FoCus out of sync Words by Pablo Larios Dep play the



FoCus out of sync Words by Pablo Larios Dep play the
Larios, Pablo. "Slip-ups, Slippages and Double Entendres." Kaleidoscope (Winter 2013/14): 44-49 [ill.]
main theme
out of sync
Words by
Pablo Larios
plays with
their altern
Deploying an unsettling plurality of disembodied voices, Jordan Wolfson
plays with the disconnection of the visual and the aural to lend his works
their alternating intimacy and alienation.
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Moments before the cut to commercial, the child realizes
this cartoon is not actually for him at all. it’s for his parents,
or older sister, or perverted uncle. Despite the friendliness of
onomatopoetic dings and dongs, and boings and bangs and
gongs, somewhere a mushroom cloud of crisis goes off, and the
child’s naive little technicolor bubble is broken by something
outside. obviously, it doesn’t help that this outside is smiling
and laughing and waddling comfortably in the vast, ultimately
unfunny realm of the joke. the illusory levity of an animation’s
horny bunny, or semi-racist lip, or flying anvil, or ADHD sound
effect loop, or phallic, Freudian banana slip, only adds insult
to injury. the smiles that were once benign turn menacing,
the people stop laughing and everyone gets a little older,
a little more fucked up. Maybe he shouldn’t have stayed
up this late. it’s the primal scene, just after prime time.
Whose line is this anyway?
the mental crisis has a structural affinity with the animation. Cartoons like to hyperbolize conflict while they flatten it,
rendering brutality ineffectual the moment it cuts closest to the
bone. the neurosis, like the cartoon character, will always come
back, always repeat itself. Which really makes everything a bit
more brutal, as it gives carte blanche to the kinds of sociopathy
normalized by the pink patina of hyperbolized, happy illusion
that we associate with the comic, the cartoon, the caricature and
the sound effect. What links the psychic crisis to the animation
is the fact that both are attempts to grapple with, and repiece,
the composite illusions produced by sequences of smaller illusions—lies, dissimulations or piecemeal renderings. For the
integrative illusion of the animation series, substitute the disintegrative reality of the mental breakdown.
What is the copy of Vogue paged through with patient
neurosis throughout Jordan Wolfson’s Animation, Masks (2011)
but a kind of frustrated flip-book? A flip-book, that is, of commercial and sexual fantasy, the contents of a banally dirty mind
spliced into cross-sections, then bound in magazine form? if the
Gestalt effect of a flip-book is to produce a whole that really
consists of fragments, then a mental breakdown is the reverse:
a shattering of the psychic mirror, a mirror which was always
already an illusion anyway—the mirror “stage,” under chintzy
stage lights and with bad actors, more like puppets than actual
humans. And like any trauma, the characters keep coming back
from the dead, which was less like death than sleep, or repression, or like looking away from the screen for a few moments
because of how gross and true everything seemed.
the three animations Wolfson has issued during the past
half-decade—Con Leche (2009), Animation, Masks (2011) and
Raspberry Poser (2012)—are not naive works. the works are
distinct in their imagery and formal makeup—collage, found
images, voiceover, animation are all used and toyed with, in a
mini-progression from 2D to 3D. themes do repeat, abstract
and nebulous as they are when put to paper: human relationships, sex in particular; economic exchange, in particular seriality, commodities, and capital; stock types and stereotypes like
the hairy Jew (or Jewish romantic, or orthodox shopkeeper
from the Diamond District in new York), the insecure boyfriend
or girlfriend, the try-hard poser skinhead with a leather jacket
and gauges in his ears, the Diet Coke bottle, and the basic/
stock apartment or city (ikea, Detroit, new York). if this sounds
like an expansive swath of themes, then the crudity of their
abstraction relies on placing the individual units of this series
on a plane of equivalence with one another, so that a discussion
about a sexual relationship is made also to allegorize aesthetic
or economic exchange, and hence art, visual techniques like
appropriations, etc.
