[Jan. 1996, Icon]
Artist Profile: Jim Anderson
After careers in the real entertainment industries (music, film, television), Jim Anderson has become a visual artist. His recent show of sculpture and video — entitled Bliss Jag — was mounted this fall at New York's prestigious Ronald Feldman gallery. Bliss Jag features fifteen sculptures and six music videos.
Although the sculptures look like they are constructed from plastic or fiberglass, they're actually hand-carved from wood and brightly painted. They have the seductive machine-tooled quality of industrial prototypes. This illusion lends an upscale tradeshow atmosphere to the gallery, with each sculpture on its own plinth scattered through the four separate rooms.
In the first room the sculptures are bondage sex toys, some looking like perverse hi-tech versions of a child's hobby-horse morphed to include a dildo. The other works sharing this space are like electric guitars which open on stainless steel hinges to restrain wrists and ankles. Moving through the other rooms, the sculptures become increasingly ominous — more dangerous and humiliating — but also funnier. Though still brightly coloured and seductively curved, they seem destined for the medical — rather than the personal-use — market. These include a feeding trough, a bed-pan, dissection tray and — my favourite — a womb-like regression chamber. With therapeutic possibilities in mind, I imagine the latter could easlity achieve widespread clinical use.
Each room also features a short rock video in which a cast of characters demonstrate how to use the toys. In a sense, the videos act as television advertisements for these fetishistic "products." While the sculptures themselves are directly utilitarian (we don't need any demonstrations to tell us exactly what they do and how to use them), there is an obvious pleasure in watching as the demonstration unfolds.
The videos are shot and edited in a slick, commercial style. The music is infectious and driving in a way that's great while you're experiencing the visual, but drops completely from memory the moment you walk away: tv music. (The videos were scored by Mitch Coodley, who composes for network television.
Each video sketches out a little story of mythic proportions: the rise and fall of a rock god. The central model/character is a Tarzan-type rock star — buff, loin-clothed, long blond hair. Initially flanked by two even blonder babes in pink bikinis, pink high heels and pink ball-mouth gags, they enact a scenario of decadence. The subsequent videos chronicle the fall of the rock star. He is subjected — via demonstrations of the sculptures — to increasingly humiliating ordeals. We find his luxurious hair is actually a wig. His love interest turns out to be, instead of the bikini babes, a 300-pound naked man. The rock star is left, after all manner of escalating indignities, in a catatonic state, gently rocking back and forth in the regression chamber sculpture.
According to the publicity material, Bliss Jag was inspired by the artist's experience as a rock performer in the late 70s (he toured with Home and Al "Year of the Cat" Stewart). But for me the work doesn't really say anything about the cultural spectacle of rock music. Instead it plays around with the idea of the art star.
Anderson's first exhibition, 1994's Trace Elements, was accompanied by a video in which a small army of muscle-men wearing gas-masks, jock-straps and industrial over-alls are seen manufacturing, installing and appreciating (actually, masturbating to) the artworks in the gallery. Anderson's use of video to recontextualize his work brilliantly complicates the relationship between the artist, the artwork, and the viewer. It's a good thing Clement Greenberg is dead — this is visual art at its most theatrical, the artist replacing himself with the iconic stand-ins of stud/industrial army and rock star.
American art often seems obsessed with questions about how the macho presence of the artist is passed on to his artworks — reducing it to balls, integrity, and aura. And even when integrity has given way to irony, we still want our art stars' irony-laced work to have traces of his testosterone-soul. This leads to the romance of the abject, in which the artist creates a loser persona which, magically, can have all the privilege of the old-model masterful art star.