Interview with Jennifer Moon | By Stephen Sigl
This summer The Hammer Museum hosted Made in L.A., an exhibit focusing on Los Angeles based artists. One of the standouts was Jennifer Moon, who dominated the space given to her with a mixture of exacting detail, imagination and humor that all plays into her over-arching belief in promoting something she calls “The Revolution.” Her exploration of hyper-self-consciousness coupled with the demands of an impersonal political agenda creates an overwhelming sense of unapproachability to her persona. With a sensibility that is as iconoclastic as Andy Kauffmann and as systematically thought out as Andy Warhol, Jennifer Moon is easily one of the most important artists to come out of L.A. in a long time.
Your art show was the first time that I’d ever seen someone publicly express the idea that fantasizing about the thing you want precludes you from getting it. How does that fit into the piece, The Formula [a giant, complex charting of failed relationships over a three year period]?
I’d always wondered if fantasizing about something makes it happen or not happen. I would think about it and then I would always forget to remember what I thought would happen. When I developed this crush on a girl named Jackie I thought, here’s my chance to really figure this out. So I decided to start documenting what my desires and feelings were, in relation to specific situations where I might encounter her, and then document what really happened so I could see what the formula was. It started out as a diary that was over seventy pages of text that I then edited down to thirty, and that got put into the graph.
The over-analysis reminded me of Husserl’s attempt at studying consciousness by reflecting on the experience itself and eliminating any scientific or non-intrinsic notions that were not immediately present; this process, which he called “the Phenomenological Epoche” had to be repeated with increasing levels of severity.
I like that. I didn’t know that much about Phenomenology but I could see that connection.
I think that the other side of that introspection is the importance you place on The Revolution and the need to harness unrequited love and channel it into politics. Are the idiosyncratic, personal obsessions and fantasies in balance with the over-arching political agenda, or does one side ever outweigh the other?
It depends, but I think overall the political art, in the end, takes precedence. Because that’s what I would think of when I was documenting for “The Formula.” The possible outcome that a detailed chart like that would make it impossible for my fantasies to come true would make me think “I shouldn’t write this down because then it won’t come true… but it’s for The Revolution, it’s for art so I have to do it!” I would often have these discussions with myself where I would end up sacrificing personal gratification for the Revolution.
Does The Revolution demand a humiliating personal sacrifice like that?
In some ways, yes. For me it does, but I’m not sure if it does for everyone because I’m not sure if other people struggle with shame in the way that I do. I’m not sure how much other people are concerned with what others think of them, but for me to get to what I imagine is a pure political state I have to get to a place where I’m not dictated by the force of what other people might think. I have very disparate ideas of how The Revolution can best function, and this is where I get into trouble with people calling me a fascist, secretly I think that this way of doing it will lead to the greatest amount of freedom. However, to say that everyone is required to publicize their shame is difficult to say, even though I think it’s actually empowering, it’s difficult to get to that place and to say everyone else must do it. But I secretly believe it.
In your book, Definition of Abundance, you connect The Revolution with abundance. Do the opposition of abundance and lack mimic the balance between the personal and political?
I feel like everything is so defined by “positive” and “negative,” “right,” and “wrong” –in both very obvious and very subtle ways. I would love to find a way to talk about things that are outside of the binary limitations of language. It would be nice to find a way to think and talk and operate in a way that’s outside of it, I don’t know if it’s possible, but to me it would be true Revolution. I think we’re programmed to think in terms of dichotomies, it’s like a filter and one of the main goals of the Revolution is to learn to exist outside of it. It’s like trying to exist outside of capitalism, I don’t know if that’s possible because the way everything operates is informed by that -even my reaction against it. The work at the Hammer is very dichotomous and my hope was to explore that and find a way out.
One of the obvious dichotomies was A Story of a Girl and a Horse where you use airbrushed art ironically.
It wasn’t supposed to be ironic, it was supposed to be sincere!
I ride horses, I think it’s magical, and there’s some kind of psychic melding that happens. I jump horses so when I’m in fear the horse can feel my emotion and also get scared. So riding has made me very aware of my emotional state at the moment and being able to locate where it’s coming from and work through it, because I have another being that’s dependent on my emotional state. I was reluctant to use the airbrush style in that painting because of the tendency to read it ironically. I wanted to see if I could reference something that might be perceived as ironic but push past that into something that exists outside of irony and sincerity, and just exists on its own.
As you go through the exhibit, once you get to the Huey P. Newton inspired image You Can Kill My Body, But You Can’t Kill My Soul and the accompanying text that describes your incarceration for armed robbery, your persona becomes overwhelmingly enigmatic. Immediately I thought that detail was fabricated, it was only later when I read the LA Times piece that I found out it was real.
When I think of “armed robbery” I think of guns. We didn’t have guns, we had pepper spray. I don’t think that’s considered armed robbery but it is considered first-degree robbery because we tried to rob people getting money from ATM machines. The story behind that is that I was strung out on heroin and I started smoking crack, which I don’t like, but I smoked it anyways. Just that combination made the money go really fast and we started off doing white collar type crime, then once we couldn’t do that anymore we started doing the attempted robberies. My boyfriend at the time didn’t want to do it and we argued in the car for hours before it happened. The plan was to wait for someone (specifically a man who drove a BMW and looked like an asshole) to punch in their code and I was supposed to tap them on their shoulder and they would turn around then I would spray them with pepper spray, he would run off and I would punch in the amount of money. But it never worked out, it was like that show The World’s Worst Criminals, the pepper spray would clog, or it would spray the wrong way and we’d miss the guy. It was a total fiasco.
The Prison experience makes sense in relation to the amount of detail you put into your work and the patience it must take to complete it.
Someone who saw my prison exhibition asked if my plan was to go to prison in order to make this work. I really like that comment because I wondered that myself while I was in prison. Was it some master plan I had come up with that I wasn’t even aware of? It seemed to fit perfectly into the story. Like you said, art is not just about the pieces that are shown it’s also about the construction of a myth around a persona. A strong persona, the creation of a loveable, trustworthy revolutionary icon, a true hero, is necessary to start a real revolution and The Revolution is as real as it’s going to get.