Emotion: Notes on Jordana Bragg’s practice
“A willingness to be tender and vulnerable in a culture that rewards toxic masculinity is subversive and important.”1
“A wound marks the threshold between interior and exterior; it marks where a body has been penetrated. Wounds suggest that the skin has been opened—that privacy is violated in the making of the wound, a rift in the skin, and by the act of peering into it.” 2
Social media jointly offers women the opportunity to represent themselves, yet censors their bodies through misogynistic policies. However, social media represents a paradox in the representation of female bodies in terms of the aestheticisation of violence against women. If ‘cyberspace’ once offered the promise of escaping the structures of essentialist identity categories, the climate of contemporary social media – one of the main ways in which we engage with the online sphere – has swung forcefully in the other direction, it has become a theatre where these prostrations to identity are performed.3
Bragg’s practice spans photography, writing, installation, video and performance, her presence online registers the need for vulnerability and the sharing of empathy. Having only performed live five times her work is primarily based in video and as such she identifies primarily as a video artist. Video allows one to dually document and aestheticise the body. Each of her live performance works are based around specific videos, most of which have separate video documentation of these gesture based processes. For example, We are Okay (2014) became a live performance, because the artist felt it needed to be manifested in a space where physical bodies could respond.
Online, Bragg reframes and recontextualises these works using both stills and short clips of the videos on more ephemeral social medias: like twitter, instagram and snapchat. There is an athleticism to her social media output, which transforms the notion of a ‘work’ from a series of isolated projects to a recognisable ‘brand’, through the constant broadcast of Bragg’s artistic identity.4 This immediacy of social media is consolidated through Bragg’s use of her iPhone. Our generation has grown up online and we are all experts in reading images, we know how to control and manipulate the viewer through images.5 However, within her output is an awareness of irony, particularly through her use of performance art tropes, ceremony and other more minute ritualised signifiers. This is nuanced in that she plays with these art histories, yet presents her body in the centre as it negotiates its proto-digital condition as a neo-colonial entity. Our lives have become a series of images or signifiers which can be disseminated with a multitude of meanings, especially when recontextualised on more than one social media site. Spaces like Instagram are both catering to and feeding off of the way women*6 represent their bodies. These spaces have become wholesale producers of the many dialogues we are seeing around the politics of image, objectification, and representation.
Bragg rejects both the historical neutrality of performance and the dismissal of emotion. The internet is an emotional space, from the way we use emojis to denote how we are feeling, to Bragg’s use of the hashtags #emotiontime #cryingontheinternet. Pain is everywhere and nowhere.7 Post-wounded women know that postures of pain play into limited and outmoded conceptions of womanhood.8 As much as her work is centered around the body’s vulnerabilities, it’s also exploring strategies to communicate emotion as a post-wounded woman. It would be easy to dismiss this use of emotion as inauthentic, but for me personally I find it to be earnest digital sincerity. Through the use of objects and ‘feminized’ colour palettes she privileges and questions the positionality of the feminine. In the same lineage of collectives of new media artists like Cybertwee and Sleepover club, Bragg’s use of feminine signifiers is a reaction not only to the hetero-patriarchal world we live in, but also a dig at the hyper-masculine tech world. This pastel aesthetic is often dismissed as being ‘feminine’ and thereby lacking substance. Celebrating this aesthetic which is often seen as ‘tacky’ raises issues around the way our society has gendered codes of behaviour and visual association, especially softness. To me the use of these colours references growing up during the late 1990s and throughout the 2000s.
How to water the roses (2015) is an ongoing video project performed by Bragg in ten iterations. with a live iteration performed live for Title Title whats a title at YES Collective. In this performance Bragg was a Virgin Mary figure, who was carried and taken around the room, before being laid down on the floor. After a period of time she sat up and looked towards the wall, which faced her away from the audience. Bragg then looked in a small plastic mirror on the floor, while placing eye drops in her eyes (as tears) and read a text based around the #postwoundedwoman theory featured within Leslie Jamison’s essay, The Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain. This text was an earnest assessment of the way female bodies are policed and wounded through both interior and exterior means. In reference to the sexual lives of women*9 Bragg as a Virgin Mary figure dismissed the whore/virgin categorisation of women’s bodies. How to water the roses is a simulacra in terms of what I perceive the performance was, because my memory has been warped in my engagement with Bragg’s vimeo and other social medias. I’ve seen many versions of the same performance, but perhaps with flashing text or cropped and enlarged stills.
The internet allows artists to reconsider their works in various stages of production and post-production. It enables a questioning of both the positionality of the subject and describes the performative way in which we engage with and perceive images and their meanings. This current output and contemplation of the value of the feminine and emotion is an important and powerful way in which young female* artists working in new media can assess their subjectivity, objectivity and the ephemerality of their content as it circulates over and over again throughout cyberspace. I’ve participated in Jordana Bragg’s work mostly online in the intimacy of my bedroom or while sitting on the train going to work. Her work blurs the distinction between daily ritual and performance through an output which is primarily made to be experienced online. Her work is a part of my daily ritual or rather my daily scroll. My daily scroll through my Instagram and Twitter feeds always features Jordana in a different stage of in production or a new iteration of an older project. This output allows for connections to be made clear between different projects. It’s not narcissism but rather a fearless celebration of the quiet spectacle of our increasingly digitized lives.
1 May Waver, Twitter, 2015.
2 Leslie Jamison, Grand unified theory of female pain, published on VQR online, Spring 2014, http://www.vqronline.org/essays-articles/2014/04/grand-unified-theory-female-pain
3 Aria Dean, Select all: Toward a Xenofeminist future, published on Topical Cream, http://topicalcream.info/editorial/select-all-toward-a-xenofeminist-future/
4 Brad Troemel, Athletic Aesthetics, published on The New Inquiry, http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/athletic-aesthetics/
5 Priscilla Frank, Meet The High Priestess Of The Anti-Selfie, Danish Artist Melanie Bonajo (NSFW), published on The Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/15/melanie-bonajo_n_5811496.html
6 By women I mean persons who identify as such.
7 Leslie Jamison, Grand unified theory of female pain, published on VQR online, Spring 2014, http://www.vqronline.org/essays-articles/2014/04/grand-unified-theory-female-pain
9 By women I mean persons who identify as such.