Jaimie Warren, That’s What Friends Are For @The Hole

JTF (just the facts): A total of 13 photographic works and 11 videos, generally framed in white and unmatted or shown on black bordered screens, and hung against white walls in the front rooms of the main gallery space and in a darkened back room. The color photographs are either single images (sized 30×40, in editions of 5+2AP) or diptychs (each panel sized 20×24, in editions of 8+2AP); all of the prints were made in 2014. The short GIF videos are variable length video loops with audio, in editions of 5+2AP, while the 5 channel video with audio on view in the darkened room is noticeably longer, with no edition information provided on the checklist. The shorter videos were made in 2014, while the longer work was made in 2013. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Take one look at Jaimie Warren’s photographs and videos and it’s refreshingly obvious that this is an artist who isn’t blindly following the fine art crowd – she isn’t unusually enamored with the power of digitization, she isn’t exploring the limits of Photoshop, and she’s not deconstructing the medium itself. Instead, Warren has been quietly developing a body of work that is both wholly original and sneakily thoughtful.

Mining the Internet for viral memes, pop culture quirks, and b-movie GIFs, she has recreated these scenes and set-ups with herself as the protagonist, in an ever shifting set of guises and personalities, surrounded by the richness of fake blood, makeshift prosthetics, and oddball makeup. Her unorthodox methodology combines systematically appropriating inherently digital imagery and bringing it back into the physical realm, infusing each individual character with her own personality, and then ultimately returning these satires and homages back to photography or video. Warren recently won the 2014 Baum Award for An Emerging American Photographer (here, with a show at SF Camerawork (here) opening on 4/30), a signal that folks are starting to see beyond the veneer of playful wackiness in her work and to appreciate how unique her artistic approach really is.

This show picks up right where her last show left off, with new photographs from various ongoing series and a handful of new GIFs/videos that find Warren extending her idiosyncratic humor to moving imagery. From her Celebrities as Food series, she’s dripping in orange with a waxed moustache as Chicken Tikka Masalvador Dali and covered in dark brown makeup and seeds as she leers through the hacked doorway of The Shining as Jack Pumpernickleson. New works from her TotallyLooksLike.com series stage her paired up as Boy George and Ralph Wiggum from The Simpsons, the Queen of Hearts and frowning Kristen Stewart, and Anne Burrell from the Food Network and the Outback Steakhouse Bloomin’ Onion, each one a convincing, unpretentious goofball likeness. These series play on the inventiveness of the crowdsourced Internet, resampled through the artist’s own devious mind.

A wall of monitors provides the venue for Warren’s new GIF clips, which leverage the techniques of stop motion animation to string together a handful of frames into a jerking narrative. All of these works celebrate cult classic horror films, from Basket Case to Nightmare on Elm Street, with the requisite spinning heads, stretched tongues, exploding chests, and bad zombie makeup. Once again, she’s reusing pop culture icons as the basis for her investigations, but the scenes and stories have become her own, like covers of famous songs recast via clever reinterpretation.

But it is Warren’s five channel video playing in the darkened back room that is the real star of this show. Starting with the predella panels from Fra Angelico’s High Altarpiece of San Domenico in Fiesole as her template, she has replaced the rows of haloed heads of saints and monks with a smorgasbord of her favorite pop culture references, and then turned the entire spectacle into a live action performance where dozens of costumed friends sway in time and sing a harmonized version of Dionne Warwick’s That’s What Friends Are For. If this doesn’t sound wild enough, then imagine Warren taking on the central role of Jesus in the guise of Missy Elliott in her famous trash bag outfit, and singing the duet lines with the spinning head Exorcist child mouthing synthesized words and drooling fake blood, with a chorus of Michael Jacksons and Stevie Wonders flanking on both sides. It’s a grand scale gesture of celebrity identification, where each hero/heroine (from Roseanne Barr and Elvira to Grace Jones and Courtney Love) is merged into a larger patchwork of inspirational influences. She’s daringly replaced religious symbols with reality TV personalities and rock stars, creating a 21st century blend of high and low iconography.

In the end, there’s something unusual and unexpected going on here, an almost contrarian approach to the rutted paths of contemporary (and academic) photography. What’s more, her work represents crossover point between photography and Internet art, where the evolving visual ideas unique to the web are being reconsidered in an artistic context. Don’t be fooled by the casual playfulness found here – Warren has kicked open the door to a new breed of cultural engagement, pushing photography into open white spaces that naturally extend into a pervasively networked social world.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The single image photographs and diptychs are reasonably priced at $1200 each, while the short videos are $2500 each; the longer video in the back did not have a published price. Warren’s work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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