Interview #376: Jennifer Mehigan
24 year old artist/deisgner Jennifer Mehigan is based in Singapore. Mixing digital and traditional methods of painting, sculpture and other processes, Jennifer’s works often subvert our treatments and assumptions toward different mediums. We talk about manifestations of artificiality, identity politics, cyber dimensions and Rhinoceros Hornbills. Yes, all very relevant topics.
Lee Chang Ming: I feel like your work aims at subverting established process of creating and it manifests in a layered abstract aesthetic which plays on textures, colours and space. It kind of looks like paddle pop: which is visually appealing, yet the artificial aspect is made very much apparent. Is this aspect of artificiality a conscious part of your work? If so, what is the intention behind it?
Jennifer Mehigan: Yeah, I definitely keep coming back to the idea of artificiality in my work. I don’t really have the language to talk about it well, but it’s not really intended to be a criticism of society or whatever - although I guess that is always there on some level. It’s more like, there is an ownership that I would like to have over some notions of hyper visibility and a failure to perform or conform adequately and how that manifests for me, and colour has kind of taken over the way that I do that.
I like how you said “subverting established processes of creating”, I think that is an important part of the whole construct of ~*the artist*~ and relates back into the idea of artificiality as well… The reason I even got into painting was because of artists like Tom Pregiato and Brian Metcalf and other phone arts contributors who made it casual and fun and NOT SCARY again, and the portability of technology has definitely fed that with the ability to share images and being in shows all over the world without needing representation or to be legit or whatever the requirements are. I think the quote I read was like, you can be at Burger King or on the subway and just be painting and making stuff on your phone and that is important. The separation of art from other things has always been weird to me though.
One thing that struck me when I was reading through your tumblr was the topic of feminism, homosexuality and the need for forging a new kind of aesthetics to represent a particular position/outlook. Relating this back to your works, in what ways does your personal identity translate to what you create?
My identity has everything to do with what I create, I think, I don’t really know how other people work but I’ve kind of always assumed that most people don’t try to be something else through their work - maybe that’s naive? Hopefully not. Most of the time my work feels like I have no idea what’s going on and that is because that’s true, I guess. It shows. Nothing is too pre-meditated and I enjoy that process, even if it’s easily dismissed as a rehashing of neo- or abstract-expressionism or whatever grumpy people on the internet like to say.
I read something about Richard Hawkins, like how his work could be considered a kind of visual “cruising”, bringing some restless sensuality to the way he populates his work with objects of his desire and that, so far, has been the most relatable thing that I’ve read about painting or making things. It’s definitely instinctual or sexual or something and not so much academic or necessarily a prime example of good decision-making or whatever.
I’m a bit wary of the idea of forging a new kind of aesthetic and attaching that to certain positions or identities or whatever, but sometimes I worry that I’m falling into this trap of using loud ‘feminine’ colours in the same way blood or glitter or dildos have been used to signify some kind of queerness or hyper-femininism or whatever but I figure as long as it’s genuine and when I stop wanting to work with those I will then… that’s ok. That’s all it should be for anyone. I think it would be a little regressive to say that some kind of collective aesthetic might be better simply because our identities or politics are the same but I don’t really have any answer formed properly about that myself. Everything is still new to me.
Personally, when I see your art (or similar kind of visuals), I feel like I’m being shown an alternate cyber dimension which is slightly alienating and discomforting yet provoking in a good way. Is provoking a reaction part of your agenda?
Mostly the feedback I receive is that my work is not provocative enough actually, or a little bit vapid or “trendy” or something (I enjoy a good misogynistic critique), but I guess when it speaks to someone it speaks pretty clearly. And yeah the alternate cyber dimension is definitely an element of my work and is something I want to develop a lot further. Maybe there is something aggressive (sometimes) or threatening about it that might be a bit alienating like you said, even though the colours are ‘cute’ or whatever they’re also pretty confrontational or hazardous. Because of that, I find it difficult to let fluorescent colours go… like I actually can’t imagine making something without them.
Do think artists tend to be overly self-concsious?
Based on my experiences, yes, but there’s also plenty of artists who aren’t self-conscious enough. That sounds a bit arrogant but it’s meant to be more cheeky. I am probably too critical.
Rhinoceros Hornbills. They remind me of tropical fruit.
Upcoming projects or ideas?
Lots of projects! I’m just about to start selling a new collection of 13 sweaters (and other apparel) I’ve made with a friend Tom Hancocks called Liquid Series, and I’m working on a quite a few collaborations with people around the world ranging from sculpture to more screen-based work. One of them is with a really great Singaporean designer, Darius Ou which I am really excited about because it’s the first time I’ll be collaborating with someone who lives here, haha.
Any music to recommend?
Passage. Watch that guy - there’s some really good stuff to come.