11 . 02 . 17 – 25 . 03 . 17
As his first solo show, Pushing Thirty is what Jody Paulsen describes as a “millenial approach to becoming an adult”. Beneath its playful veneer lies a nuanced meditation on aging that situates time as a material commodity inherent in Jody’s production.
Born in 1987, Jody will be 30 in October this year. He is the definition of a millenial; the generation born after 1982 who came of age at the dawn of the new millennium. Yet in this show we do not see a sentimental coming of age story, but are rather presented with Jody’s means of understanding the contemporary culture that informs his practice. “I’ve never thought about making work that looks laboured” Jody confesses, suggesting that his interests lie more in the intersecting processes of patterning and composition. In retrospect however, he adds that the works themselves reveal the “love of hours of solitude” evident in their production.
“These represent the past five years of my twenties” he says speaking of his enormous collages; “listening to podcasts, watching series and glueing spots”. To grasp the productive impulses that sit beneath the pop sensibilities of his large felt-based assemblages one can begin by tracing the development of Jody’s early work at the Michaelis School of Fine Art at UCT where he majored in printmaking.
His early exploration in repetition and multiples gave rise to the overriding sense of pattern that has come to be a distinctive marker of his work. Jody cites Cameron Platter and Julia Rosa Clark as early influences which helped him realise the potential of “installative ceremony” in his arrangements. Unlike his peers who at the time were experimenting with a clean, minimalist aesthetic, his early work presents the beginnings of an ongoing affair with maximalism where the material spills off the surface of each work, exploding into the gallery in a chaotic revelry that celebrates colour, composition and pattern.
This genesis is an important part of Pushing Thirty because it orientates the thematic relationship between time and material that underscores the exhibition. But Jody is quick to point to the fact that the process is controlled “because otherwise you’re throwing away your time”.
Therein lies the key to the exhibition; Jody’s maximalism is about controlling the expression of his materials and not letting them chaotically dictate the direction in which the work moves. Now, at the brink of Pushing Thirty his material labour comes to reflect the consequence of time. It is not the subject of this new body of work, but rather the means that Jody uses to situate himself at its center.
To merely see these works in the terms set by their surface would be to undermine the socio-political nature of their content. Instead it is necessary to see them as the extension of how Jody locates “the self as fictional character” within the exhibition as a whole. In Emotional Ninja, Jody uses this protagonist to explore the way in which “millenials approach adulthood” and “relationships in your twenties” where “you fall harder but at the end you don’t really change”. Here we are confronted with an inner voice that parodies the millenial experience as a way of making sense of the emotional conflicts of youth.
Jody is careful to emphasise that these works are “honest” more than “confessional”. “Maybe you can call it sharing… but it’s not Tracey Emin” he says, adding that “I’m not the only 29 year old watching Netflix, mainlining Afghan Kush, sometimes afraid to go outside” referencing the title piece of this show.
This is an important distinction because it presents the flip-side of millenials’ relationship to social media where “people are far more confessional on Instagram or Facebook than they are in real life”. Jody sees the work as an embodiment made in the “spirit of now” that reveals a parody of himself as the “perennial millineal” coming to terms with living and aging through this mediated existence.
These are elaborate memes coded by experience and imbued with personal significance.
“I’m not a political artist” Jody maintains, “but sometimes I read The Economist or meet somebody that sends me on a tangent”. Evidencing this is his series of illustrated coat of arms, which subvert the fascist LGBT laws of countries such as Uganda and Jamaica. Appropriating these insignia, Jody turns them into a utopian vision of a “homotropical” paradise that celebrates rather than derides sexual differences.
Similarly, the celebration of ‘the self’ finally comes together in his series of photographic compositions where the audience is given a glimpse of Jody’s body in the flesh. Adorned by his hand-cut fabrics, in a felt filled jungle, we see his figure abstractly performing the character described in his textual murals.
Inhabiting the space between object and subject, his form now physically embodies the work as a living testament of time. Pushing Thirty is the first installment in the chronicle of a self professed millenial and his negotiation with the boundaries of age and the limits of making.
Text by Matthew Partridge
View artist page: Jody Paulsen