The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

May 04, 2011

Jillian Mayer's family reunion

Posted by Anne Tschida


Some of the videos in Jillian Mayer's solo show at the David Castillo Gallery are not for the faint of heart. They aren't violent. They aren't repulsive. But, they may make you turn your head — only to turn it back again, riveted to screens revealing images that are at times hard to watch and simultaneously impossible to ignore. They make up those emotions that good art should provoke.

"I Am Your Grandma" is one example. Put on the headphones, and a lovely young woman (the artist) explains she will one day be a mother and a grandmother. The screen then fills with disturbing visages, like a twisted adult-baby, faces contorted in masks, a grandmother you would hope never to meet in your worst nightmares. Most likely, this isn't your grandmother, but for Mayer, it's a theme of motherly and grandmotherly issues that threads though "Family Matters," her first solo show at her first gallery. What happens when we bring new life into this world? Will the view eventually be disturbing? Will it all have the gentle touch of a clichéd grandmother? Not here.

With the next video, prepare to be challenged. "Giving Birth to Myself" is a version of just that. A crinkled, greenish, screaming baby emerges from its mother, the gaping cavity from which it came visible and blatant. Giving birth has never been easy and, most certainly, it isn't in this video, despite the nice doctor's words, "You have a sister!" Life, from birth to grandmotherhood, has its own dimensions here, and it's no Hallmark card.

But "Family Matters," which includes artworks such as "Keychain #1" through "Keychain #5," sculpture and performance, is not really all that dark. There are references to pop culture, to the artifice of the classic family — not always happy, not always balanced and, in fact, in conflict like the world around us. Family does matter, but it's not experienced through rose-colored glasses. Instead, it's experienced through 3-D glasses, as the third video in the show presents "We As Me," where viewers are asked to don such glasses and listen through headphones to catchy tunes while two figures interact with each other, 3-D like. The world is, and isn't, what it seems. It's complex and difficult and beautiful, which is why it matters — and why we care.

Jillian Mayer's "Family Matters" at the David Castillo Gallery, 2234 Second Ave., Wynwood; 305-573-8110;


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