experimental films, West works directly on the surfaces of film negatives, manipulat- ing, dyeing, scratching and staining the celluloid. The negatives are then transferred to high-definition video. While West embraces the materiality of film, in the experimental tradition of Stan Brakhage and Tony Conrad, she also privileges process, in the spirit of Jackson Pollock’s action paintings, creating a synergy between content and the process of manipulation. The Heavy Metal Sharks films riff on the well- documented fact that heavy metal music has a calming effect on sharks. West asked artist friends whose hair was wet with black dye enriched with the heavy metals iron and zinc to headbang negatives of the well-known Jaws movies. West often enlists friends in the creation of her work and specifically identifies their contributions in long parenthetical titles that reveal who has undertaken which processes of manipulation and with what materials. The inclusion of this information reveals the performative nature of West’s process, and the over- arching narrative—in this case, heavy metal—that directs it.
The Jaws footage, which is accompanied by the Jaws soundtrack, is played in reverse and is seriously obscured by scratches and other marks, colors and flashes of light that dance across the film as it is projected. Mascara Rorschach Film consists of film leader that has been brushed, as the title suggests, with mascara. The Heavy Metal Sharks films are so pictorially degraded that the interferences actually overstimulate the retina. Mascara Rorschach Film and I ♥ Neutrinos, a 37-second film that ap- propriates scientific footage of neutrino movements, are more softly mesmerizing, with their displays of squiggly lines, swirling blobs and flickering splotches. Unlike the Structuralist filmmakers who came before her, West manipulates film negatives through social experiences.
It is when these happenings are most vividly evoked that West is strongest. The selection of works in “Heavy Metal: Iron and Zinc” presents West as both a sensuous filmmaker and a maverick in her use and interpretation of materials.
Photo: Jennifer West: Heavy Metal Sharks Calming Jaws Reversal Film, 2011, Super 8 film transferred to HD video, approx. 6 3/4 minutes; at Vilma Gold.