Jordan Wolfson

Johann König

One’s first impression of Jordan Wolfson’s new video Con Leche, 2009, is likely to be: How very strange. This is primarily because of the video’s choice of “protagonists,” cutesy Diet Coke bottles on little legs drawn as comic-strip figures. But initial smirks soon give way to perplexity as one realizes that these bottles contain not a dark soda but rather white milk—“con leche,” in other words, just as the title promises. And the live-action video backdrop that Wolfson’s animated bottles wander through—sometimes all alone, sometimes in single file, in little groups, or as an entire army in formation—provides a gloomy contrast to the gesture of cuteness: deserted inner-city streets and abandoned industrial ruins in the heart of Detroit. The little bowlegged creatures march like clockwork, their bare feet slapping the cracked asphalt, and the milk sloshes from their narrow necks in standardized, regular motions. From time to time, the camera wobbles a little, as if to assure us of the authenticity of the video, and then the entire image slowly rotates upside down and back again. Even though the army of bottles appears strangely resolute, almost as if being driven by remote control, it’s hard to grasp what the point of all this is. The voice-over with which Wolfson has overlaid these images accentuates the feeling of disorientation rather than relieving it. The sound and visual tracks have different running times—about twenty-three and fifteen minutes, respectively—so they’re unsynchronized, creating an open-ended, meandering continuum of constant variation. And what we hear is difficult to grasp: a woman’s voice that, as the press release informs us, is that of a professional commercial announcer, reciting texts that Wolfson has gathered in the belly of the Internet—from ads, news reports, discussion forums, and commentaries. The narrator speaks to us of toothpaste, Kate Moss’s cocaine habit and the employers who’ve taken a step back from her, and smart phones. We hear about a teenager’s coming out, and about mourning, therapy sessions, self-defense, and the possible link between blood type and character. Again and again this undifferentiated stream is interrupted by Wolfson’s own voice, giving directions to his announcer in an inexpressive monotone: “Can you pause, please? Please lower your voice.” The voice is lowered. “Can you pause, please? Can you increase sex?” Obediently, the woman increases the sex quotient in her voice. The words she is speaking and the voice itself, the packaging and the content, diverge and cannot be brought back together again.

Wolfson has layered apparently unambiguous signs and discourses one atop the other, shredding the worlds of commerce and revealing their constructedness, taking apart universally recognized emblems of consumer culture and interspersing them with what would appear to be highly intimate remarks, and at the same time undercutting the global success story of branding with the catastrophe of postindustrial Detroit. Everything is decontextualized—but without a meaningful recontextualization. The work provides no guidelines for its own interpretation. What remains is an erratic ruin of familiar signifiers that have turned uncanny, echoing our own consumerist attitude toward everyone and everything—including the fine arts, as manifest in the viewer’s resistance to the disturbing and virtually unconsumable form of Con Leche, not unlike the disconcerting substitution of milk for soda.

––Dominikus Müller

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.