Cover Story: Look Sharp!

Video and film transform and shape artist Jo Jackson and her fellow Beautiful Losers

Mar 10, 2004 at 2:06 pm
Jymi Bolden

Jo Jackson, standing in the lobby of the Contemporary Arts Center, incorporates the flashing, hypnotic effect of video into her art.

Jo Jackson props herself up against a cascade of whimsical and austere skulls. The bright sky-blue background illuminates a colorful dichotomy to the scene. This is the canvas that Jackson has created, the artist comfortably at rest in the field of the bones. Simply remove the demure Susan Sarandon clone to glimpse inside the artist's falling heads. Hollowed eye sockets, carefully excised, allow viewers to peer inside her magical mystery tour, a room with an animated video loop. The playful images underscore a seriousness in her thoughts.

"I have a lot of thoughts about want and the danger of desire," she says with energy, speaking over the silent din of her Flash-created imagery. "I think it's interesting that the things we want the most are not helpful."

This is "How I Survived," Jackson's contribution to the Beautiful Losers exhibit on display at the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC).

Eight days until the member's preview to Beautiful Losers, and Jackson's piece is breathing but still under her watchful life support.

The artist is waiting for the proper size mirror to be delivered to create a specifically desired effect while she finishes painting the outer facade. Jackson yearns for the blue to reach the ceiling, while a couple of predatory birds potentially prepare to fly out of her imagination.

It's a site-specific multimedia work that she'll re- create, with modifications, at various stops as Beautiful Losers tours the country. At least a key component — notably her film — is complete, and there's a warm pride washing over Jackson's face as she watches the transmission of her video on a bare CAC wall.

"Video is moving. It's flashing. It's hypnotic. I think a lot of us learned art through TV and culture," she says, referencing her fellow "losers."

The permeation of film is indicative of the Beautiful Losers culture and the ever-changing face of art. On Friday nights for the duration of the exhibition, movies representative of street culture inspiration will be screened. Larry Clark's Kids, Harmony Korine's Gummo and Penelope Spheeris' The Decline of Western Civilization deliver a gritty and fantastical realism not captured at the local megaplex and only sometimes at Cincinnati's art houses.

The relevance of moving pictures, though, is imprinted most on the artists. Jackson isn't the only one to incorporate film or video into her work.

Cheryl Dunn is a documentary filmmaker who wheeled out a series of vignettes in Sped, capturing artists from the skateboarding world. Ryan McGinness has used video, in addition to T-shirts and skateboards, to speak his "graphic vocabulary," an incorporation of icons and symbols.

"We're living in a symbol world," Jackson explains, noting the inherent need to use film as a means to express views. "TV is life. Life is really mediated right now."

For Jackson, books take precedence over television. It's why, she explains, all her videos are silent in nature. She looks for quiet thoughts to seep into the conscience, the way videos flowed into her progression as an artist.

Anxiety kept her doodling in the sidelines. A job in a liberal-minded California bookstore marked her foray into claiming her artistic self-esteem. She stayed small and anonymous, making 'zines no bigger than her thumb.

Her work grew. She grew. Her drawings, via computer, became animated. Her name and credibility became vitalized.

"It's just natural for humans to make art," she says. "I think it's universal in the art world. For art to be good, it has to be different. You have to really trust the artist. Artists really have to take authority. I'm not that ambitious."

It's an incongruous, though honest, statement as Jackson sits on the CAC's floor. She rests a cup of hot tea on her bended knee. Silver tennies jut out from her paint-stained khakis. Her sweater is a geometrical wonder as gray, peach and red stripes form a triangle within other stripes that wrap around her thin bandwidth, all against a core black background.

From her vantage point, low to the ground, she stares at the expanse surrounding her. The CAC metaphorically represents the breadth of artists in the show.

"There's a lot of bigness here, a lot of brightness," she says, smiling profusely. "A lot of pieces are political in a misty sort of way."

She's not sure what people should take away from her piece. She offers a half-joking response about everyone drawing more and voting more left-wing. And then she gets really excited.

"Making giant things is really fun," she says, laughing. "I'm not free of the ego at all." ©