Jillian Mayer

Artist

THERE’S SOMETHING INTRINSICALLY BEAUTIFUL ABOUT LAUGHTER. AND EVEN IF YOU’RE USING IT TO HOOK PEOPLE, THERE’S A SPECIAL VIRTUE THERE … IT’S A GREAT WAY TO START A CONVERSATION ABOUT A COMPLICATED SUBJECT.
If muralist Rudolph Zallinger’s “The March of Progress,” the famous drawing of a series of figures to depict human evolution, were to be reconceived in 2016, the final figure might be slumped over a cell phone, its head held at an uncomfortable angle that strains the neck.

“For years, I would constantly make promises to myself to correct my posture, and it’s perhaps been getting worse and worse,” multidisciplinary artist Jillian Mayer says. “And you see now information about ‘text neck,’ and more young people having carpal tunnel syndrome—the effects of being engaged with devices for large quantities of time. It’s been a building curiosity for me.”

It’s this collision of the physical world and the digital one that inspires “Slumpies,” Jillian’s latest collection of sculptures, meant to support the human form as users interact with their handheld devices. Designed to be practical, they feature power plugs and Wi-Fi, and also can be lied upon or sat on while being shown (as seen in a recent exhibition in Los Angeles at LAXART).

That Venn-diagram-like overlap between the digital and physical worlds has long been a playground for Jillian. Her short film, “#PostModem,” which screened at Sundance in 2013, explores everything from data cloud backups as a key to immortality to the Singularity (while also featuring an excellent hand dance), while “Day Off” follows a virtual reality gamer from the outside of his invented world, as he knife fights against no one on a snowy street.

“The reflexive nature and desire for social connection that keeps going from physical to digital to physical to digital—the vortex—I find it very compelling and curious, and also quite tender,” she says. “I pitch a lot of theoretical combinations of physical and digital together or apart, but I think I still represent a very emotional side of tech.”
Emotional, yes. But, funny, too. The send-ups of consumerism in “#PostModem” are matched by Slumpies’ oddball commercials, with spirit guides leading city dwellers out into the woods and onto the furniture pieces, and are magnified by a real-life billboard for the “products” currently on display outside of Los Angeles International Airport. Other projects, like the still-active EraseyPage.com and the YouTube “beauty instructional” video “MakeUp Tutorial—How to Hide From Cameras,” often involve Jillian acting as a guide or saleswoman, introducing concepts to viewers through the common language of marketing.

“There’s something intrinsically beautiful about laughter,” she says. “And even if you’re using it to hook people, there’s a special virtue there. A lot of my work is quite perverse at times, but it’s a great way to start a conversation about a complicated subject.”

But even when the humor is at its most cutting, Jillian still says she’s not taking a side. Her art is not an answer, a “which is better” between the physical world and the digital one, as much as an exploration of the different ways that they must co-exist—especially if that’s truly humanity’s next evolutionary step.

“The truth is, I would find it quite silly to be anti either one of these,” she says. “That seems irrelevant to be pro or con that. We’re beyond it. Each one offers something special that the other one can’t, but it seems like the goal is to connect the two.”

Written by Robert Spuhler Photography by Marisa Howenstine