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Artist's Statement

Jenn Messier

When I was younger than I am now, when my barbies didn’t entertain anymore, when the strange existential angst that I was experiencing as my body morphed into womanhood, that fecund place mentally and physically became a dangerous place that I did not want to go,  I moved onto the “dolls” in the fashion magazines to pass my boredom of life, to distract myself from the insignificance that I felt.  Hours were spent slowly digesting what beauty was and I materialized the desire that was encapsulated in those bodies as a weapon of power that I did not have.  The images hypnotised me, and the disappointment that I felt when I only saw ugliness in the mirror staring back at me was defeating and harsh and fearful.  I wanted to run away from the ugliness.  I was afraid as if my ugliness were a rotten apple “gifted” from a wicked evil villian from a fairytale that I could consume, that I forced myself to swallow and I allowed it to destroy me, and I ran as violently as I did from those voices in my head screaming how I was not good enough.  I wanted an escape from the isolated plainness of my cold Maine environment which followed after getting overheated from fraught relationships in Florida that had been created, both of which had formed and were forming my burgeoning female features and attitude.  I desperately wanted a remedy to what I perceived as my defectiveness in relation to a manufactured beauty ideal.  That glamorous lifestyle of the magazines was a reprieve but I mistook it for a reality to which I could escape. That mistake animated my anxiety and juxtaposed with a childish naivete, coalesced into a surrealistic, absurdist narrative that colonized a good deal of my life as I stumbled through the growing pains of myself and then becoming a mother.  Those dolls have morphed into a garish fairytale illustrating the nightmare of how I have not known how to take care of myself, illustrating my family inheritance of shameful defectiveness, haunting my affections, motivations, my domestic environment with dreams deferred….

The American Dream as a fairytale is an abstract concept that I see has slowly been creeping into my consciousness as I get older and that colonizing energy has been manufactured by a certain branding of patriotism, an incestuous hunger to consume; it is like a cancer.  I am interested in what, in who is underneath the layers, some of it is suppressed magic and beauty and another is a festering wound.  It is more of a valid narrative to cull all the different sentiments, experiences from the whole landscape of the collective conscious, though I have a disposition to the broken, that which encompasses an overall angst-ridden sense of alienation.
I think that the Southern Gothic character comes through the images that I have made and has influenced my work.  I grew up between the dichotomies of Florida and Maine.  It is the Maine conservative sensibilities that have tempered the Florida overgrowth of irreverent, untamed wildness within me.  “The past constantly inhabits the present, where progress generates an almost unbearable anxiety about its costs, and where an insatiable appetite for spectacles of grotesque violence is part of the texture of everyday life”.  (Eric Savoy in describing the Southern Gothic manifestation).

Thinking about this work as a whole, I am reminded of Latin America’s magical realism and Japan’s Kawaii culture.  Both were born out of tragedy and trauma and coalesced into a language, mythology for the forgotten, for the grief ridden characters of a history: the colonization of the indigenous peoples of Latin America and the existential angst ridden people of Japan following the generation after the bombing of Hiroshima in WWII.

It was escapism, a way to deal with one’s life being out of one’s control, a way to explain that lack of power.  “Japan has developed a mechanism to avoid facing up to it’s wartime history: It has neutralized issues that are too painful to deal with by rendering them purely aesthetic and harmless by “making them cute”.  The Japanese cute (Kawaii) strips away a certain possessed authority.  Cutefying something is a way of making oneself it’s protector rendering it powerless in a non-adversarial manner.” (Norihiro Kato) “In Latin America the indigenioius communities there often did not draw as fixed of a line between the natural and the supernatural as their colonizing European counterparts.  Surrealism comes from the reality of Latin America.  Fantasy has always been part of the Latin American perspective and it asserts that it has a purpose outside of being a colony.  It became a vehicle to critique that political power.” (Izabele Penier)  Here in America, I see a conditioning of competition and independence with control and colonization to achieve absolutist results so the psychological threat seems to be fostered in childhood in an effort by caretakers to conform to the pressures of appropriation and ”winning.”

So this work has elements of surrealistic domestic scenarios from perhaps the perspective of innocence and naivety and alienation.  From an early age we learn to take on roles imposed upon us by our society.  As a way to cope, escape or perhaps even to battle, we don “masks” in an effort to protect ourselves, to hide our vulnerability, to keep up, to avoid being threatened.  This work has elements of “violence and comedy because of the discrepancies that it seeks to combine and is interested in cutting through the veil of civility, through decorum and oppressive normative fabrications to expose a harsh, confusing fabrications to expose a harsh, confusing reality of contradictions, violence and aberications.” (Flannery & Bjerre)

Because we are forced into roles to play for entertainment or a sedative for someone else’s benefit, we can become lost, hardened, confused about who our true self is.  The beast overtakes us, consumes us, and without realizing it, it becomes embedded inside of ourselves.  It happens slowly.  Pretty things are used as an opiod, we become numb and allergic to ourselves and perhaps diseased, we crave salvation, we begin to atrophy.  This is where things get a little weird, surreal…

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