Cybersensuality – artist Jennifer Mehigan calls this a clickbait buzzword. We asked her what it means nevertheless. She talked about her work in a variety of mediums: video, renderings, and painting (sort of). She also talked to us about the fascination with digital bodies, bodybuilders‘ bodies, and gendered bodies – and about how to take them all apart.
How would you describe your artistic practise?
Neurotic, desperate, seductive. I can add more words if needed.
You had two recent shows — ”Watch Yourself Rot“ in Seattle and ”Butcher“ in Belfast. What’s the concept behind that?
I had created this persona of the butcher in 2011 or so, when I was looking for an identity to make work under that wasn’t my own name. Having been through a fairly brutal surgery that left me disfigured as a teenager, I felt some kind of camaraderie in the trope of the disfigured man in horror movies and musicals like the Phantom of the Opera. There is that weird relationship to masculinity, the monstrous, misunderstood, but it’s still powerful via manliness. There aren’t so many disfigured or monstrous femme role models, because the gendered body itself is considered quite monstrous simply for existing as Julia Kristeva and Barbara Creed have shown. It was really just about creating these spaces as a type of exploration of that specific, gendered type of pain. It sounds quite corny saying it, and I guess it’s meant to be more of an aggressive and visceral sensation as opposed to cerebral, haha.
And ”Watch Yourself Rot”?
”Watch Yourself Rot” is a quote from the movie “Death Becomes Her” with Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn. The evil rich dermatologist played by Isabella Rossellini says it to Meryl Streep, that if she doesn’t drink her age-defying potion she can get old and watch herself rot. I basically just love that movie — Goldie Hawn makes an amazing zombie. But also I think it ties into the idea of existing on a screen, the semi embarrassing selfie theories and shows of the last few years, skincare and cosmetics and that obsessiveness, and making fun of the feminine being consigned to nature. The types of bodies in the paintings and videos are caricatures of women or not even human (which might mean the same thing anyway). Being both the butcher and the butchered in these spaces is therapeutic.
What’s the link between your shows?
All my shows have been some kind of a continued series for the past few years. I think since „EAT U UP“ in 2014 which was the first installation I made with the digital blob paintings, female bodybuilders, stickers and fruit sculptures. That series grew out of a short story by Paula Blomer called „Inside Madeleine“ about this teenage girl who finds out that she has a gigantic vagina and the power and gore, I guess, that comes with that, and I started to look at a lot of Vore. I was thinking a lot about the act of eating and growing and taking up space when it wasn’t constrained by reality in digital imagery.
You started as a graphic designer in Sydney and then trained as a fine artist in Singapore — how did that influence your work?
I think starting in design taught me a lot about how to be glossy and manipulative (and to some extent Singapore also continued that) and I think that is still in my work now. The only reason I don’t work as a designer still is because I am bad at taking orders and feedback. It was easy to go from making posters to paintings, it feels the same.
Many of the so-called post-internet artists seem so obsessed with not only creating objects, but with material, materiality, and most interestingly with bodies, with corporeality.
The bodies in my work are being degraded, I think, either on a cellular, more abstract level or just literally. Maybe that goes hand in hand with the irrelevance of making objects.
I came across the term „Cybersensuality“ a lot when reading about your work. What is that?
Haha, yeah that became a nice little clickbait buzzword for a minute. I was just thinking about versions of sweat, tears, blood, saliva, fluids etc in digital spaces. What kind of materials can denote desire and eros when your body is some fantastical figure with no limits. I mean, I think that is what I was thinking about now, I probably had better answers then. It became a very sexual thing when it was interpreted but it’s really just about your body and your body’s membrane, and what happens when that is disintegrated or expanded or whatever happens to it when it becomes virtual. Like, thinking about that act and also about how that ‚body‘ interacts with others. Unfortunately, the collective imagination of the internet (myself included) is not that exciting, so everything is just versions of what we already know. We can roleplay anything, and we just roleplay ourselves, but hotter.
Header: „Watch Yourself Rot“ at Interstitial. Image provided courtesy of Interstitial, Seattle WA.