In conversation with artist Jordan Wolfson who talks about the importance of spectators reactions to his work and the role of illusion in the art practice.

BR   Why do you think there is controversy in your work? I mean obviously the VR work Real Violence is heavily controversially discussed, and your very particular way of speaking about things is quite controversial: sexuality, violence, but also love.

JF   I think that the Real Violence had the reaction that it had because it eventually was a kind of assault on the viewer’s nervous system. I think that, in a way, is what the public found problematic about it. When you have a kind of assault on your nervous system, you initially have a very non-rational reaction. So, people got directly angry at me for the artwork. They weren’t angry at the characters within the artwork, guilty as charged (I was one of the characters in the artwork). They weren’t necessarily angry about what was happening in the artwork either. They were angry at the feeling they got from the artwork, I believe, and then became angry toward me that I had done something to them. And I think that’s interesting as well – how, as humans, we can be rendered into non-rationality through representation. There’s only one artwork that has ever really offended me, and that was Adel Abdessemed’s wall of taxidermied wolves. To me, that was a kind of animal cruelty, and what he’s done with animal cruelty actually has offended me, because that was real somehow. That was real harm. But in Real Violence, the only person who got hurt was me because I threw my back out when I was performing the murder scene. Otherwise it was a robot, and it was a robot that we digitally face-swapped onto. No one was really hurt. But I do believe that the audience felt that their nervous system was attacked, and so they had a hypervigilant reaction, and then a non-rational reaction to the work.

“If something is an illusion, then essentially it’s a spectacle. However, if you negate the illusion and show it for what it is, in the nakedness of its truth, it holds the tension of abstraction.”


BF   You mentioned that what interests you in sculpture is the engagement of people in a work, which is not about illusionism, and of course VR is illusionism. Your works are much more like Brecht in a way, and that you are not as interested in illusion…

JF   No, I’m not interested in the illusion.

BR   (Female Figure) exposes its mechanisms very clearly. In Colored Sculpture as well, you see the whole machinery. You’re never drawn into some illusion of a reality being created, and actually being created in a way that you can immerse in it and disappear.

JW   See, the way I feel about illusion is that, in a way, it is very disrespectful to the viewer. If something is an illusion, then essentially it’s a spectacle. However, if you negate the illusion and show it for what it is, in the nakedness of its truth, it holds the tension of abstraction. Bruce Nauman has said that an artwork is usually a combination of something, a tension of what’s revealed and what’s hidden. Following that, if the mechanism is what’s hidden, and the object, the spectacular, is what’s revealed, that’s not very interesting. But if the mechanism is exposed, then it’s in binary to the hypothetical, spectacle, or the object, which creates an uncanny tension of looking and seeing this object. That’s kind of like the comparison you made to Brecht. It’s essentially that – that it’s all laid out for the viewers and becomes problematic to them in a positive way. Does that make sense?




Read the full interview on Muse February Issue.




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