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If I were Curating Upcoming Jennifer West/ Jacco Olivier Exhibition

January 28, 2013

Jennifer West and Jacco Olivier use film and video in unusual ways.  While Olivier creates animations from his vivid paintings, West uses a variety of strange materials, (from pennyroyal tea to mascara) to create her “direct films.”  A direct film is not constructed (or “shot”) by a camera but rather created as the artist exposes the film to various elements.  West’s direct films also have an unconventional performative element that sets her works apart in today’s “touchless” digital frontier.  West uses everyday materials to comment on pop culture—particularly that of her California culture—from surfing to Nirvana.  Olivier’s animations are, on the other hand, made from loosely painting a narrative—continually painting and repainting the surface of his canvases until he completes his concept, and every step is recorded by/on camera. While each artist has a different process, they are both utilizing bright, hypnotic color and painterly actions in the creation of their films/animations.  As Olivier’s works come from continual constructions of everyday life upon and unstable “canvas,” West is systematically altering her filmstrips with unusual chemicals to give the viewer a visual, sensual experience of the elements in her work.  These concepts range from a physical assault of the film leader to covering it in materials that were a part of the movie’s treatment, whether that material was tasted, smelled, or referenced in context of the film.

Both artists are contemplating the ordinary in the films Dawn Surf Jelly Bowl (16 mm film negative sanded with surfboard shaping tools, sex wax melted on, squirted, dripped, splashed, sprayed and rubbed with donuts, zinc oxide, cuervo, sunscreen, hydrogen peroxide, tecate, sand, tar, scraped with a shark’s tooth, edits made by the surf and a seal while film floated in waves…) by West and Stumble by Olivier.  These films are studies of the everyday, which in Olivier’s case involves a day in the life of a bug; West’s recalls surfing and the hedonistic California lifestyle  (her home state).  Though these are the basic premises for their pieces, their ability to capture the ordinary makes a great impact.  West’s 2011 film is meant to evoke early surfing films that were made for surfers before the field was commercialized, and all of the elements in the title were used in creating the film to give it multiple sensory components that reflect surfing culture.  Stumble (2009), on the other hand, is a series of paintings of a bug in different times of the day as it struggles on its back—trying to and eventually turning over as the sound of crickets play gently in the background. An upturned bug is a common sight, one that is easily overlooked until it is playing on the screen. Stumble might thus refer to the human condition: our inevitable series of downfalls and recoveries. All the while, the series of paintings are vividly colorful—evoking West’s use of saturated color, and the processing that these pieces embody to translate the everyday into reflections upon culture, sentiment, and the human condition.

While all of West and Olivier’s films have an element of daily life, there is also attention to pop culture in both artists’ works.  West’s film Nirvana Alchemy Film (16 mm black & white film soaked in lithium mineral hot springs, pennyroyal tea, doused in mud, sopped in bleach, cherry antacid and laxatives—jumping by Finn West & Jwest), made in 2007, is based on the Nirvana song “Pennyroyal Tea.” It incorporates (and animates) the corresponding song lyrics by using materials mentioned throughout Pennyroyal Tea—such as mud and tea.  The film leader for this work was also soaked in bleach as a nod to Nirvana’s first album.  These treatments affect footage of West and her son jumping— creating a colorful distortion that embodies the hallucinatory nature of the song and is multi-sensory references of visual, olfactory, and tactile experience.  Olivier’s Rabbit Hole (2011) is reminiscent of the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland and has a similarly psychedelic quality to West’s film.  However, Olivier uses paint and animation to create the abstracted passage.  The ensuing animation is mesmerizing as the viewer slowly delves in the spiraling corridor with intensely saturated color, referencing the hallucinogenic undertones of Alice in Wonderland.  Both of these films are taking a piece of pop culture history and making it into something unique through film—translating recognizable moments in literature and music into uncanny evocations.  One can almost imagine “Pennyroyal Tea” playing in the background during West’s film while Olivier’s Rabbit Hole pulls one’s gaze into the piece, giving one the sensation of slowly falling.

West’s 2007 film Whatever (16mm film leader soaked in lots of coffee, espresso & tumeric, taken on a power walk, rubbed with sweat and inscribed with the word, “whatever” written in purple metallic eyeliner) mirrors the fast paced Western lifestyle.  The combination of coffee, a power walk and sweat married with the word “whatever” written in purple eyeliner creates a tension that is pertinent to everyday life in the United States. Olivier’s 2012 film, Cycle has a similar familiarity, but the two are different in that this experience is one of slow concentration.  In this work the viewer follows a landscape as it goes from the city to the mountains to a river (possibly the San Antonio River).  The piece transitions from cityscape, landscape, waterscape, to dreamscape, and as the piece progressed, I almost felt as though it regressed in time.  Though this piece is meant to reflect contemporary San Antonio, it is a loose association (i.e. Olivier paints the mountains from memories of old cowboy movies he watched as a child and not from the San Antonio landscape).  Both of these films are infused with bright color.  Whatever includes rich earth tones that come from treatments with espresso and tumeric, which allow for the purple eyeliner “whatever” to stand out; Olivier’s film is an explosion of color and form that is slowly abstracted into pure color by the end.  He also uses layering of different colors to create a more three-dimensional space that gives the piece a sense of atmospheric perspective.  From the exasperating urban experience to the open, sprawling hills of idyllic nature, both works re-imagine “the west” in seductive ways.

West and Olivier are both interested in the journey that is process. Making is key to both of their works in the same way that their works are about their making: the painting and the performance as much, if not more than, the final product (although the final product is wonderful too).  The viewer feels as if they are peering into a very personal experiment, a trial and error of sorts, as they watch each film.  Although each artist is using different techniques, both Olivier and West are interested in film and the ways in which they can stretch the meaning of this medium—whether it is through creating direct film or through turning painting into film.  Both artists are interested in color to create their expressive pieces and to leave a lasting impression on the viewer, whether it is to revel in the fact that Olivier is painting for the love of painting or that West is recalling (and recreating) a psychedelic past that is uncannily relevant in the present.  Each artist is inspired by daily life, by the culture in which they were raised, and in bringing vivid reflections of daily life to the forefront of the viewer’s attention.

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