by Jonathan Griffin
REDCAT, Los Angeles
The HIV virus, in case you didn’t know, is depicted in molecular biology as an icosahedron (a 20-sided polygon) or a sphere, out of which protrude peg-like nodules representing the glycoproteins that fix onto and infect other cells. Dozens of these jolly red forms bounce across the screen in Jordan Wolfson’s part animated, part live-action film Raspberry Poser (2012). Their rubbery pegs wobble as they jump on the sinks in posh showrooms and across the wooden floor of a luxury gym. They bound through the sunny streets of New York’s Soho, and swell to bursting against photographs of scantily clad teens on spring break. As they frolic amongst these scenes of shameless desire they are buoyed by the heavy, synthetic beats of Beyoncé Knowles’ Sweet Dreams from her 2008 album I am … Sasha Fierce.
Wolfson has not made an AIDS artwork, though he comes perilously close. Another of the film’s recurrent memes is a spent condom, overflowing with chubby little hearts, rendered, like the virus, in smooth CGI. As the condoms float and twist (in the weightless digital imaginary) the hearts spill out like confetti.Trying to read the work along issue-oriented or narrative lines, however, will get you nowhere. There are as many non-sequiturs, wrenching jump-cuts, and contradictions as there are coherent themes. At one memorable point, Mazzy Star’s gorgeous 1994 hit Fade Into You crescendos to an almost unbearable volume, then stops abruptly. A cartoon boy proceeds to strangle himself, and as his body contorts into an elastic arch, he asks us, in a voice that might well be the artist’s, “Do you think I’m rich?” “Yes,” replies a woman. “Do you think I’m homosexual?” “No.”
What we think of the artist is a pivotal question in Raspberry Poser. An uncharitable critic might interpret the nearly fourteen-minute film collage as a modish exercise in cultural referencing; its disparate sources (bourgeois interior design magazines, shop windows, history-book prints of Caravaggio and Breughel, tabloid newspaper cartoons) could seem to come proffered by the artist at arm’s length, with an ironic smirk like that of the cocksure punk who wanders through Paris in one section of the film.
I think those people would be wrong. While most viewers would not know it, that punk is actually Wolfson, head shaved and costumed in ripped denim and leather. The figure is a parody of a subculture, but he may be a parody of the artist too. We expect a detached provocateur, someone who can film the window of a La Perla lingerie store without letting his thoughts wander. But who’s to say that Wolfson does not like Mazzy Star, or Beyoncé? What’s the inside of his apartment like? Do you think he’s rich? Do you think he wants to be? If there is a moral to this film, it’s that desire is infectious, and unconscionable.
First published: Art Review, issue 66, March 2013