Ever heard that green M&M’s and mezcal worms are aphrodisiacs or that Kurt Cobain used to dye his hair with red Kool-Aid? Urban myth or ’absolute truth’ the backdrop to these apocryphal stories is contemporary American culture. In using the products that provoked these stories in the development process of her films and referencing the stories that have heightened their appeal in the film titles, Jennifer West’s new work explores how the cultural framing of such myths have entered the common consciousness. The permutations that are referenced in this dual process are sensually explored through the textual layers that make up her films.
‘Electric Kool-Aid and the Mezcal Worm’ brings together four new films by West that continue her exploration of the “psychosensual”, a sensual investigation of the psyche through visual means. With film captions that read like experiments in alchemy, West lists everyday solvents, alcohol, energy drinks, make-up and perfume as ingredients in the development process. The film stock, negative and leader used by West have been subjected to multiple physical manipulations, the celluloid sometimes set alight, cooked, skateboarded over and scribbled on. The resulting films depict mesmerizing streams of colour bound together with footage taken by West of autobiographical events or recreations of found material. Installed together in the gallery West’s films play off each other, both in content and in their physical presence, within the gallery. This physical quality is accentuated through the use of a mirrored prism that shifts the projected frame of the work so that the projection appears as if it has ‘lost its corner’.
The exhibition is centered upon West’s new 35mm film, ‘Electric Kool-Aid Fountain Swimming Film’ (35mm movie negative submerged in LA’s Mulhulland Fountain, dripped with Kool-aid and liquid LSD…*). In this film, the hallucinogenic brightly coloured drips of Kool-Aid and liquid LSD run over filmed images of West and her friends swimming at night in the red and orange glowing fountain, an iconic image of Los Angeles. The narrative suggested by the title evokes the urban mythologies surrounding Kool-Aid whilst the images recall cultish ritual, libertine activities, laser shows, raves and the film, Spinal Tap. This is the first film that West has shot using 35mm film and will be the third film in a trilogy of films evoking libertine American west coast culture with the backdrops of hippie nudist hot springs and skinnydipping in the ocean. The final three films in the exhibition were made using 70mm, allowing a greater command of detail and a much faster speed with frames running through the film gate at 398 perforations per second. ‘Jam Licking & Sledgehammered Film’ (70MM film leader covered in strawberry jam, grape jelly..) references the “performative” remnant of the iconic Kaprow piece ‘Household’, ‘Seriously Film’ (70MM film leader soaked in Viagra and MSG..) and ‘Green M&M’s & Mezcal Worm Film’ (70MM film leader with a mezcal worm..).
West was born in Topanga Canyon, California, USA and lives and works in Los Angeles. She has exhibited widely, including solo exhibitions at Transmission Gallery, Glasgow (2008) and White Columns, New York (2007) Museum exhibitions include Tate St Ives (2007) touring to CAPC Musee d’Art Contemporain, Bordeaux; Henry Art Gallery, Seattle (2008); The Drawing Centre, New York (2008); MOCAD, Detroit (2007) and ZKM Museum for New Media, Karlsruhe (2007). West has an upcoming solo show at MARC FOXX (2009) and will also be participating in: Now You See It, Aspen Art Museum, Aspen (2008), Angles of America, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, Illinois (2008) and an exhibition on the influence of Nirvana’s music in art at the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle (2010).