Jen Mann’s work takes that all too familiar feeling of what lies on the other side of our computer screens in the form of likes and emojis and presses it into paint. Sometimes her artwork quite literally features this now permanently ingrained, social media iconography, such as a ‘winky face’, lighting up a subject’s features, while other compositions simply just embody that impending feeling of isolation you get when communicating mostly through Instagram. Her work poignantly brings to surface the complexity that is individual identity in a world where we have the capability to digitally self-construct our own narratives, composing through online photos our own fictions. In her series Q & A, we see individuals haunted by the phrases projected across their faces, phrases like, “Not The One” and “Just Fine”. These words seem to be radiating out of a computer screen that sits facing the subjects, as if to reveal the traces of emotions left behind once the words have been sent via social media. Were these words sent to them, did they send these words to someone else? Mann asks, “Who am I compared to you? Who are you compared to me?” She is interested in how we understand each other; how authentically, or rather, inauthentically we portray ourselves to the rest of the world...
AMM: Your work is deeply personal, indeed a recent solo show “Q/A” and your newest body of work, “self absolved” are centered around questioning yourself. Where do you think the nature of your self-questioning is coming from?
JM: I have always been very introspective, and also very interested in relationships and identity. I find relationships the most fascinating, and the relationship you have with yourself as well. My newest series of paintings, “self absolved” is a look at the creation of the idea of ‘self identity’, and the curation of one’s identity. We are always changing, keeping parts of ourselves alive, and letting other parts die. In this series I look at cultural references, the media, new technologies, and social media, in a coming of age tale of sorts. Creating a visual diagram of self, and maybe through that, a loss of self. Like when you say a word over and over, it loses all meaning, does that also happen when you look too closely at self, the way our generation is so prone to do?
AMM; You’ve highlighted “self”, relationships and identity, whereas previously concepts of feminism, beauty, dreamscapes and even existential philosophy have featured; are they still important to your work?
JM: Most definitely. These themes of existentialism, femininity, feminism, surface vs substance (beauty vs content) and identity, are integral to my overall body of work. My series “self absolved” is heavily saturated in these main concepts. Paintings like “how am I not myself”, “endless loop”, and “wet dreams” deal with existential thought; what am I, why do I exist, and what is life. Whereas paintings like “cult of femininity”, “men are from Mars, women are your Venus” and “they see me rollin they haytin’ “ deal with feminine themes, beauty, and essentially are quite feminist. Because this new series focuses on the self, does not mean that it doesn’t focus on these main themes of my work, but instead gives me a bigger better platform to discuss things that are important to my “self” haha, as I not only explore my identity as a human being, but also my identity as an artist.
AMM: In regard to technologies and social media – these have possessed the whole generation and made it dependent. What is your opinion of social media – what do you think is bad and good about it? Does it encourage us to be superficial in our understanding of who we are?
JM: At this point it is hard to exist without social media and technology, in some form, permeating your life and relationships. Whether it’s texting your friends, curating your instagram, or creating an online profile of yourself trying to meet “the one” – social media has become a part of our first world human culture. My opinion is that it is definitely not healthy for humans as animals to be so sedentary, and alone; something that technologies are making easier and easier for us to be – shop from the convenience of your bed, you don’t need to actually see or talk to your friends, just txt them short quips, shortening and shortening everything until we are only sending emojis. Human contact and physical activity is integral to our overall wellbeing and happiness. Right now social media and technology is an unavoidable evil. My work isn’t really making critiques on social media, but maybe making satire of our culture, and how we use it. Our generation has been sold everything we have in our lives, from our lifestyle, friends groups, and self identity to our toilet paper. We have been sold this idea of “individualism” : “you’re unique, special, different”, and so we go out, and look for how we are different, and special, and end up feeling like no one understands us, no one “gets us”, which inevitably leaves us feeling alone, and unhappy. The media sells us happiness, because we don’t get it from ourselves and connections to others anymore, we get it from the things they sell us, the next achievement, graduation, all inclusive vacation, backpacking across Europe, posting photos with significant other on a beach, photos with the wedding party, the wedding, the baby photos – social media has found a way to use each other to sell things to each other. The idea of happiness, sold to you from your friends, constantly, on any day, right from your news feed; smiling faces of happy people, ‘really doing something’ with their lives. Your “friends” you never see or talk to, but who you know everything going on in their curated lives. I’m fascinated by the complexity of how technology and social media affect the psyche, and our identities, how we cope, and communicate.