Pop Right Now: Jennifer West in 24 Frames

May 2009


1. The title of a recent work is typically dense, descriptive, allusive: Vampire Obsession Film (70MM film leader painted with pomegranate juice, bit with vampire teeth, sprinkled with reflective mica flakes, dragged through the misty Olympic Rainforest woods, 16MM film taped to the surface – girls in movie theater watching Twilight performed by Jessica Tetu and Sara Van Oostrum, 70MM film bitten by Keenan Blough, Val Koziak and Finn West).

2. All this for thirty-nine seconds of film. It takes longer to read the title than to watch it.

3. While projected as looping videos, these moving pictures are all about film—film in its attenuated obsolescence, in its graininess, in the chemistry lessons given to vulnerable layers of emulsion, in the regularity of still frames that passed through the camera᾽s gate one by one, but now accumulate like a pile-up in the mind᾽s eye.

4. The rigid containment of the frame is contradicted—but also enounced—by the leaky viscosity of bleach, breast milk, chocolate sauce, sweat, gasoline, Gatorade and laxatives.

5. Laxatives on film. Film on laxatives.

6. Over forty years ago, Stan Brakhage painted on film and glued moth wings to clear film leader; Paul Sharits scratched away emulsion with razor blades; Tony Conrad pickled and curried film, hammered it, electrocuted it with a Tesla coil.

7. Some new recipes by Jennifer West: film leader soaked in cilantro, strawberries, snowboarded over, surfed with; film negative lined with liquid black eyeliner, doused with Jello Vodka shots and rubbed with body glitter.

8. Film negative lit by the campfire and treated with bug spray, white gas, gin, sweat, smoke, pitch, marshmallow, beer, wine, pit toilet, dirt, sap, tent and sleeping bag.

9. Leader soaked in hot chocolate, inscribed with the word “fuck” written in gold and peyote, washed out with soap.

10. All this alchemical gunk is wiped off the emulsion before the film is transferred to video with a million-dollar telecine machine in a clinical Hollywood lab that was initially wary of the artist᾽s unorthodoxy.

11. We see, literally, the residue of film as cool, digitized matter.

12. Did I mention these films are addictive? Side effects may include euphoria, dizziness, sugar shock.

13. Candy is a gateway drug: In Jacques Rivette᾽s hallucinogenic 1974 film Celine and Julie Go Boating, Juliet Berto and Dominique Labourier ingest magic candy to pass through the looking glass of cinema.

14. Drugs on film. Film on drugs.

15. West᾽s first marinated film appears in 2005 in a show I organized, entitled “Celine and Julie Go Boating.” The recipes—initially displayed on index cards—were supplied by friends. Jim Shaw contributed his own urine to the effort.

16. In a slightly earlier video work entitled Amplify (2005), the artist᾽s friends produced improvised sound compositions according to instructions written on a notecard, with a wacky assortment of objects kept hidden in a box until the camera was rolling.

17. These days, the materials are even wackier, but the spellbinding, intoxicating effects of West᾽s elixirs share the frame (somewhat begrudgingly) with loosely “scripted” activities: skinnydipping in front of David Geffen᾽s Malibu beach house, trespassing around the Hollywood sign, jamming on Guitar Hero, marshmallow roasting, rolling off beds, and so on.

18. In other words, despite signs of (painterly) abstraction, these are performance films.

19. Performers include the artist᾽s friends and students, her children Finn and Ariel, and even their babysitter, as seen in Malia the Babysitter Guitar Hero Film (16MM film neg rubbed with fruit loops sugar cereal, pizza and soda—guitar hero video game performances by Malia James, Finn & Ariel West and Colette Weber Shaw) (2008).

20. Another work, Regressive Squirty Sauce Film (16MM film leader squirted and dripped with chocolate sauce, ketchup, mayonnaise & apple juice) (2007), seems to riff on the arrested development and gross-outs of a previous generation of “bad boy” artists in Los Angeles, including Paul McCarthy. There is, in West᾽s work, an increasingly visible interest in gender signification: i.e. what girls are supposed to like, what girls are not supposed to do. Pleasure becomes political.

21. See, for example, Riot Grrrl Alchemy Film (16MM b&w and color film neg danced on with sneakers, sprayed with cherry tomatoes, rubbed with cinnamon butter buns, strawberries and candy bars—based on lyrics from Sleater Kinney, Bikini Kill and Le Tigre—food fight on the table performances by Ariel West & Jwest, shot on Superbowl Sunday by Peter West who was kind of drunk) (2008), which alludes to the artist᾽s formative years in the Pacific Northwest during the grunge era, among other things.

22. Many of the films are slyly autobiographical. Some are really not even so sly.

23. Many of the recent films are based on urban legends, most related to sex and drugs—stuff that usually scares parents rather than inspires them: shoes on telephone wires, rubber bracelets and rainbow parties, Guitar Hero, vampires. West makes these films not in order to dispel urban legends, but to re-enact and explode them—to give form, however fluid, to the imaginary.

24. This, to me, is Pop right now.