Flattening Exercises: Q+A with Jordan Wolfson

Jordan Wolfson, still from "Raspberry Poser," 2012. Courtesy the artist and Johann König, Berlin. 


Raspberry Poser, the single work in New York-based artist Jordan Wolfson’s latest show, at REDCAT in Los Angeles [through Jan. 27], unfolds on a delirious 14-minute loop of animation, photography and video, all bound together in a meditation on looking. Image feeds trail the screen, yielding paintings by Caravaggio, snapshots of beach-going coeds befitting MTV’s “Spring Break” specials, children’s playroom interiors, and home construction zones.

A hand-drawn child bounds in and out of pictorial space that unceasingly shifts. Transparent, animated condoms wriggle up into the sky and spill hearts over the streets of SoHo to the tune of Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You.” CGI HIV retroviruses, superimposed into the virtual tour of a high-end interior design store, bounce rhythmically, buoyantly and menacingly to Beyoncé’s “Sweet Dreams” on granite counters and bedroom displays.

All of these flattenings—of technique, and of sound and image specificity—contend with the artist himself, who appears in the video cruising a Berlin park dressed like a punk (with “Iggy Pop” painted on his leather jacket lapels). Alluding to the Jewish character from his 2012 video Animation, masks with a black circle of paint on his own face, Wolfson plants himself on a bench and locks eyes with an older man. The video cuts to the artist lying face down on the ground and sticking his bare ass in the air, interrupting the smooth flow of music and imagery.

By manipulating modes of visual address ingrained in image search engines and web video players, Wolfson nimbly interweaves genre elements and cultural signposts in Raspberry Poser. Laying on a city street, Wolfson’s animated kid cuts himself open and literally spills his guts. Repeating his seppuku at the site of an interior remodeling, the kid asks, “Do you think I’m rich?”

A voice replies, “Yes.”

A.i.A. spoke to Wolfson earlier this month, during his sound-check on the day of the video’s opening.

PAUL SOTO Chaos reigns in Raspberry Poser.

JORDAN WOLFSON This was the first time I used multiple subjects instead of a singular subject—the punk, the HIV virus, the kid and the condom. Though I think the contrast between singular and many subjects is misleading, as I am not trying to make these elements come together here by any means or any narrative. There is no story. There is no clarity of content, only isolated areas of content.

SOTO That owes, I think, to the variation of background imagery, between still and moving imagery, which determines the relationship that each figure has to the ground-whether the virus or the kid is immersed in space, or is superimposed on the surface. Are you more interested in the push and pull between the figure and ground?

WOLFSON Yes, I am definitely concentrating on inventing and using a kind of form that binds these subjects together but also abandons any clarity of form.

SOTO When you say clarity of form, do you mean the figures’ ability to coexist in a composition? And not just visually, but also sonically—you retain a sense of rhythm with music, which is a significant binding force considering the disparate elements.

WOLFSON Yeah, as a composition. I spent a lot of time before in other works thinking about what it was I wanted to do, and looking over my shoulder. This was the first time where I was really OK with whatever came out, like if a pocket of really Freudian content came out, I would then figure out a way to balance its meaning.

SOTO Right. In an interview I read from the past, you deemphasized the “what” and the “why” of making a work. Are you intent on the how—as in, how do you stage all of these elements in a video?

WOLFSON Right, yes. There is no didactic message in the work. The message is form, and seeing through basic formal problems, putting things together, and letting whatever meaning surfaces exist. When that’s done in a way that’s not contrived, there is something, some kind of exhaust of meaning that is produced. I don’t mean for there to be meaning in the work, to me that’s just value. I don’t need to add any value, and this work is not about adding any value.

My own reaction and relationship to the video relates to what you termed an exhaust of meaning. You aren’t trying to instigate a certain relationship, neither individual nor universal, between the viewer and the work. Meaning instead becomes a byproduct when you are dealing primarily with form and composition. But back to the forms themselves. What is your relationship to these elements?

WOLFSON They are all things that I think about. I’m really interested in CGI and a combination between CGI animation and hand-drawn cartoon animation and live video.

SOTO At one point, you juxtapose a slideshow of children’s interiors with these almost pornographic images of showroom bathtubs with a DesignWithin Reach aesthetic while the HIV viruses gleefully hop around. Obviously the HIV virus has a horribly destructive history, which seems particularly fraught when coupled with private urbanite locales. Do you think the formal tension you have stressed between this combination, for example, reverberates from the content itself?

WOLFSON Maybe. I have no idea. I haven’t really thought about this until the end of the process. There’s the virus and then there’s something that’s protecting you from the virus. Then there’s this character, the kid, who moves between hysteria and calmness, who basically murders himself and cuts himself open. I don’t know. As I was working, I started asking myself, am I the condom, and am I also the virus, and am I also the kid? And I become the punk. The title is Raspberry Poser.

SOTO He’s a poser. Is that stance about authenticity and imitation in the work as a whole?

WOLFSON I don’t know. I work through a very intuitive process. Above all, I’m interested in media. I’m interested in the stickiness of media. I’m interested in the surface of media. The surface of CGI is different from the surface of 2D or live video.

SOTO Just to return to something I mentioned earlier, do you think those contrasts relate back to the work’s rhythm?

WOLFSON I do. I really just wanted to make a party video.

SOTO And it is like that. It could be on in the background at someone’s house party.

WOLFSON Yeah, but there are also these very harsh cuts. Very abrupt…

SOTO Interruptions.

WOLFSON Very unpleasant interruptions. It’s definitely a binary piece, and I think that plays that out.

SOTO What do you mean by that?

WOLFSON I mean that it exists simultaneously between rhythm and interruption, protection and no protection, and—with the punk—between authenticity and the poser.

SOTO And that between-ness is a byproduct of media?

WOLFSON It’s not a net aesthetic per se, but the Internet is a huge part of it. It’s not about looking at the Internet as this weird thing in our lives. This artwork, at least for me, is about looking at everything that is in our lives including the Internet, which made this piece really, so much of it came from it.

It’s really about how the world looks to me. This is how the world looks to me, and not just politically, but, you know, I don’t even know how to begin processing it—this is how the world looks for me, this is what technology is today. This is how people make things today. This was all made by professional animators, so this is how they make things.

SOTO You could think of the return to form as a flattening exercise. The act of looking here has so much to do with swiping, that flattening exercise that makes the screen into something like a democratic or egalitarian window. In a way, you are conflating that traditionally passive mode with picture-making and painting.

WOLFSON That’s something I was totally interested in, and you see that in this piece. There’s that scene where a guy flips through images in his iPhone. It’s about paper books versus iPads, CGI versus cartoons, still imagery versus moving cartoons.