Interviewed by: Eliana Blechman
We asked Melissa Jordan a few questions about image distortion, the depiction of women in modern life, and the digital footprint. Read on for more...
Art-in-Buildings: Your work can become somewhat disorienting in its distillation of colors and image shapes, and the physical distortion of the photo surfaces through tears or cut-outs. What is the importance of this distortion in your practice?
Melissa Jordan: I don't approach image making in the same way a trained photographer might, as my background is in sculpture. As you note, I use tears, cut-outs and layering. These techniques lend themselves to unpredictable results. This is definitely the attraction for me. It's a path you can follow with a different end-point each time. I focus on the deconstruction of the surface and the possibilities of one image. Exploring the surface as a space in its own right gives it a substance and questions its normally invisible role. When you look through an old photo album or a glossy magazine, I find something frustrating but curious about the way you never get through to just the photo underneath. You cannot eradicate that relationship between surface and content.
In my series Pages, I was using light and liquid on the surface of papers and prints. There's a practical side, I began using liquid to extend my working day as it brings more light into the camera. But more importantly, the distortions remove the images from their original context, giving me a new ownership or blueprint. These pieces look at glossiness as a language of aspiration. Frequently, my images reference films or moving image and these distortions and tears are like ruptures in a sequence. My photography palates tend to be monochrome or otherworldly colors like in Laddering. These unnatural colors lend the figures a new space or timeframe.
AiB: How does your work examine society's digital footprint?
MJ: In the digitally driven age, images travel so much through touch screens. The pulling apart of a screen with a thumb and forefinger, the doubletap, the zoom, the hold, the swipe, the drag. These gestures take on new meanings when you think of the form beneath/inside/under the screen — as a body. Our anatomy, our nouns and signifiers alongside tactility are forced into new, inextricable relationships. For example, our computers, phones, and tablets become more physical through excessive use when they overheat. For a previous series and text I created for American Journal Ampersand (Women and Performance) titled You Should Have the Body, the photographs were made to be viewed on a screen. This series was made through google image searches. They look at the space of the screen as a divisive place – a membrane that prevents closeness.
The concept that feedback creates the new path for the next search is definitely tied to my practice. A hidden data trail is how I think of my own working processes, which I often document as I am going. Privacy and ownership as themes are also important, something that you can see in the intimacy of my felt series Vowels which shows just the eyes and lips of strangers' faces.
AiB: In what ways does your work emulate or critique modern representations of women in advertisements and printed media?
MJ: I often start my studio day looking through magazines and inevitably, living in London, I soak up many images of women through print and advertisement. This is certainly central in Laddering which shows the women as more like mannequins as opposed to having a human quality. This ties to both the religious connotations of Madonnas and models in the contemporary sense. The women portrayed are shown and worshipped as images and object.
I have made a large series of small sculptures titled Interface, these are broken down and creased faces, drawn mostly from printed make-up adverts that promote the perfect skin. These images of flawlessness are bedded into wet clay and spread through the process of rolling. They are intimate and reminiscent of faded frescos. I am looking to critique the modern obsession with flawlessness but also look to create something that is visually compelling.
AiB: Laddering references both the brightly lit advertisements you might stumble across at a bus stop, as well as the Madonelle street corner shrines in Rome. What is the importance of light as a gathering place or focal point in your work?
MJ: This is my first piece that is street-based. I wanted to draw people to the window and, given the long dark nights of a New York winter, the lightbox format made perfect sense. I've used lightboxes throughout my photographic practice; they make reference to the cinematic origins of my images and also to advertisement. When I pass the bus stops in London I do find the rolling print ads in their lightboxes quite mesmerizing, even when I don't want to. For W10W, I started by looked into Madonelles. The earliest ones in Rome were lit by lanterns and used as meeting places after dark. They were the only sources of light in the streets.
I find it interesting that the Madonelles were commissioned by the public, not the church. It reminded me about meeting points I've used in my life such as the big red lion sculpture in Lion Yard, Cambridge - my childhood meeting place. These meeting points were short hand in the pre-digital age. These punctuations make your city your own, and create your own personal map.
AiB: What's next for you?
MJ: My next show in a group exhibition in Berlin will include two of my photographs from the series Back/Fold hung almost as one piece. I'm also working on a new publication for 2018.
Learn more about Melissa Jordan on her website!