Jordan Wolfson: Raspberry Poser
Chisenhale Gallery, London
29 February 2013 - 2 February 2014
Review by Christopher Griffin
‘Do you think I’m rich’‘
‘Do you think I’m homosexual’‘
While these may be the only words spoken in Jordan Wolfson’s ‘Raspberry Poser’ (2012) - a 14-minute digital video projected onto a cinema-sized suspended screen - they are by no means the only words heard. The lyrics of love songs, pumped out of four loudspeakers over a sumptuous carpeted floor, provide a variously mournful and high-energy soundtrack to a fast-paced collage of computer-generated imagery, hand-drawn animations, and filmed footage. It is in the midst of this complex conflation of images and sounds that the two self-regarding questions are posed, which, despite and because of their singularity, offer only a cryptic and seemingly facile clue to the meaning of the video’s kaleidoscopic content.
The questions, which puncture an otherwise silent moment in the film, are posed and answered by one of the video’s two ‘human’ characters, an angry cartoon boy with suicidal tendencies who performs a series of macabre stunts with a comic but grotesque assortment of grins, gasps and jazz hands. Reappearing throughout the film against unremarkable real-life backdrops - from filmed footage of sunny Soho to still images of depopulated construction sites - the boy’s bloody antics stain the screen’s glossy façade and ridicule the melodramatics of the music.
During the second half of the video this representational dissonance is taken up in entirely different ways by the work’s other protagonist, a leather-clad, skin-headed punk played by Wolfson himself, who wanders whimsically around the parks of central Paris as though they were his natural environment, before grinding face-down, arse-up against a manicured lawn. Accompanied first by Roy Orbison’s ‘Only the Lonely’ and later a slowed-down but amplified rendition of Beyoncé‘s ‘Sweet Dreams’, these scenes present the punk as the most angelic of anarchists, a charming rogue who over the course of the video appears to develop a soft spot for bourgeois paradise. And who can blame him’ The entire video is saturated with shots of sleek interior showrooms, plush boutique-lined streets, and children’s bedrooms decked out in white, all of which are as seductive as the soundtrack.
Yet these sanitised, virginal spaces - parading the comforts of the lifestyle economy - are not consummated by desirous consumers but instead invaded by digital animations of enormous, blood red HIV viruses that bounce like beach balls to the rhythm of the pulsating music. As ominous and incongruous as they are, however, these engorged monsters, with their distinctive spiky appendages, bring to mind inflatable toys or novelty sweets, their threat inoculated by the cheeriness of the luxury surroundings and their mesmerising, playful dance. That they should be seen as disarmingly beautiful is amplified by their close resemblance to the tiny red hearts that, in other sequences, spill out of a computer-animated condom and morph into shimmering clouds of passion.
What can be made of this hypnotic array of sugar-coated provocations’ It may well be that the gestures of the protagonists - including the condom, hearts and viruses - are repetitive, exaggerated, and even clichéd, recalling the ostentatious triviality of music videos, but just because they seek attention does not make them attention seeking. The associations are deliberate, the paradoxes are real. Indeed, the phrase ‘beautiful nightmare’, which resounds throughout the soundtrack, is almost too perfect a description of a masochistic culture that turns fear into fetishism and is represented most poignantly by the spectre of a sexually-inflicted death. It is as a sick parody, then, that ‘Raspberry Poser’ should be understood, caricaturing a society that, like the cartoon boy, is self-confident and self-destructive in equal measure.