While neither
their strength as vid
forms that we comm
Coke bottle images
teenager in Raspber
Raspberry Poser, 2012
(previous) Animation, Masks, 2011
Raspberry Poser, 2012
Raspberry Poser, 2012
While neither naive nor properly sentimental, much of
their strength as videos comes from how they touch on generic
forms that we commonly treat as naive or sentimental: the 2D
Coke bottle images in Con Leche and the self-disembowling
teenager in Raspberry Poser seem to be intended for children
Raspberry Poser, 2012
but aren’t, just as the films seem to be simple, but aren’t—the
way adulthood and relationships and love and capital are the
simplest and at the same time the most complex things (something that applies, too, to that very cliché). in the case of any
animation that’s not really for children (and most cartoons
aren’t, or at least they didn’t start out
that way), the viewer grapples with
crisis and animation simultaneously,
as the 2D or 3D forms disintegrate
and integrate, construct and destruct
themselves and unsettlingly ventriloquize other people’s voices. so, as
we’ve all experienced, the illusion
that what once was the child’s and
only the child’s has, once and for
all, been corrupted, broken open,
given away, become dirty, been sold
off, and brought around again like
something hidden away from the
mind. Which is why the characters
here speak of “adult” issues in the
most strangled, vocabulary-less lexicon of clichés and roundabouts that
make up the measly dictionary of
pat-on-the-back, so-sorry American
emotional intelligence, the one that
teaches adults to speak and behave
like children, turning parents into
their children’s babies, and children
into little perverse adults. Freud
would be beyond pleased to see this
new sexual calculus today. Did i hurt
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Con Leche, 2009
your feelings with that? i’m so, so sorry. We’ll buy you some
new ones. i hurt my feelings, too.
Animation, as we all know (and the illusion of commonality
is important here) is a mode that uses not only children’s forms
but also typecast, paper-thin commercial media (the cereal box,
the illustration in a commercial, a dinosaur balloon outside a
used car dealership, etc). the 2D cartoon Diet Coke bottles
marching militarily albeit ineffectually through empty, recessed
Detroit streets in Con Leche initially appear not only retro, but
almost cute, like something from a cereal box or a ’70s ad or
some commercial appropriation of a Looney tunes figure. the
bottles suggest Warhol as well as a militant capitalism: a Coke
is a Coke is a Coke. they spill milk onto one another, the way
children might during breakfast, but as the robotic voice-over
plows forward—pontificating in a somewhat irritating Wikistyle on recycling, exchange and Marx—the milk stops seeming like milk and more like semen, a predictable schoolboy wet
dream that turns every totem into a dick, and every dick into
a milk bottle. “Can you increase volume?”, says Wolfson’s own
voice, a reference to the female voice actress’s speaking voice
(more irritatingly, she does gets louder), but also to the fluttery
banners posted up everywhere online to increase ejaculatory
potency. such slip-ups, slippages and double entendres appear
throughout the works, half-animatedly, as though the rotisserie, rote rottenness of the jokes were already known to be
clichés. But what other words do we have?
Con Leche’s video track, a 2D hand-drawn animation overlaying photographs of inner-city Detroit is 14:57 minutes, while
the voice, that of an automatonic voice actress, is 22:41 minutes.
these are “looped out of sync,” so that the soundtrack will correspond to a different chunk of the video with each subsequent
viewing. this is no matter: the theme of exchangeability (a key
feature of any serialized cartoon, like the serial commodity, as
well as an explicit topic of the voiceover) formally determines
the disconnection between the visual and the aural that lends
all three works their alternating intimacy and alienation. in Con
Leche the artist’s own voice interrupts the actress’s with directorial mandates, whereas the same “character” contains a dozen
aural characters repeating the same richard Brautigan poem in
Animation, Masks (2011). We can always distrust images, but the
disembodied voice has an intimate intensity that still demands
credulity and compliance, like the Hebraic God. the voiceover is always the voice of the phallus, or God or whatever,
but in the cheapest, chintziest authority, and it’s this cheapness
that the masterclass-giving film guru McKee in Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation (1999)—a film with a voice-over—deplores:
“God help you if you use voice-over in your work, my
friends. ...God fucking help you! it’s flaccid, sloppy writing.
