The Pictures Generation didn’t have to contend with the mass of image sources the Internet has made so instantly available. The current media stream has complicated things for artists who came of age more recently. Jaimie Warren, who was born in 1980, makes web-inspired, theatrical self-portraits. Her photographs and videos, which earned her the 2014 Baum Award, are DIY constructs clearly influenced by Cindy Sherman’s brand of identity play, but Warren’s garishly invented mash-ups are gooey collisions of pop stars, trashy TV, art history, Internet memes, and an extended menu of food references. Her work walks a pop art line between wholesome entertainment and media nightmare.
On view through June 21 at SF Camerawork, her exhibition includes a few examples from her “food’lebrities” series — perverse hybrids of food and famous personages. Warren enacts these characters, smearing her face with unearthly colored make-up to create marbled veins of sashimi in Self-Portrait as Tuna Turner by food’lebrities, 2014, or using low-tech tricks to extend her neck in Self-Portrait as Pretzel Rod Stewart by breadpeople. The perversity of these pictures is undercut by the fact that the artist didn’t imagine these bizarre constructs, just recreated them from the site food’lebrities.com. Warren appropriates appropriations, turning the meme into a mise en abyme. The source of her images is underground pop, though her work also reflects aesthetic developments trafficked by such artists as Eleanor Antin, Yasumasa Morimura, Nikki S. Lee, and Ryan Trecartin, who also make quasi self-portraits.
In another work, she injects an ambrosia salad fantasy into an art historical classic: Manet’s picnic attended by Grace Jones, Dolly Parton, Oprah, Wham! and others as they are attacked by a viscous blob character on Pee Wee Herman’s bike. This ‘80s fantasia has an indelible nightmare quality made all the more memorable for its strange culinary combinations, yet it is difficult to tease the threads of deeper meaning from the inherent silliness of the tableaux.
That work points to Warren’s increasing focus on portraying the self through communal action. This is most clearly seen in the show’s magnum opus, an ambitious five-channel music video titled, That’s What Friends Are For: Self-Portrait as Christ/Missy Elliot as collaboration with Cindi Warren and Sally Andersen in a re-creation of Fra Angelico’s Predella for the High Alterpiece of San Domenico, Fiesole, 2013. Here Warren combines 15th-century tropes with eighties pop stars and heroes from her family. Her choice of cheesy pop song will lodge in your brain, but the abundance of references is overwhelming, and no single image sticks. This may be part of a media moment in which all input, from art history to trashy snacks, exists on a democratic playing field. Warren clearly enjoys reveling in the options, but while her work has its pleasures, it exists perilously close to the miasma of her sources and can be as momentarily diverting as a silly web phenomenon.