Jesse Matthew Petersen
An interest in appropriation and re-contextualization runs through all of my artwork. Making connections between dissimilar things – whether materials or ideas - allows me to see and understand things anew and to share my fascination with others. Improvising and creating tenuous order from random elements plays heavily into all my creative practices, from visual art to experimental guitar playing to designing gardens. I have a lifelong instinct to collect and taxonomize everything (given an innate naturalist’s bent), and a joy in sharing these fine details and distinctions with others, to educate and inspire. But, creatively speaking, I am most interested in the moments when I can pervert received taxonomies, rearrange and reconsider them on my own terms.
I am currently working on two disparate yet related bodies of work. The first takes fashion photography and reconfigures it into something alien. I’m interested in how high fashion objectifies and eroticizes the human body and in how fashion photography (as art or as advertising) amplifies that erotic ideal, much as traditional portraiture has done throughout the centuries. In this series (called "Ambiguants"), I assemble small collages from a personal archive of carefully-excised cuttings from fashion magazines, re-photograph or scan them, and manipulate them digitally into something closer to a sculptural curiosity. The resulting images read as both organic objects and abstract portraiture; the subtraction of the human body allows the source material to take other shapes, evoking unknown life forms. Despite the absence of flesh, they retain echoes of the human form, demanding to be seen as portraits. Set against blank backgrounds, they’re offered both as specimens collected for scientific scrutiny and as objects of devotion. By extracting the human figure from haute couture, these collages ask whether our attraction to fashion is to the body itself, to a more basic form of life lying beneath an erotic ideal, or merely to the evocative materials and veneer of luxury used to sell a product.
The second is a newer series of graphite drawings that allow me to explore similar themes but with more physical immediacy. They are an homage to the skeletal, sinewy and voluptuous forms within nature, rendered with a graffiti-esque, dirty freedom. They are equally about the act of becoming/collapsing; a liminal state or frozen moment of the birth, growth or destruction of a thing or idea. In a way, these could be seen as the active structures that flesh out the interiors of the collages, or the soul/energy within.
Both of these series, while abstract, are concerned with representing what are, more-or-less, objects in space; either something more concrete and sculptural (as in my collage work), or something in a frenetic state of plasticity, in the act of becoming or collapse (as in my drawings). They are both action and specimen, hinting at familiar forms while avoiding questions and refusing identity.