BR But some things come back. The film with the endless waves taken from Walt Disney movies, Dreaming of the dream of the dream (2004), has the Hollywood frame in common with some newer work. Can you talk about that context a bit?
JW Well, that earlier work somehow related to Female Figure (2014). I thought the idea of people creating the representation of water was very interesting; there’s this formalist object that people are rendering, making representational images of. It also had these Jungian links to the unconscious, death, drowning—all these things that water carries around—but the fact that human beings were so obsessed with creating this representation was beautiful to me. And then with Female Figure, I was interested in how the representation of the female form—like a drawing of something, a sculpture of something, a rendering of something— could be equally rousing. I was fascinated by that; I’ve been deeply fascinated by that since adolescence. For example, I used to be obsessed with this kind of pornography that was comic pornography. I remember thinking, isn’t it interesting how human beings can be aroused and moved so strongly by representation? Especially when it’s not even real—it’s translated and re-represented through another sentient being, for another sentient being. But I was never interested in looking at Hollywood as other artists have. I think there was this movement in art where you’d look at cinema, look at it as this meta-representation of some kind of cultural unconsciousness.
This was a trend in contemporary art from approximately the mid-‘90s to I don’t know when, maybe 2005. There were a lot of artists who believed that cinema had mutated into this indifferent unconsciousness of contemporary life. If that kind of art was made today, it wouldn’t be looking at cinema—it’d be looking at Instagram and Facebook, looking at social media as a new representation of this social unconsciousness. But I was never interested in that kind of thinking. I was interested in individuals. It has to do with human beings: our brains, our bodies, what’s preprogrammed.
BR Interesting. “Pre-programmed.”
JW It’s the same as when someone sets up a fake fox in their yard, frozen in a pose, to scare away geese. Through representation, this fake, plastic, totally inanimate fox will still create anxiety for the geese, and they’ll stay away from that area. It’s the same thing as people getting aroused by representation of a certain physical form. It’s primitive, which is really the difference between those two works. Female Figure is primitive, and Dreaming of the dream of the dream is maybe more analytical.
BR It is interesting because in Female Figure, there is actually no attractiveness. It’s quite dirty, in a way.
JW It’s dirty, but it has the mask. The mask is about inverting that sense of titillation, inverting that primitive sense of arousal, almost defuncting. The arousal could be tangentially or even directly related to fertility, and the mask could be tangentially or directly related to infertility. You could say the witch maybe represents the infertile woman. So with a woman wearing the witch’s mask, these two things sort of charge each other as opposites charge each other, creating a kind of distortion.
BR Can we talk about Animation, masks (2011)? The directness of addressing people in your work is quite prominent, but with Animation, masks, I find it extreme, how uncomfortable one is when presented not only with representation, but with the reading of representation. It’s interesting because it distracts somehow from the direct and brutal content you’re talking about.
JW A few years before I made Animation, masks, there was this project I was working on. I think you saw it—it was two people in the park, and they’re looking directly at you. I realized that if the viewer had eye contact with the subject of the artwork, then it somehow created this formal bridge that allows almost any kind of content to pass through indiscriminately. So with Animation, masks, the question was, how do you look at this character, then how do you take away the objectivity of looking at this character, and how do I have these two different versions of content travel through to the viewer? But I never actually thought of him as a “character”—I thought of him always as a sculpture. I always saw the work in terms of its sculptural qualities.