Happy Holidays everyone! Here's my interview with Jamie Boling.
Bret Payne: The pieces on display at Transmission are part of your "American Girls" series. The imagery in your work has moved away from your past, and we are now witness to your present experiences. Will you tell me about why you've chosen these particular images from Facebook to appropriate?
Jamie Boling: That's kind of a loaded question. Loaded because my relationship to the imagery is complicated. Loaded because my relationship with the technology that delivers the imagery is complicated. And loaded because the questions I believe the images pose are complicated. The implications of their existence is simultaneously disturbing and fascinating to me.
I'm going to tell a story here about how I stumbled onto the images. The story will be long I warn you. I find it impossible to untangle the threads that hold the ideas together and the reasons for making the work aren't so straightforward to me either, so I'll abandon my efforts to be brief and instead work to let some of the ideas unfold by remembering how I found them and what I did with them once I did find them.
I'll start by admitting that I am endlessly fascinated by media in our culture. I am exhausted by it. I am provoked by it. I am inspired by it. I love it and I hate it. Popular culture as I experience it cannot be separated from the influence and infiltration of media. Movies, tabloids, the internet, magazines, music, video games, you name it... I am a product of my experience in the world and am well aware that most of my experiences in the world are informed in some way by the media that surrounds me.
That all being said, I should also admit a few other things: I don't have cable. I don't own a TV. My internet access is random and unreliable. I rarely go to the movies. I am not an avid reader. I don't subscribe to magazines. I can't remember the last time that I bought a CD. And I don't own a video game system. Despite all of these modern deficiencies, I find it amazing that I can still manage to know all the latest news, gossip, technologies, and fashions. Media is so pervasive, the information finds ME... I don't have to go looking for it. My participation in our culture is unhindered by my choices to stand at some distance from the sources of information.
Part of the reason that I choose to live in self-imposed media exile is because I know that technology is my weakness. The first thing that I go for when I find the New York Times is the Best Buy insert. I love technology and all the guilty pleasure it can bring. I pour over the pages as I fantasize about high speed, high definition, high fidelity, megapixels, and terabytes. Limiting my access to media and the devices that deliver information helps me to remain productive. It helps me to maintain the boundaries that allow me to experience the world on my terms. It allows me some distance and some perspective.
There are times however where I binge on media-driven entertainment. When I first encountered the images that became the "American Girls" work, I was totally binging. Going to visit my folks always provides many opportunities to overindulge... all-access on-demand cable, high speed internet, big screen TV ,surround sound, etc. It is all there. Well, I found myself watching a 'Dog the Bounty Hunter' marathon in Dolby surround as I reclined in an over-sized chair with my laptop open as I surfed CNN.com on Wi-Fi. One particular headline caught my eye. It was a story about girls who post pictures of themselves and their friends on a Facebook forum called '30 Reasons Girls Should Call it a Night'. The story talked about this as some sort of phenomenon and about women's groups who were up in arms over the choices these girls were making. The story described some of the scenarios that the photos captured and also posed questions about the potential negative consequences of choosing to put one's self out there in such a way for the world to see. I had to see these pictures. A few clicks later I was opening my own Facebook account and gaining access to the photos I had just read about. These images of so many wasted girls in so many scenarios was like a train wreck that I couldn't look away from. The images were disturbing for sure. But there was also something about them that I found beautiful ,honest ,unapologetic, and profound. I proceeded to look through the stockpile of some 4000 plus images. As I rummaged through, I began to notice that some of the images were visually stunning and formally strong. I was provoked and haunted by them. I immediately started a folder and began pulling the pictures that I responded to in the strongest way. (This activity of collecting imagery from the internet has become a big part of my process.) When I had finished looking through every photo that was posted there, I had amassed close to 350 images. I then began categorizing them (which is another thing I find myself doing a lot... creating a system as I edit.) The categories were as follows: Abstract, Atmosphere, Bathtub, Body Prints, Beer Bong, Cleavage, Glasses, Group Composition, Group of Heads, Hair, Hand Signals, Landscape, Marker, Odalisque, Other, Panties, Passed Out, Shrubs, Sparkle, Toilet, Tongue, Unusual situation, Vogue, Weird Face, and Wrestling. By the time I had finished organizing the images, it was clear to me that I wanted to make a body of work that was based on them. I chose 8 images to begin with.
I began making really large oil paintings in 2005. My first body of large-scale works was based on film stills from the movies I grew up with: Jaws, Easy Rider, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Star Wars, The Three Amigos, The Birds, and Gimme Shelter. Those paintings were of course inspired and informed by my personal experience with them. But they were equally influenced by the monumental French paintings of the 18th and 19th centuries. There is something about the way that a large image asserts itself that I find undeniably powerful. That's the power of painting for me - it's ability to stop time and to pose questions through the image, materials, scale, and surface. I should also note that the inheritance of the history of painting plays a huge role in the way that I process visual information. There is a canon that is a part of my filter. The only way that I could imagine these images from Facebook was as large oil paintings. So I began making them.
While working on American Girls, I have had a lot of time to reflect on why I am so intrigued by the images. In a large part it has something to do with the forum in which they are shared and the fact that these girls CHOSE to post these pictures of themselves. I mean it would be way different if it were a bunch of dudes putting up pictures of drunk girls... it would be way creepier I think. But here are girls posting really incriminating pictures of themselves on a social networking site for anyone to access. I'm not sure if it represents a certain kind of freedom or if it represents foolishness... possibly both. Either way, they are out there, and they are undeniably powerful images. Powerful I think, because they represent something really telling about our culture and about human nature. After I did the film still paintings I began working with imagery pulled from tabloids and the internet. I found myself making this 6ft. x 10ft. painting of Britney Spears getting out of a car as she exposed herself (without panties) to the paparazzi... and the world. I was so curious why she would do it and was so fascinated with the amount of attention that it got in the press, that I was compelled to make a painting of it. I am fascinated with the fascination. I consumed it therefore I was implicated. I am a participant and a bystander. Tabloid culture is such a huge part of American life, that it must say something about who we are. By making the paintings that I make, I am simply trying to understand my own role while documenting this moment and the world that I live in.
I think that it is safe to say that most photographed images now rarely exist as physical things. They are processed,translated, and saved as binary code and are viewed, shared, and stored electronically. The transition from analog to digital has changed the nature of how information is shared and viewed. I can't know for sure, but I imagine that most of the pictures that I looked at on Facebook that day were captured with some sort of digital camera. Then they were downloaded to someone's computer to be viewed and possibly edited and then uploaded to Facebook. By making paintings of these images, I believe that I am able to change the interface. Paint turns these images into something physical. And by making the images into physical objects, it inherently changes the relationship between the viewer and the image. It interrupts the infinite double-click and invites a different kind of navigation,conversation, and reflection.
The longer I look at these images, I see more and more in them. I believe that they are more than simple representations of drunk girls. They represent the time that we live in; they reveal vulnerability, spectacle, indulgence, waste, disorientation, and disaster. They challenge gender roles and long-standing power structures. I believe that there is a lot to be seen in there. Maybe I'm thinking too much, but I don't believe it is too far of a stretch to see these images as an authentic representation of the past decade. They are absolutely a product of our time.