Sex, if performed properly, is a sublime experience that provides nourishing pleasure and expansive release. Though we like to maintain a spirited stance on the subject, maybe we are all actually copulating toward our own destruction. Crazier things have happened, right? Artist James Mountford is confronting this very thought with his art.
Born just outside of London, Mountford began his career as a fashion photographer for glossy publications before segwaying into more artistic-driven endeavors. Now Los Angeles-based, Mountford is best known for his freeform creative process. He experiments first–with unorthodox materials and camera tricks–and surveys the results later. His creations tend to blur the line between sensuality and unease, spotlighting a surreal human form (and interactions among human forms) that make many onlookers pause and tilt their heads in curiosity, mutating their preconcieved notions of gender and sexuality. His artist statement best explains it: “What can be seen of these bodies in space, is as complex and abstract, or as basic and cruse, as [his] pratice allows.”
Mountford has recently found a temporary home for his inventive art at Downtown LA’s Noh Wave Gallery, a collaborative community and exhibition space for artists (as well as enthusiasts) and by artists. It is at Noh Wave that James installed his current work “Demise of a Species”, a mixed media piece that combines multiple cast bodies, video and photography inside and outside a self-contained three-wall box.
The root of the piece is not sex, but the perception of sex. “A lot of my work is kind of sexual, but I think sometimes it’s not really cool to be sexy. A lot of artist want to steer away from that and try to be more cerebral, but I feel that sex is such a huge part of everyone’s lives”, Mountford explains. That is where he got the idea to stage an orgy that fights resistance and has a ritualistic quality to it. When he looks at the work he has created, he recognizes his subjects “tearing at each other and pushing each other.” It is a work that is literally layered with meaning and dimensions, but in its most simplified form “Demise of a Species” is about the juxtaposition of how he envisioned the world to be today in terms of sex and destruction and its reality. “There’s all this kind of energy, this distractive energy, this sexual energy. Far from being a celebration of sex, it’s a bit darker and desperate.”
Looking at anyone of Mountford’s creations and one can easily see how they are all created by the same artist. Each piece is plays with the light and dark, the beautiful and the damned. In addition, whatever slice you gaze upon, it is sure that Mountford has a keen attention to detail and experimentation in the crevices of each production.
When elaborating on the creative process before "Demise” Mountford explains, “I did this photoshoot to line the walls with the people in the shoot and the bodies I cast to create the sculpture.“ His goal was to create a fully immersive experience, where spectators walk into the room and are overpowered by larger-than-life prints. "You can’t take it all in in one look, you would have to move around and from there you would start to notice the details. The sculpture mirrors that small detail from the photo like a penis on the floor, or see a hand pointed to a vagina. It’s all these deconstructed body parts that make it detached from the photography.”
While the interior holds the still artifacts of the bodies in two forms, the external shell is draped in a video projection of the bodies in motion. James further describes, “I wanted to project it on all three sides. When I was shooting the scene, I had someone filming these moments of madness.” The piece can very easily make an onlooker feel disoriented and that is precisely the point. Mountford goes on to mention his method, finding the perfect moments in between his camera’s flashes while filming. “I got this jerky discombobulated effect of something happening and you would lose half a second.” The result was what he describes as “orgy-esque” where the “frame starts to blend into each other, making it look a lot more sensual.”
The details on the sculptures possess an honesty to them that feels as if the figures are actual people frozen in time, a result of Mountford’s mastery of hydrocal, a medium that holds on to minute details like plaster while remaining as strong as cement. "Some of it is cracked, some bits pour out, it’s really organic. I like different types of textures. It was a mix of those accurate and gestural. And then I used wax to create different types of textures.”
The result of the figures in the film created a distinct experience that was isolating as well as inviting. There is a sense of muted vulgarity. Mountford mentions, “To put thirteen people in a small setting and have them rolling around might make it look like too much of an orgy. So what I did was paint everyone with this matte white paint splashed on them all quite haphazardly and it removed a lot of the fleshiness. So they still look statuesque and sculptural.” Mountford takes into account that, “If I were to shoot that in a bedroom scene then the bed, the wallpaper, and the lighting would have offered up a different scenario to what was happening and where they were.“ Instead, by removing his subjects from a conventional sexual setting, shooting them on bare black walls, it creates an entirely new and mysterious narrative.
With finality, Mountford muses, "And that’s an important part of my work: You make the piece. My ideas are in there, but the person who comes to see it takes their own ideas and implement them into scenarios.”
“Demise of a Species” is currently on extended view at Noh/Wave.