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Jordan Wolfson: Riverboat Song

  • Art
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Jordan Wolfson raises a baseball bat over his head and smashes it down into another man’s face. He stamps on his head, over and over, squelchy belches singing out with every impact. Then back to the baseball bat – bang, bang, bang – the body’s convulsing, its face a mush. In the background, a cantor sings a Jewish prayer. Then you take the virtual reality goggles off and you’re back in the real world, you feel shaky and disoriented, palms sweaty, arms heavy. ‘Real Violence’ by this young American artist is stomach-turning, shocking and horrifying, but it’s also one of the most important works of art you will see this year.

This two-space show is made up of a massive video installation at Kingly Street and two sculptures and the VR work at Davies Street. The sculptures are a wood cabin with a contorted witch’s face for a roof and a massive articulated doll of a boy, all in black, lying prostrate in chains, its face an evil grimace. They’re childhood fairytales with the sugar taken out, leaving behind pure horror.

Wolfson has covered the bigger gallery with purple carpet and a collection of flat screen TVs showing ‘Riverboat Song’, a short animated movie centred on an adorable little animated boy, cherubic and mischievous. It lacks the aggression of ‘Real Violence’ but more than makes up for it in nasty intent.

We all grew up watching the Roadrunner condemning Wile E Coyote to a million humiliating deaths, and Jerry torturing Tom in countless unimaginable ways – cartoons are acceptable violence, they’re safe spaces for dangerous acts. So Wolfson uses them to enact deep-held, unspeakable desires. The little hobo kid in ‘Riverboat Song’ starts off dancing to Iggy Azalea, his movements exaggerated and sexy, then suddenly he grows an enormous pair of boobs which flop out and drop off. Then, with the help of some talking horses and a bathing crocodile, he calmly explains to you how he’s going to manipulate you into a long, abusive relationship that will leave you old, unhappy and unloveable. Then he whips out his tallywhacker and wees into his hand, staring the viewer right in the face while slurping up his own human Lucozade. He pisses in an arc through the air into his mouth, then stamps in his wee and plays in the puddle. It’s all interspersed with YouTube videos of fistfights and intelligent robots.

Wolfson makes you feel like we’re all moments away from staggering violence and moral decrepitude. It’s within us, aching and begging to burst out. Morality is a veil that can drop at any second. We’re constantly surrounded by physical and emotional cruelty – we’re witnesses and accessories to it – either in the culture we consume or the relationships we’re involved in. And what’s amazing is that all that horror and violence is so… easy. It’s so banal, so normal, so natural. Wolfson is opening a little window into the contemporary soul and letting the sewage seep out. His work is obvious and simple, but complex and obscure. Yes, it’s all very contemporary art, and there’s not much here for your gran. But he’s saying something about how we live right now. And the worst thing is, you’ll feel yourself reflected in all of it, and you won’t like what you see.


Written by
Eddy Frankel


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