Nearly three months have passed since Beaubourg 268’s inaugural event This Ain’t A Happenin: Transient Acts & Documents, and still participants have sent me emails asking about Jessica Gomula’s installation work. Re-remembering the event at the time, the unexpected arrival of old friends, nervous meetings with new friends, performance artist Josue Rivera’s surprising act in between Violence & Theatricality, remembering the sarcasm of the ones on the right and the annoyed scepticism of the ones on the left, demanding for a newer and higher synthesis of Art, remembering the uneaten hamburgers and red meat in the washroom, remembering the laughter and whispered gossip besides the outdoor fire and transluscent phosphorescent videoart, remembering the moans and groans of Jessica Gomula’s audio and video installation, etc, etc. Maybe it was all just a wild dream. That night and related questions are the subject of this interview.
Many of the sorts of questions raised by This Ain’t A Happenin can be distilled in Jessica Gomula’s “peep show” video installation. Part of the intrigue, for many spectators, was attempting to figure out what was going on on the opposite side of Gomula’s occluded openings (in one passage a woman is doing aerobics, while in another a woman is presumably performing fellatio, etc). And then there were the participants who simply enjoyed the spectral, haunted environment Jessica was able to create; the darkness of the space and the pornographic murmurs, coupled with the projection of the slowly revealing neon lights of strip clubs and topless bars.
BEAUBOURG 268: Can you say a few words about the production of this installation? Perhaps something about your creative process?
JESSICA GOMULA: My work often begins with observation of our digital media world, and coalesces around images and scenes that I find absurd or contradictory. Projects evolve metaphorically and literally from there. Both of these projects reveal a tendency in my work to allude to specific sexual activities, without actually revealing any.
B268: What was your impression of Beaubourg 268?
JG: I think the arts collective is a great way to go in our current arts atmosphere of multidisciplinary post modern environments. It reminds me very much of the goals of the 1972 Womanhouse in L.A., or of the artist borough of Chelsea in the early 19th century.
B268: According to your statement on Liquid Neon (http://liquidneon.net/) your work “is an interactive investigation of the sexual aspects of our culture. [Your] work intends to be direct, whether the result is imagery of nude bodies and sexual paraphernalia, or purely semantic in nature. [You] seek to generate an intelligent dialogue about sex by combining interactivity, playfulness, and humor.” Can you expand on this?
JG: If you can laugh about it, then you can talk about it, and dialog is a very important part of examining our own behaviors.
B268: I was struck by the title of your research blog (http://jgomula.blogspot.com/): “I make research not art[.]” I feel a similar way about my work; the endless debates over what is and isn’t art bores me. What’s your take on research? Do you have a working definition of art?
JG: This title is a play on one of my favorite blogs – we make money not art. Research is always in the beta phase, and not as locked into a single concrete thesis – much of my work involves a randomizing aspect, and so it is also not to be too firmly pinned down to a single concrete representation. So much of our lives are in constant flux and endless fluid revisions. The masterpiece, as a single ideal is no longer relevant in our remix culture.
B268: At the beaubourg event we talked a little about your project concerning a four-part video response to Modesto’s ranking as the most unlivable city in the country. At the time your project reminded me of other para-utopian art projects concerned with the reimagining of cities such as post-9/11 New York and post-Katrina New Orleans. Can you tell us a little about the status of the project thus far?
JG: Currently the films are scheduled to be screened as part of the 2010 Modesto International Architecture Festival. The project’s next phase, which will be enacted this Fall, is a ARG built from the framework of Jane McGonigal‘s EVOKE.
B268: You are the professor of new media at California State University, Stanislaus. How has teaching influenced or shaped your research?
JG: I work with my students on the development and realization of my current project, Building Imagination, so teaching and research are intimately related and reflexive.
B268: You are an active member of the inter-media performance group Double Vision in San Francisco. How would you describe the art scene in San Francisco? Or if this is too broad of a question – how would you describe the immediate kinds of activities you and your colleagues have pursued?
JG: Colorfully. DOUBLE VISION’s immersive performances, Evolutionary Patterns and the Lonely Owl, are a series of events during which the audience roams freely, exploring a multitude of performances, environments, and installations. The artists strike a balance between unity, complexity, chaos and ritual. My own installations with DOUBLE VISION often involve transparent fabric walls flooded with video projections and processed live video.
B268: You’re friends with the video/installation artist Gina Clark. Though her art school background comes out of Cal Arts – you both seem to share the sentiment that “our sexual culture deserves dedicated, creative exploration.” How do you understand the relation between her work and your own work?
JG: Our work is well aligned conceptually, and we have collaborated together in the past on a VJ performance in which live drawings and performances were mashed-up with an animated love story. Slippery Dreams was presented at Climate Theatre’s Hypnagogia by Sean Clute, Gina Clark, and myself.
B268: Could you discuss whether or how far it would be right to see the idea of ‘transgression’ in your work being elaborated? In particular, some feminists have argued that the use of pornographic elements as a sign of transgression is merely a reproduction of the non-transgressive mainstream. Where do you sit on this issue?
JG: Working in a post modern climate, I have always been fascinated by the multitude of images surrounding me, and I have always seen it as part of my artistic freedom to cull them all together into a new context. While I agree that much of my work is deliberately open-ended enough to allow for different viewpoints and interpretations, I also believe that my sex-positive feminist stance is visible in the underlying structure of the works.
B268: Which writers, artists and thinkers have been significant in your own development?
JG: Ann Hamilton, Joshua Davis, Gloria Steinem, Liz Phair, Song of Solomon, Womanhouse, Girl Talk.