Screens Series: Jessica Wilson


“Screens Series: Jessica Wilson” continues the New Museum’s Screens Series, a platform for the presentation of new video works by emerging contemporary artists.

Cover Image:

Jessica Wilson, Not Normally At Rest (Part 3, the Musical), 2020. Computer generated animation; 6:57 min. Courtesy the artist and PAGE (NYC)

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Jessica Wilson (b. 1991, New York, NY) creates computer-generated animations that explore the entangled relationships between physical and virtual realms. Mining the vast library of motion data that exists on the internet—bodily movements that have been uploaded by unknown authors around the world—Wilson brings her static objects ‘to life.’ Their meticulously detailed textures and embodied actions appear uncannily habitual, almost automatic. However, underneath their encoded surfaces emerges a composite portrait of human behavior and desire—collective sets of subtle, yet contagious, gesture and emotion.

Smile Driver (2019) follows figures with childlike proportions through a range of movements and experiences both familiar and surreal: wind gently blows through their wispy hair; they arch their bodies backwards; their eyebrow hair grows rapidly to cover their faces; they vigorously wash their hands as if to attempt to eradicate invisible germs. Certain movements they perform, such as a yawn, known to be contagious, might potentially produce similar somatic responses in viewers off-screen. Throughout the video, glitches appear to contaminate the environment, most notably liquid-like lumps that move rapidly under a seemingly hard cobblestone surface, their analogous motions revealing the inherent artificiality and adaptability of digital information.

Created during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the four-part animation Not Normally at Rest (2020) hones in on experiences of isolation and the collective anxiety that has characterized this uncertain time. The subject of the work is an anthropomorphized duplex electrical outlet, which Wilson animates so that the top and bottom “faces” of the outlet are in conversation with one another, their words reduced to computerized speech intonations. As if in a therapy session, the bottom face recounts a series of traumatic experiences to the top face. These traumas include being outfitted with a child-safety plug (Part 1), and receiving an electric shock from a live wire (Part 2). Parts 3 and 4 become increasingly complex, with the bottom face delivering a recitation under a spotlight to the tune of Alphaville’s “Forever Young” (Part 3, The Musical); and the entire outlet becoming unhinged from the wall and visualizing multiples of itself cascading downward (Part 4). As the bottom face works through these experiences of shame and fear, the top face seems to be a source of reassurance and empathy. While the two faces are perceptibly separate entities, we are reminded that together, they comprise a façade, beneath which pulses the same circuitous flow of electrical power that keeps us connected.

“Screens Series: Jessica Wilson” is curated by Margot Norton, Curator.

Jessica Wilson (b. 1991, New York, NY) lives and works in New York. Recent solo exhibitions include “Not Normally at Rest,” Page (NYC), New York (2020); and “Faulty Bulb,” Crush Curatorial, New York (2019). Her works have been included in screenings and film festivals including the International Film Festival, Rotterdam (2020); Global Anesthetics, Athens, Greece (2019); Art Metropole at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Toronto, Canada (2019); and Pioneer Works, New York (2018).

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