Jennifer Mehigan

by Nigel Zeff

The Surface And Depths Of A Cum Shot
The word cybersensuality has been stuck in my head since I met Jennifer Mehigan. The term, coined by the artist herself, gives language to that awkward empty space where the digital realm and human intimacy meet—or rather, don’t meet. No matter how much we might want them to, they never touch, existing instead in an ever-fluctuating zone with a chromatic allure and false promise of validity. Like the wannabe 3D interfaces of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr—where I know my friends, lovers, and family see all of my activity but still no one reaches out. Or when I change my Grindr avatar hoping that maybe this is the one that will bring someone real, yet days go by and all my inbox contains are messages from the same thirsty users repeating “Down to Fuck?” or “U Bottom?” in those cold blue chat bubbles. The quest for something unattainable that might ease the isolation beats on. “I like the idea of messing with perceptions of ‘real’ and ‘artificial’ constructs in image-making, which ties into the theme of cybersensuality, a word I made up. I like sensualizing machinery since the Internet has functioned as kind of an erotic marketplace or exhibition site since its invention.”

Often exhibited in digital spaces, Mehigan’s images have been composed of amorphous, cumshot-like liquid shapes coated with fully saturated, carefully curated, and mysteriously applied colorations. Other times, there are liquefied metals, drippy, neon-colored fragments layered upon one another, and the occasional appropriated subjects such as cave paintings, classical statuary, and sexual imagery. Through these explorations, Mehigan has developed her visual language—one where nebulous objects float through empty cavities and nothing feels quite finite.

And then there is the subject of assimilation. Mehigan merges together textures, colors, and seemingly other-worldy materials where they might otherwise not coexist. Her penchant for keeping her work fluid and amorphous is punctuated by a very literal blending that Mehigan does every day: she identifies as queer, and partaking in the art world of Singapore, where she lives and works, is in and of itself a sort of blending and assimilation. Representing that integration requires a certain amount of lightness. “There’s tongue-in-cheek undercurrents of ‘Yeah my work is super gay because I use bright colors and pastels, of course’ which ties into how the misogynistic, homophobic perceptions of camp and kitsch are used to dismiss valid work, as to allowing the identity of the creator seems to ‘taint’ the work. But I’m making work that I enjoy looking at. The idea of a queer visibility is contained in the simple act of making stuff that I, or any other queer artists, want to.”

Like queer artists who have come before her, Mehigan’s work faces the age-old scrutiny that occurs once the artist’s sexuality is considered. But, like some of her contemporaries who have appropriated from art historical roots, Mehigan has rewritten her own narratives of desire and gender representation, and with her own mediums. Sometimes stereotypically male aspects enter her work: machinery, technology, digital progression. Other times, it’s seemingly quite feminine: pastels, soft lines, shiny, and sparkly. But the payoff is the fusion of these gender prescriptions into one object. “I play with masculinity and femininity through color and gesture. I like to work aggressively, but an aggressive baby pink painting isn’t going to be perceived as a particularly masculine work. It fuses the idea of the masculine and the feminine being present within a single, almost primordial thing.” And what about the cumshots? “I’m appropriating typically masculine sexual imagery on a basic level because I feel like the fluidity of painting ties into that. It’s not a strictly masculine thing with female ejaculation, too, but even the way that is portrayed in porn and mass media is still quite a masculine interpretation of feminine sexual processes.”

Most viewers probably wouldn’t classify a painting of a female nude as “straight white male art” or anything outside of the typical labels of beauty, in the sexist methods of viewing today’s cultural practices. So I wonder, at what point does an image become “queer” if there is an absence of familiar codes of queerness—glitter, dildos, and other sex parts? Without those visual codes, does the work retain higher power? Does the artist or designer avoid their otherwise undeniable undermining? Does the work “pass”? These questions are important to consider when viewing work by a queer artist, but in particular when the approach to this dialogue is as imaginative as Mehigan’s, whose images are somewhere between real and virtual, masculine and feminine, and art and design. They become vital to the exploration of how a 24-year-old graphic designer is moving the dialogue in a new direction. “I feel the need to separate myself from the perception of art-making and play with the boundaries and the in-betweenness, and how that translates into this idea of refusal to participate in this arena where a shitload of weight or baggage is attached to your identity. Even in spaces where identities aren’t instantly apparent, like in cyberspace.”