fake painting and virtual debris with artist jennifer mehigan
Humour, critique and satire with the Singapore based, Irish born future painting star.
Jennifer Mehigan's work is organised meticulously into a collection .zip of folders on her computer; labelled "old work", "new work" and ordered by year. There's the bubble-font and milky hue of a neon light, "SOFT CORE" next to the tumultuous pinks and blacks of a painting - maybe made by hand, maybe made through software - that would be floor-length if it were physical. But between the fluro tipped pinewood slats beside an LED sign warning "ERRORS" and the simulated embossing of a flushed and framed abstraction next to a shimmering roll of duct tape, it's hard to tell.
"My paintings are all paintings, whether I do it on a computer or not," Mehigan explains over Skype from her base in Singapore, "…but that's not very interesting". An Irish-born artist, graduating in graphic design from Sydney, Australia, and currently doing her Honours in art back on the island she grew up, Mehigan occupies a special position in a highly networked art culture producing work that's in, of and around the internet. "People don't really like to take an interest in me because I'm far away. I'll get messages like, 'hey, I'll see you in Miami next week' and I'm like, 'I live in Singapore'", Mehigan laughs, "so I won't be there".
Timezones and hemispheres aren't the only things that distinguish the artist's work from a largely euro- and US-centred art world, she self-describes as a "surgically-altered / intersex / queer / fat / whatever" person. 'Whatever' is a word that probably best describes Mehigan's approach, not only in its refusal to make a distinction between "painting-painting and fake painting" but in the "glitched or erroneous body" of her lived experience. "A lot of people who've been adding me on Facebook with my new work have been white dudes," says Mehigan about the appeal of a piece presenting grayscale cut outs of featureless male forms and horses heads, or a hench-looking man doing press-ups in a sea of macho muscle. "I'm like, 'What, am I doing something wrong?'"
Mehigan's droll sense of humour and self-consciousness that comes with existing outside the norm permeates all of her work and ideas - whether it's in acknowledging her own privilege in being 'white' and "contributing to the same crap" as her "attractive rich white girl" counterparts or naming the GIF files for rotating, reconfigured gym equipment 'fuckingmachine.gif'. That, along with the dazzling hyper-colour pallette and manic shapes and forms come to characterise much of Mehigan's Tumblr-friendly art is something that the artist has been coming to terms with as her work continues to develop. "I feel like I need to move away from being aesthetically pleasing but I don't know how to do that because of the designer in me", she says about the highly collectible abstract expressionist approach to painting "with a computer" that many of her more successful male counterparts have mastered and she seems to implicitly subvert - basically, by being who she is. "There's been a weird backlash with queer audiences, that are like, 'why are you pandering to a straight gaze?'", says Mehigan about the difficulty of 'making it', "And I'm like, 'I don't think that's what's happening here'. You don't have to do conceptual performance or something to be a queer artist".
Mehigan's work occupies a strange space, straddling satire and serious critique in the literally self-reflexive Material Study II featuring figures in morph suits viewed from multiple perspectives reflected through fragments of glass.
In Virtual Debris an installation of chains, an old tyre, a silver spray-painted drill, a pineapple, are scattered on a Photoshop pixel grid and framed by Mehigan's signature striking splashes of lurid colour on canvas. "Our train system was stolen from Hong Kong. I think the harbour idea was stolen from Sydney and the architecture, like one of the buildings, was stolen from the the Opera House. I think the school I go to is like literally a plaigiarised copy of a library in Copenhagen," says Mehigan about the cityscape that she describes as the "Tumblr of architecture" still surrounding her at home. "Singapore's aesthetic is very…", she adds before a brief pause "…ridiculous. Maybe that's how it's influenced me. They're like, 'You know what, we're just going to steal a part of everything else and make a crazy hybrid'. And I'm like, ''Same'."
Text Steph Kretowicz