Jen Liu, John Baldessari

16 September 2011  –  22 October 2011 – Ceri Hand Gallery

Six Colorful Tales from the Emotional Spectrum (Women), 2011
In 1977, John Baldessari enlisted six women to tell stories from their childhoods and young adulthoods on video in Six Colourful Tales from the Emotional Spectrum (Women), 1977. He set them against coloured backgrounds that dwarfed the tellers, cropped in the manner of ‘talking heads’. Their stories range from subtle trauma to the banal, but they all shared aspects of violence: as victims and perpetrators, imagined and real.

In Jen Liu’s homage to the original Six Colorful Tales from the Emotional Spectrum (Women), 2011, Baldessari becomes Giallo, a brand of low-budget Italian horror-thriller films that peaked in the 70s. In these films, beautiful brunettes rule a violent world, populating it with psycho killers, detectives, and bloody corpses. If Baldessari’s brunettes reminisce about their experiences of violence, Liu’s brunette enacts them as a fever-dream of misinterpretation, hyperbole, and narrative disruption.

Liu also references Baldessari’s processes in her new series of large drawings, each based on a colour from the spectrum, taking themes from her video and expanding upon them with imagery from 1977. Grey structures impose upon intensely coloured blotches and blobs, echoing the visual play between Baldessari’s subjects and their coloured backgrounds. Ink ‘lovelies’ from Giallo novels and posters float on top, with text from the video. As “film posters” they advertise the video in a wholly inaccurate and exaggerated way – staying true to the tradition of B-movies. Smaller drawings by Liu combine stills from Giallo films, compositionally ‘presented’ by the ladies of 1977 porn magazines. They present the promise of death, wearing Suprematist-shaped hats, coats, and elbows of deep space.

Baldessari’s original film, that forms the title of the exhibition and inspiration for Liu, will be screened at the gallery alongside a selection of available photo-based works by him that predominantly incorporate decontextualised expressions, such as Intersection Series: Landscape; Two Persons (One with Prize), 2002 which features two smiling faces juxtaposed with a hand holding a ‘prize’ and a photograph of a landscape. The hole within the landscape echoes the mouths of the women, whilst the red and green crayon in the central image relate us back to the films and the potentiality of violence or disruption within the subject and the image.

Baldessari’s sharp insights into the conventions of art production, the nature of perception, and the relationship of language to mass-media imagery are tempered by a keen sense of humour, reflected in Man with blue shape, 1991, which features a man’s frown, framed in a close-up, with the top lip painted blue and rendered slug-like. The mouth, the tool for communication, is abstracted and deconstructed, the expression within the image simultaneously forming and resisting narrative. Vertical Series: Books, 2003, the only ‘colour-less’ image in the show, connects to Liu’s incorporation of retro, sexualised images women, initiating, poised, cropped, re-configuring themselves and the context in which they occupy.

Baldessari references film in particular as “it mirrors the real world, but it’s in another place. It’s always set up” . In producing all aspects of her films (sets, costumes, lights, audio, editing), Liu is consciously constructing fictions that she uniquely extends through her drawings and paintings, literally ‘setting-up’ a parallel narrative in order to interrogate contemporary society.

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