Any idiot can write voice-over narration to explain the thoughts
of a character.”
the voice-over is linked to the stock type as an emblem
of transparent cheapness, a cheapness that Wolfson contrasts
in Animation, Masks with the expensively drab interiors that
form the backdrops to two works, the way a post-2008 condo
feels expensive and drab, and is probably empty, and most
likely caused a bankruptcy or divorce somewhere along the
way. And so, the turning of this figure of reflective omnipotence—the voice—into a plurality of voice-placeholders, out
of sync with what we see, is both psychologically unsettling as
well as conceptually correct (that omnipotence was already only
an illusion, an animation). the stock types that repeat through
the films—the most recent two are in 3D—are intimate-seeming
due to their patina (and subsequent subversion) of ostensible familiarity: the viewer always already knows the Jewish
shopkeeper in Anim
(and hence culturall
immediately familiar
self-serving vocal to
fied “Jew” is made t
of Wolfson and a gir
classical ostranenie—
subversion of these
makes us, like the c
what seemed dear t
turning the tenderes
creature or monster.
ularity, is to lend co
that metamorphose:
that float through A
nodal point between
something we see o
empty. they appear
one who wakes up af
emptied and the par
how such spaces mi
disappearance. the
(rape, AiDs, etc.) a
films, dealing as the
comes under fire, an
also destroy, not en
like to be with me? i
the dancing,
Poser (2012), makin
condo beds and spi
dom, stands for alie
“Love Poem” (1968
Con Leche, 2009
shopkeeper in Animation, Masks, knowing it to be an offensive
(and hence culturally repressed) character type. the viewer is
immediately familiar with the parched, intimate, yet ultimately
self-serving vocal tone of post-coital pillow talk that the typified “Jew” is made to ventriloquize, but that is really the voice
of Wolfson and a girlfriend, or someone posing as such. But like
classical ostranenie—or the making strange of the familiar—the
subversion of these types, as they are brought into conflict,
makes us, like the child above, feel even stranger. it alienates
what seemed dear to us, transforming it into a kind of beast,
turning the tenderest partner next to you in bed into a kind of
creature or monster. the purpose of a stock, as an index of regularity, is to lend consistency to forms that are mobile, images
that metamorphose: the purpose of the stock apartment photos
that float through Animation, Masks is to stage this particular
nodal point between familiar and uncanny. the apartments, like
something we see on Airbnb, are both inhabited-feeling and
empty. they appear as they might look to a subletter, or someone who wakes up after a one-night stand to find the apartment
emptied and the partner already gone for work, or maybe even
how such spaces might look to the police after a murder or a
disappearance. the potentiality of murder or brutal bodily acts
(rape, AiDs, etc.) as the limit of disaffection afflicts all three
films, dealing as they do with ostensible intimacy, and how it
comes under fire, and—one step further—how knowledge can
also destroy, not enable, intimacy: will you tell them what it’s
like to be with me? it’s intimacy at gunpoint.
the dancing, prancing animated Hiv virus in Raspberry
Poser (2012), making its way through children’s rooms and
condo beds and spilling swarmlike and spermlike out of a condom, stands for alienation amidst intimacy. richard Brautigan’s
“Love Poem” (1968) is repeated via multiple recoded human
voices throughout the second half of Animation, Masks: “it’s
so nice / to wake up in the morning / all alone / and not have to
tell somebody / you love them / when you don’t love them / any
more.” in micro-version, the poem enacts the sly misanthropy
that is exacted by the 3D animation, as we see the character
become more aggressive, his ears bigger (just as his nose has
just elongated and swirled around the screen).
And the moment the cartoon veers too closely to actual
taboo, it is instantly pathologized (what could be grosser than
Bart and Marge having cartoon sex?). in the cultural memory,
works of high calibre—the animation Heavy Traffic (1973) or
Felix the Cat, for example—are repressed, or seem icky or
strange or perverted, simply because they do not keep up the
consumerist fantasy that the children’s cartoon is also naive. it
is because of their serial quality that the cartoon never really
gets killed off: Bugs Bunny cannot die, but has died hundreds
of deaths. Yet it is not only seriality, the ur-quality of the commodity, that links up the cartoon character with the form of a
commodity. As (once-literal) “types,” the cartoon character is
allowed into the realm of repetition, appropriation and cameo.
And as stocks, they are indexes of commodification, the ultimate animation, the final, unliftable mask.
All images courtesy of the artist and sadie Coles HQ, London;
David Zwirner, new York; and t293, rome
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the Skin
Words by shama Khanna
Out of Sync
Words by Pablo Larios

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