Pop projects: The video verisimilitude of Jillian Mayer
By Rachel Galvin
Miniature moments blended and choreographed, pop imagery catapulted at the audience with the beat of the music − the artwork created by performance artist Jillian Mayer focuses on today's fast-paced world's technological immersion. It blends together hopes and dreams with harsh realities. It projects the ideal versus the mundane, happiness versus fear, peace versus war, expectations versus reality.
Her pieces make one ponder the influence of television and the Internet on our mental state. How do constantly shifting images of the world change our perceptions and our ability to focus and understand a story in long form? Using this modern-day medium, Mayer has folded together minute segments of images into a storyline, teaching through pointillism as if our brains only understand staccato sound bites, rather than an entire symphony. Today's students want crib notes, cheat sheets, summaries. They have no time or patience to read an entire novel, especially if it does not interest them. Luckily, they don't have to. There is always a shortcut.
This phenomenon is played up in many of Mayer's works, along with the fact that today's youngsters, especially, want constant visual stimulus. In the short film The Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke, Mayer tells the story of legendary rapper-turned-mayoral-candidate Luther Campbell (best known for being a part of controversial hip hop band 2 Live Crew) in mixed media, interspersing art forms with live action. The film, based on the 1962 film La Jetee, which was told in black-and-white pictures, is created through frame by frame snapshots of video, pictures and art. Accepted to the Sundance Film Festival and SXSW (South By Southwest), among other festivals, this film is a unique way of capturing a story. Produced by Borscht Corp. and Rakontur, the film stars Luther Campbell.
For artistic inspiration, Mayer also likes to take a look at the structure of the television sitcom, influenced by programs that were on when she came home from school, such as Full House and Home Improvement.
“I am interested in sitcoms, the family structure, the 24-minute problem, the bond between cast members. I am interested in the entertainment and acting industry, the process a [story or show] goes through. How it gets on air, stays on air. It has to be based on stereotypes, to give something people can understand and identify with. You hope to become the character, the prom queen …”
In a new project on display until August 12 at the Bass Museum in Miami, she explores the possibility of getting rid of the Internet. The web project, called Erasey Page, features Mayer as a friendly greeter on the interactive site who welcomes the viewer to erase the World Wide Web site by site as a way for better living.
Mayer's need to entertain started at a young age.
“My entire life has been making things and performing. I used to charge my family to watch me perform for a nickel or M&Ms,” she said. “I was always in creative camp or musical theater growing up.”
She went to a magnet school for photography and would later study art in college. Everything in her life has centered on the visual medium, capturing images of the world around her.
Screencap from "I am your Grandma" video
| The ability to embrace pop culture and modern communication formats like YouTube has propelled her into the spotlight. Her |
I Am Your Grandma video on YouTube went viral with over a million and a half hits. With a creepy computerized voice, a cacophony of masked characters (played by Mayer) appear and disappear on the screen, contorting, waving and smiling at the camera, making the baby, which she also plays with a freaky baby mask, very unhappy. She came up with this idea when a relative began showing family trees, which she had traced back to the 1700s. This led her to think about the concept of legacies. She also looked at the phenomenon of YouTube and the way even a cat “doing something interesting” goes global. She wondered if something could be designed that would have that same sort of effect.
“So much content is designed for mass appeal. I was wondering if an artist can design something that could compete with all other media and go viral,” she said.
Exploring the concept of desires versus reality earned Mayer a 2011 South Florida Cultural Consortium Visual and Media Artist Fellowship award of $7,500 with pieces such as Scenic Jogging, which was one of three films she submitted. In this video artwork, she runs as if being chased through dark night city streets, but peaceful gardens, green grass, docile bridges and more are projected on the walls behind her making it look as if she may be running there instead, as if in her mind, she wishes she could be there. But this dreamscape is only in her head. It is a fantasy. In actuality, she intended the piece to be not about wish fulfillment, but about the futility of the chase.
The fellowship award helped her to purchase more supplies and continue to live as an artist. Mayer, who studied at Florida International University, did not always think of art as a career. In fact, she didn't even think it possible. It wasn't until she started getting recognition in college and one of her pieces was placed in a museum that she realized an art career could be an option. She was accepted to Optic Nerve – the annual short video art film festival presented by the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in North Miami − and went on to be one of the 25 winners of the Guggenheim Video Biennial YouTube Play contest with Scenic Jogging; it was one of 125 videos selected out of 23,000.
As she began working as an artist, much like many artists, her themes and media transformed over time. Long before the mixed media collage concepts she created through video, she began in 2D and installations.
“The work you make when you are in college is really different from what you do later on. It shifted because it wasn't really relevant,” she said.
In addition to creating her own works, she also enjoys collaborating with others.
“Collaboration is the best,” she said. “You get to bounce ideas. Everyone's knowledge base is irreplaceable. Whoever I am collaborating with is the best.”
Right now, she is in the midst of creating a band called Post Modem, which will also explore all things pop, and is working on an artist book for Name Publications.
“I don't like to stay stagnant. When I get bored with one thing, it's nice to know there are other things to do. There are so many choices you can make ... It can be challenging,” she said.
Mayer, who was born in Broward County and has lived in Broward or Miami-Dade counties throughout her life, currently resides in a new art residency in downtown Miami called Legal Art. This live/work studio is filled with artists from many fields, including filmmakers, writers, dancers and visual artists.
When she is not working in her studio, she is creating music with friends or spending time with her Chihuahua, Shivers. To find out more about Jillian Mayer's projects, visit www.jillianmayer.net.