Jordan Wolfson b. 1980
Infinite Melancholy (2003)
colour video on DVD with sound
4 min loop
Jordan Wolfson's Infinite Melancholy (2003) tempts similar home-baked philosophy. Projected at wall-filling size in a room of its own at the rear of the Kunsthalle's concurrent John Armleder exhibition, Wolfson's video first made its presence felt through its audio track, which suggested that, on opening the door, a local pupil would be seen diligently practising a piano. The aspiring pianist would have been making wobbly progress through the dainty phrases of Rogers and Hammerstein's 'Getting to Know You', from The King and I (1951). Instead, the accompanying vision was of moving at speed over a receding white planar surface defined by rows and rows of identical black letters that spelt out, again and again, 'CHRISTOPHER REEVE'. Immersed in this screen throughout the four-minute computer-generated animation, one would be flying dangerously low, skimming the second 'H', then wrenched upwards above a teeming fabric of now too distant, microfiche-like names. At moments the words flashed past at such a disconcertingly stroboscopic rate that the illusion of moving forward flipped into a sensation of being dragged backwards, as if on a swooping white-knuckle ride.
Is the struggling pianist (playing a musical number about encountering new experiences in a foreign land, no less) not the paralysed Reeve post-1995 riding accident, doggedly devoted to physical rehabilitation? Does the super-heroic flight over a horizonless plane not conjure up a shorthand for a mental journey, an escape to an alternative reality, whether a matrix or a dream? And are ecstatic lessons on the transcendence of mind, defiance in the face of adversity or the 'real' Superman ('Christopher Reeve IS Superman!') really what emerge as we speed over the relentlessly repeated name of the late 'inspirational' celebrity wheelchair-user? Wolfson's brilliant, misleadingly simple-looking animation pays homage to the traditions of melodrama and memorial portraiture with a flatly respectful tone, yet nevertheless emits a kind of exhilarating, ironic brinkmanship. Infinite Melancholy is loaded with such cornball interpretative possibilities and such a deliciously portentous title that surely it should slide into bathos. Yet with each lullaby-like loop of the animation the frisson of a taboo on sentimentality or alternatively of pejorative cynicism becomes more and more mellowed, and the mesmerizing flight turns into something strangely comforting.
-Max Andrews, Frieze Magazine, issue 91, May 2005