Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Jen Davis, Eleven Years @ Clamp Art

There is a super powerful Nan Golden picture about the relationship between people in abusive relationships, where Golden is lying in bed looking back in fear at her physically violent boyfriend Brian who is shirtless and sits smoking sitting on the edge of her bed. It took me getting older and seeing the picture a couple thousand times to catch Golden’s picture of Bruce at an earlier, happier time in their relationship on the wall above the bed. And even longer before it occurred to me that in all likelihood the camera is on a tripod at the end of the bed. She is visibly grasping something under the pillow, possible a cable release? So no matter how intimate this picture is, Nan knows exactly when it’s going to be taken, and is on some level playing to the camera. It’s a moment of fiction that conveys a very real thing in her life.

I once accompanied a bunch of community college students on a visit to Jen Davis’s studio. She did an amazing and extremely personal artist talk where she was very candid and open about her fears and insecurities about herself and her body. It was powerful and gave me a greater appreciation for her work. I grew up a stocky kid, and as an adult, I fluctuate between thirty to forty pounds lighter than I was at the end of high school. So I have a certain degree of insecurity about my weight and a little bit of affinity for Davis’s subject matter. The show at Clamp Art covers eleven years where, in the arc of the work, Davis loses weight and gains a significant other. The pictures tend to be a window into some very intimate and revealing moments where Davis is always in front of the camera. Weight loss or not, the work seems to strive to portray a well-rounded woman who carried a certain sadness but isn’t defined by her size. There is a confidence in Davis at the foot of a bed with the bottom half of man in his underwear running off the opposing side of the frame or even a mild playfulness in the swish of the bottom of a blue nightgown, even reaching a degree of transcendence in a small pool in a green house.

However, as much as I’ve enjoyed the work at times, the pictures don’t affect me as much as I would think. There is something about the pictures that I wish touched me more than they do. At times, I feel the pictures are so well-made that there is a level of artifice to the images, where they stop being the inner fears of someone I’ve met once or twice, and become pictures of someone expressing their inner fears in a piece of art. That level of unintentional distance makes the picture more emotionally safe for me than it probably should be. But that being said, the bluish discoloring in her body while she dried off on the edge of tub or the looking up at the order window of a late night hot dog stand hit me hard and made my heart heavy, especially the late night hot dog stand. It’s an odd thing to take to heart, but it’s so specific, I relate to it. I feel the shame for having been in that same place, and it’s a hell of a thing when art gets you feeling stuff, especially unpleasant things.

Through Jul. 3rd


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