THERE’S something slightly haunting about the work of Jennifer West – the Los Angeles-based artist about to make Sheffield’s S1 Artspace the venue for her first UK solo exhibition.
Opening on February 3, Aloe Vera & Butter includes six new and recent videos.
“West approaches film-making like an alchemist, experimenting and transforming the surfaces of blank film stock, shot footage, found photographs or off-cuts from Hollywood blockbusters into abstract kaleidoscopes of colour, allusion and direct reference,” says the Brown Street gallery.
On the likes of her Dawn Surf Jellybowl film the result appears almost post apocalyptic, nostalgic dreamed memories. And the results don’t come easily, it seems.
Deeply rooted within the history of experimental film, West works directly on to 16, 35 and 70mm film leader, subjecting the surface to a range of materials, chemicals and substances that she describes as ‘marinades’.
These include anything from nail varnish, mascara, pizza and whiskey to cigarette smoke, LSD, lithium and urine, applied directly to the film where natural properties alter the celluloid in unpredictable ways.
The exhibition title refers to substances West used to produce her 2008 Topanga Beach House film. This was inspired by the local authority destruction of homes located on Topanga Beach where the artist grew up and an area associated with an artistic and bohemian community.
In a final act of resistance before the remaining houses could be dismantled, residents decided to burn down their own homes.
Using archive photographs, West hole-punched the places where the buildings were located and applied aloe vera and butter – substances often used to treat burns – to the images, which naturally left their mark. Frame by frame, the video begins to reveal the places where the homes were located so the past collides with the present, a mix of reality and fantasy.
West’s films are transferred on to video and projected at an immersive scale, making them appear as psychedelic visual trips, steeped in traces of lived experience, the material residue of action, history, desire and the popular culture of the Californian West Coast. Even with the treatment they remain highly referential, even documentary in nature.
“Film goes through a performative process and it becomes the residual marks from that experience,” says West.
Heavy Metal Sharks Calming Jaws Reversal Film, one of the most recent contributions, was inspired by a friend who posted an article online about how an Australian shark trainer claimed the creatures were calmed by heavy metal music.
West bought off-cuts of the Jaws movie from eBay and treated the prints directly with actions and materials associated with heavy rock bands: black dye enriched with iron, zinc and magnesium applied directly to the film with hair in a head-banging fashion.
Other subjects touched on by her include road-trips, camping, skating, rites of passage, Hollywood, music and physical improvement.
Images and experiences engrained into the cultural consciousness are reinterpreted through West’s interest in how histories and events are repeated, re-invented and re-interpreted for contemporary society. She presents an alternative take on many well-trodden subjects.
“I make sure each work has a tension set up between the subject – the materials and actions – and the images in order to produce a new thought about it or to make contradictory associations,” she says.