- Jordan Wolfson born 1980
- Metal, polyurethane elastomer, motors, video, sound and software, interactive
- Overall display dimensions variable
- Purchased with funds provided by The Joe and Marie Donnelly Acquisition Fund 2018
Colored Sculpture 2016 is a moving sculptural work that operates on a cycle lasting around fifteen minutes. At its centre is a sculptural figure of a boy resembling illustrations of Huck Finn, the 1940s television character Howdy Doody, and the MAD magazine character Alfred E. Neuman, dating from 1954: cartoon-like in its modelling, the figure of the boy has red hair and freckles, and wears an old-fashioned green shirt and blue shorts. The boy’s body parts are made of Polyurethane Elastomer (an industrial material that is very resilient to impacts) and are connected by short chains. The figure is attached to three much longer chains linked to its head, an arm and a leg. These chains are connected to motors that run along tracks at the front and back of a square framework that is mounted to the ceiling. This framework (made of lengths of scaffold-like tubing) is held up with four columns at its corners, so that the framework delineates a cubic void. Large speakers are positioned at the base of each column. When the motors run along the tracks, or winch up or release the chains while still, the figure moves around the space. The figure is hoisted up, dropped to the floor, and swung slowly and fast through the air, back and forth from the front of the square and through the volume of the cube, the pace of movement varying over the course of the cycle. At times the figure will be suspended upside down, so that when it falls, the ‘head’ crashes to the ground first. Sometimes lengths of one or more of the chains will smash to the ground alongside and over the figure. After a period of time, the chains leave black marks on the ground as a kind of drawing that registers the movement of the sculpture.
The figure’s eyes are two small screens. These screens are fitted with facial recognition technology meaning that the eyes can follow the movement of people in the space in front of them, as well as playing pre-programmed animations. The sculpture can track the presence of around twenty people at any one time. When the screens display animated eyes, the figure’s gaze contrasts with the ‘cute’ innocence of the rest of its body.
Sound plays a crucial role in Colored Sculpture. For most of the cycle, the sound comes from the motors winching up the chains and moving along the tracks; the sound of the figure and the chains crashing to the floor also plays an important part. Wolfson has also incorporated appropriated music into the work, as he has done in a number of his video works; in this case, he has used Percy Sledge’s When a Man Loves a Woman (1966), playing the song at a startlingly high volume, starting and cutting it abruptly. There is also a recording of Wolfson’s voice that seems to emanate from the figure; he reads a text addressed to a listener addressed as a lover or victim, enumerating what he will do to that person: ‘Two to kill you, three to hold you, four to bleed you, five to touch you, six to move you.’
In Colored Sculpture Wolfson deliberately selected a title evoking a tradition of abstraction, yet the use of a figure in ‘discomfort’ connects this work to a different strand in the history of American sculpture and performance. Bruce Nauman’s early studio films such as Walking in an Exaggerated Manner around the Perimeter of a Square, 1968, are one precedent for the square framework in which Colored Sculpture operates; Nauman’s later video installation Clown Torture, 1987 anticipates Wolfson’s exploration of the unnerving relationship of violence and innocence. Wolfson also draws from the work of Paul McCarthy (born 1945), specifically the performance Bossy Burger 1991, staged at the Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Los Angeles, during which he wore an Alfred E. Neuman mask and, trapped within an architectural space, splattered himself with ketchup and mayonnaise; and the installation The Garden 1991–2 which features a male motorised mannequin. In its exploration of the uncanny effects of the mannequin, Wolfson’s work also links to Mike Kelley’s research for his project The Uncanny, staged at Sonsbeek 93 and reconfigured for Tate Liverpool in 2004.
Wolfson’s use of new technologies, including facial recognition software, in Colored Sculpture is ambitious and intended to complicate the work’s psychological impact. Viewers seem to be invited to project feelings onto the child-like figure and associate the purely mechanical repeated swinging and crashing of the sculpture with concepts such as ‘punishment’, ‘abuse’ or ‘violence’; however, all responses are complicated by the fact that when it looks at the audience and apparently speaks, the figure appears unaffected by this treatment and, rather than seeming a victim, comes across as a menacing adult.
Colored Sculpture was first shown at David Zwirner, New York in May 2016. Later that year it was exhibited at the LUMA Foundation in Arles and at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. It is an edition of three, of which Tate’s copy is the second.
Marion Ackermann (ed.), Jordan Wolfson, exhibition catalogue, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf 2011.
Aram Moshayedi (ed.), Jordan Wolfson: Ecco Homo / lL Poseur, exhibition catalogue, Redcat, Los Angeles 2013.
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