Although still in the process of receiving her BFA degree, Singapore-based artist Jennifer Mehigan (b. 1988, Ireland) has managed to make a splash with her work in both physical and virtual space. Using online platforms such as Tumblr, Instagram, and Vimeo as conduits, Mehigan’s multimedia practice, with its signature pastel palette and organic, blob-like forms, both comments on and propogates an aesthetic she has dubbed “cybersensuality.” In this web exclusive interview, Mehigan reflects on subculture and nostalgia, queer femininity, and the relationship between touch and digitally mediated spaces.
LEAP I’m struck by how no matter what medium you work in, digital or otherwise, what unites your work is an emphasis on touch and sensuality. How do you reconcile the physical sensation of touch with virtual or digital space?
JENNIFER MEHIGAN To be honest, I don’t think there’s any reconciliation necessary. Regardless of space, images on a screen are still a body communicating with other bodies, and despite the “lack” of skin and nerve endings in digitally mediated spaces, users are still capable of triggering affection and sensuality in each other visually and emotionally. Paintings and photos, or any art that you look at operates in the same way.
LEAP You’ve said previously that your work has a “90s childhood vibe.” There’s currently a huge pastel craze going around Tumblr—an aesthetic that has roots in the “Lolita” and kawaii fashion movements in Japan, as well as nostalgia for the 1980s and 90s. How does your aesthetic tie into Tumblr subculture?
JENNIFER MEHIGAN I think the afrofuturist look of, like, Missy Elliot’s queer / monstrous / utopian music videos influenced me more than those Japanese movements, in the sense that that’s what I was paying attention to when my family first got MTV in 1998 or something. I use those colors, holographic vinyls, latex, and metals a lot, but there’s definitely a lot of overlap between the two. I did at one point feel like my work Tumblr was a reasonably well-known account that both appropriated and propagated that aesthetic, but I deleted it last year and feel good about it. I think it’s pretty sad how pastel, neon, hyper-feminine aesthetics get quickly absorbed and regurgitated by artists and brands that aren’t “about” them. But yeah, being a small part of that was an important part of figuring out what kinds of things I wanted to make.
LEAP In “Cybersensuality,” you juxtapose phallic weapons such as handguns and knives with your trademark “cum shot” shapes—“masculine” symbols rendered “feminine” through pastels and shimmer. Do you intentionally subvert tropes of gender and sexuality in your practice?
JENNIFER MEHIGAN I’m not sure. In general, I’m just playing and it’s really more corny and self-absorbed than critical in some ways; on a very basic level, I’m just like, “This is what I have inside me!!! Thanks for looking!!!” Like a very annoying bird. I forget that these images are sexual, and searching through all those videos and choosing tiny sections and layering them is very tiring, kind of like a digital anesthetic, so by the time I’m looking at the final thing, it’s just frames and gestures and colors to me, and the subversion doesn’t feel blatant or intentional, but… I guess it is. Haha.
LEAP As a queer-identified artist, do your choices of pastels and candy-like colors reflect a kind of performative femininity? What are your thoughts on “high femme” gender expression?
JENNIFER MEHIGAN Yeah, for sure. I have so much love for femininity in all its presentations or expressions. It is terrifying and amazing, and all communities, queer or not queer, don’t recognize or support that enough.
LEAP Can you talk a little about the current art scene in Singapore? Is there any aspect of your work that you consider specific to any area?
JENNIFER MEHIGAN I find the art scene here difficult to navigate. I guess my work makes more sense in somewhere like Singapore than it might in like… Ireland, because of the techno-artificial, “paradise-laced-with-sadism” nature of the island, but I wouldn’t say there’s anything specific to any area locally.
LEAP What are you currently working on? Any upcoming exhibitions?
JENNIFER MEHIGAN I am in a really great show in the summer in London curated by Bing Hao that I am looking forward to, but otherwise I’m not exhibiting this year really. I’m just focusing on graduating and making new work.