Jordan Wolfson’s Trending Animatronic Artistry is Creepy
Bewildered, nonplussed, with fear and with awe, people are flocking to the David Zwerner Art Gallery in New York City to behold its most recent denizen. A temporary guest until April 19, 2014, this Promethean animatronic, bedizened in a skimpy dress and macabre mask, dances to the beat of a different drummer while attached to a large, equilateral mirror via a shiny and rigid pole. Her steely stare redounds upon the audience as the horrid reflection assaults their minds, and her charcoal black aquiline nose and broad, wrinkled forehead are a stark contrast to the delicate white chin that protrudes from the ghastly mask. From head to toe, this animatronic monstrosity is a paradoxical conundrum that invites people to explore the limits of the human imagination and, perhaps, the metaphorical exploration of human truths.
The animatronic dancer is Jordan Wolfson’s latest creation. Wolfson is broadly known among the artistic community and beyond for his insightful, bohemian, eyebrow-raising creations such as condoms filled with hearts, jolly HIV viruses. and dancing Diet Coke bottles. However, not satisfied with such “run-of-the-mill” creativity, Wolfson set out to create this animatronic tour de force, amusingly titled “female dancer.” It is surprising that Wolfson would grant such an interesting character such a commonplace name.
Like the dancer’s contrasting features, however, it is likely Wolfson is making a statement with such a universal designation.
According to Josh Lieberman, writing for The Science Times, Wolfson said the following when asked about female dancer’s hidden meaning: the doll is the result of an attempt, ‘in a way,’ to explore the gaze, a concept with psychoanalytical roots that is most associated with the feminist notion of gender power imbalance that occurs in film, renaissance painting, and other media when viewers are asked to identify with the male perspective, and hence the objectification of women. What happens when the gaze is held by the sexual object?”
Using Lieberman’s explanation, one can more easily impute artistic sensibility to this seemingly grotesquely insensible aberration. At one point in a video featuring female dancer, the dancer utters the words “I’m getting fat. I’m getting old. And I don’t believe in God.” It is possible, then, that the distorted facial features and body sullied with spots, the opposition between young and old, beautiful and hideous, exemplify the struggle women face to maintain a coherent identity that both they and society can accept. In a patriarchal, sexist society that expects female perfection, aging can relegate women to a social periphery, leaving them searching for a new identity and acceptance. It is apparent that the dancer is attempting to maintain her youthful beauty. However, the dress she wears reveals her physical flaws. She recognizes those flaws yet stares intently into the mirror, and eerily into the eyes of passersby, desperately seeking answers to her predicament. It is unclear if she will ever find those answers.
Like the dancer, millions of other women the world over dance to exactly the same tune. They look at themselves in the mirror as they get old and fat. Without a religious worldview to replace sexist acceptance, they feel like outsiders, lonely robots staring helplessly into the social mirror. They are inextricably connected via the rigid poles of patriarchy and sexism to the unfortunate truth of aging, a truth that they try to escape with a gaze and a dance like the animatronic monstrosity that haunts them.
Of course, the extended analysis is merely one writer’s understanding of the female dancer’s purpose. The beauty of art is that people can use their own subjective experiences to reveal its meaning. Art’s ability to change with the viewer is what makes it so appealing and so lasting. Jordan Wolfson likely hopes that the female dancer will keep people thinking (and fearing) for many more generations. If people, and art, are to stand the test of time, they must find ways to adapt to its sensibilities. Adaptation, as Darwin has argued, is necessary for survival.
Check out the creepy video below and you be the judge!