Fotograf Magazine

Jordan Wolfson


The author accompanied his 2007 exhibition, titled Jordan Wolfson, with
a letter to the visitor: “This is my first exhibition with the gallery and also my
first solo show in Germany. The show consists of six works: a light switch,
a drawing, a photograph, a 16-mm film, a telescope and an undisclosed work
installed outside of the gallery.” The Light Switch from the 27th Floor (1931–
2007) came from the Empire State Building, and Wolfson received it from the
building’s chief electrician, whose life story or dream is shortly described in
Wolfson’s letter. This readymade operated the lights in the gallery and could
be used by visitors. Other works mentioned in the letter were described
only briefly and almost pointlessly, disregarding their size and function. The
telescope, titled 100 Years of the Moon (2007), was set up to find the moon
from the location of the gallery at every hour for a hundred years, beginning
from the opening date of the exhibition. The 16-mm film showed a forest from
an elevated perspective, receding slowly, and the film image soon immersed in
the colour black. “The photograph Helen Keller (2007) is a re-photographed
photograph of Helen Keller.” At Wolfson’s black and white image of the writer
and activist Helen Keller, there is a distinct mark of the flash light reflecting
from the original photograph. Helen Keller could neither hear nor see, and yet
she studied at a university and became socially and politically very active.

This motif brings not only an element of seriousness to Jordan Wolfson’s
themes, but also the difference between the content (Wolfson’s contemplation
about another way of perceiving the world) and the form (i.e. the photorealistic
embalming process of photography) and the denial of the form by simple
solarisation. Such opening of dialogue with his visitor is a theme Wolfson
later further shifted with his use of animatronic sculptures reacting through
eye contact: a female robotic figure with a mask and animal jaw speaks in the
author’s voice, dancing in front of a mirror, while a “punished trickster”, who
is a kind of caricature of Huckleberry Finn or Howdy Doody, is clattering with
chains in an environment on the border of the club, gallery or theatre.

Jordan Wolfson has been working with aspects that are constantly
redefined and related to his “drama”, the initial exposition being his adolescence
in the 1990s, his Jewish origin, and the megalopolis of New York. Questions
related to antisemitism or Richard Brautigan’s poem become parts of
a dialogue between two lovers. The words were put into the mouth of an
animated Orthodox Jew in the Animation, Masks (2007) video – but the
man’s torso looks like an empty shell, a scary sculpture somewhere between
Shakespeare’s Shylock and Woody Allen browsing through Vogue. The
marching bottles of diet Coke and milk in the video Con Leche (2009) do not
only paraphrase Disney productions, but also represent materialism and luxury.
The video Rawsberry Poser (2012), thematically related to the same period of
adolescence, presents an animated condom with an HIV virus flying against the
photographs of the not-yet gentrified SoHo to expresses fear of an epidemic.
Another motive in the video is a little brat ripping up his abdominal region.

Jordan Wolfson belongs to the generation of artists who work very
intuitively with appropriative processes across the cultural, social and political
aspects of life. The example is use of plain, anonymous advertising graphics in
a set of car bumper stickers – sketches, counterpoints or wry notes emerging in the public space, on Instagram, and in aluminium image objects. Sarcasms
hidden in the notes at stickers can be also found on Wolfson’s website
alongside the seriously intended guide to environmental protection. Cultural
stories, shocking moments, or physical encounters with ideas in the form of
the sculptures’ materials speak volumes about the very fragile physical and
mental space open to the author and the viewer. Using virtual reality, Wolfson
“immobilized” the interactive subtext of this technology by portraying a murder.
During a frighteningly convincing simulation of murder, he beat an unknown
male person (an animatronic dummy) to death with a baseball bat. The
shocking act of “real violence”, performed by the author himself, and the feeling
that elementary moral principles were broken was then calmed down by trust in
the form of the institutional presentation.

Asked about his choice of motifs and themes, Wolfson says that his
intent is to work as intuitively as when one finds inspiration or themes in nature.
This way, he artfully distances himself from any contextualization, referring
to instinctive decision-making about the details in his work. “When you try
to work intentionally on the history of art, or to put your work into its context,
you become also its slave. Therefore I’m not trying to think.” The layering of
motifs, from bumper stickers to image collages or assemblages in aluminium
frames, develops his list of notes and references, opening a dialogue with
its surroundings in almost serial, sectorized way. The seeming details of
his artworks hide fragments from video mosaics or animatronic installation
scenarios, representing also the economic patterns of our behaviour when
Wolfson limits the number of gallery visitors, taking into account the attention of
his animatronic creatures or the number of VR handles and glasses.

Exhibition situations are carefully composed by Wolfson, comparing the
details to notes, the depth or height of tones, and the resulting frequency. Thus,
his artworks can be seen as glosses, provocations or layers of personal notes,
fine-tuned to the perfect whole of sculptures and videos. Jordan Wolfson is not
an animator or developer of robots and artificial intelligence; his work is imbued
by the possibility of eye contact, whether with an animated figure, a robotic
dancer, a chain puppet, or a letter from the author. This contact leads to the
materialization of dialogues on the contradictions that surround us, and which
are mediated to us by Wolfson via breaching of such situations.