Artist Profile: Jacolby Satterwhite

The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have developed a significant body of work engaged (in its process, or in the issues it raises) with technology. See the full list of Artist Profiles here.

Still image from The Country Ball 1989–2012 (2012)

Kei Kreutler: Your video The Country Ball 1989–2012 incorporates traces of your mother's drawings in a computer-generated landscape, accompanied by footage from one of your family's cookouts in the 80s. The family video has a frenetic energy, which infects the piece. There is a moment, however, in which the work seems to slow down—when tracings of figures from your mother's drawings leave the din of the family video behind—that I found very interesting. It felt similar to that sensation of leaving a show, leaving a mass of huddled bodies, where it’s too loud but you don't notice until you leave, your ears ringing slightly. 3D animation seems to incorporate these changes in rhythm and narrative particularly well, so I was wondering how it influences the pacing, the loose narrative points, of your works.

Jacolby Satterwhite: The visual pace in my videos varies based on what motif or idea I am trying to assert. In Country Ball, I wanted to present a beginning, middle, that gradates. It begins with deadpan repetitive orchestra, full of folly and recreation, and a very slow camera. It evolves and collapses into an apocalyptic display of objectum-sexuality, where cumshots spew out of towering cakes, dance rituals erect trees, and ATM machines inseminate a middle class family into a giant. The camera in those scenes tends to be more erratic. I have a Walt Disney sensibility when it comes to object-perversion, animism, and anthropomorphism.

Jacolby Satterwhite, Reifying Desire 5 (2013)

KK: Speaking of object-perversion: the Reifying Desire project takes your mother's drawings as starting points for a series of six videos in which you perform in front of chroma-keyed 3D animations. One of the videos in the series, shown as part of "The Matriarch's Rhapsody" exhibition at Monya Rowe Gallery, Reifying Desire 5, incorporates your mother’s drawing Pussy Power, which provides written instructions for the elimination of feminine odor. What role do you think these forms and regimens of self-care—physically intimate and yet more or less culturally proscribed—play in your work, and how do they affect us?

JS: One thing I often cite as one of my subconscious platforms of inspiration is the concept of body trauma, disease, and metamorphosis of form as the consequence of a sexual act. I pick objects to work with and set up surrealist scenarios that will make their use necessary. The usage of the pussy power bottle felt necessary because I was using the Picasso painting Les Demoiselles d'Avignon as the conceptual departure point. I asked myself: what would prostitutes in a bathhouse need to begin their daily ritual? "For Pussy Power, Pour bubble bath into the bathtub into the water and soak for a while to turn the smell of pussy off." I think the idea of self-care provides a vehicle for continuity. When something's preserved it can move onward to the next stage.

Works on view in "The Matriarch's Rhapsody" exhibition at Monya Rowe Gallery in January 2013

KK: In Sara Ahmed's Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others, she writes extensively on "inherited proximities" of the body and how "spaces acquire the shape of the bodies that inhabit them." With the Reifying Desire project at large, what do you see being brought into being with these works? What are the spaces you create in them, and what, if anything, is reified in them? Finally, what role do contemporary animation technologies play in the creation of these spaces?

JS: Contemporary animation technologies have an infinite range of possibilities, therefore my interest in reification or making abstraction concrete stems from having access to an unlimited terrain of visual possibility. The visual restraint lies within my body of archives ranging from collected movements by myself and other performers, my mother’s drawings, and my stock photos collected from the internet. Merging them together into a dense crystal of information results in the reification of process, a concrete time-based visual system bleeding formal, philosophical, and political ideas.

KK: There’s Walt Disney, Picasso, and of course your mother's drawings—I'm curious as to your other influences, whether animators, painters, family, or others outside of traditional art history.

JS: Janet Jackson was the first pop star I discovered when I was a baby, and I watched her video anthology on VHS tape every day when I got home from school. I always hoped I'd be able to make a serial body of work like hers that included surrealism and dance. Music videos (I.e. Deee Lite, Björk, Janet, Chemical Brothers, Prodigy, Michael Jackson, Madonna, etc.) structured my aesthetic, as well as gaming; I owned every console from Game Gear, Sega Genesis, SNES, 32X, Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn, Sony Playstation, and it was quite an escapist zone for me. I went to Miami Basel last week, and when I went swimming at the beach, the only thing my memory could register was Wave Race 64 on Nintendo 64. Lately I've been thinking of Beyonce's B'Day Anthology Video Album, Madonna's Erotica and Bedtime Stories era, her interviews from that era, and the Sex Book. Lyle Ashton Harris, David Wojnarowicz, Mapplethorpe, Wolfgang Tillmans, Isaac Julien, Michael Clark, Warhol, Nauman, and Beuys have been on my mind as well…

Jacolby sitting next to the Janet Jackson wall in his bedroom circa the late 80s

KK: With your references based in the pop, art historical, and gaming worlds—which are more self-consciously converging today—what do you take with you when you perform in front of a green screen in your studio? Is Wave Race 64 with you when you're not swimming down in Miami?

JS: My green screen performances are all triggered by language prompts and isolated objects that I am interested in stringing together narratively. Whether I am performing a violent wrestling act with another model, a sexual act, or a banal miming gesture articulated through dance, the result always is a marriage between disparate languages, objects, and performed acts. I take surprises away from the green screen every time.

KK: Coming from a painting background, I was wondering how the rhythm of your work has changed? In terms of your production, as well—the difference in productive speed between sitting behind a screen or painting or performing.

JS: I used to spend a month or two on each painting, and I tend to do the same with my videos, except my latest. My latest video has taken me over 6 months. I keep scrapping it and starting over. I am negotiating the exact same problems that I did when I was painting as I am in my animation. The computer allows me to resolve palettes, compositions, textures, planes, and frames in a much more dynamic way. Having a time-based composition, color palette, and surface variation is much more expansive.

I have been getting closer to my painting days by working on static images in 3D animation. Their final form are large scale C-Prints. They act as my storyboard. My challenge is to make the 10 hyper-detailed and ambitious images congruent narratively, forcing them to animate into each other. That method allows me to have my performance/painting/gaming cake and eat it too! 


Cellular, 2013. C-print. Courtesy: Mallorca Landings, in Palma De Mallorca, Spain  


Age: 27

Location: New York, New York

How/when did you begin working creatively with technology?

I grew up playing video games since the age of two. I got my first personal computer and the internet when I was 11, before filesharing was possible. By the age of 13, I divided my hobbies between painting in my bedroom, gaming, building websites to sell pornography on Altavista, and Netscape navigator, to capitalize on the ad-clicking moneymaking opportunities. The pursuit of adventure, an original painting language, rare electronic music, Björk b-sides, pirated software, illegal downloading via MiRC FTP servers, chat rooms, and rigging video game emulators helped me build my arsenal for who I am. At the very end of graduate school, I picked up 3D animation as a tool to perform and make images in the manner that I am working today.

Where did you go to school? What did you study?

I went to Maryland Institute College of Art for my BFA, and University of Pennsylvania for my MFA. I studied painting at both.

What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously?

I make art for a living, and I used to work at Urban Outfitters, the night shift.

What does your desktop or workspace look like?

A hot mess, full of empty coffee cups, tea bags, water, underwear, sleeping bags, antibiotics, band-aids, cameras, light kits, hard drives, space heaters…with a candle in the middle.