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28 Aug, 2009

Art’s wide-eyed teenage fanclub

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

Pop culture rules for this multi-disciplinary artist whose work is inspired by our relationship with celebrity and fame

Jessica Voorsanger is a voracious consumer of pop culture. Her karaoke performances, cheesy installations, paintings and sculptures contain an intoxicating combination of celebrity gossip, TV shows and movie stars; each artwork is an inscrutable study of society’s obsession with fame and, in particular, the changing relationship between the fan and the idol.

Voorsanger’s artworks are as fluid as the world she critiques, using a variety of media from kitsch oil portraits to filmed performances. Much of her art has been influenced by television culture – especially children’s television, which is where she believes the seeds of star adulation are planted.

Voorsanger draws on her own memories of falling in love with David Cassidy, while watching The Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch as a child in the 1960s. She now believes that these cosy shows were a social glue, offering comfort to a nation traumatised by the Vietnam war and bankruptcy. Her artwork, The David Cassidy Comeback Tour, in which she cut out the words We Never Left You from 1970s brown flock wallpaper, as if she was a wide-eyed teenage fan, is partly autobiographical, but also alludes to the endless publicity stunts perpetuated by record companies to promote has-been heroes through collective nostalgia.

Born in 1965, Voorsanger had a suitably bohemian upbringing in New York’s Upper East Side. Both her maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother were artists, and she says it never occurred to her to be anything else. She studied at Rhode Island Art Institute, and after graduating met her future husband Patrick Brill (the artist Bob and Roberta Smith). She returned with him to London where she enrolled on an MA at Goldsmiths. Her brand of celebrity-quick art has occasionally been dismissed as lightweight, with critics overlooking or ignoring the fact that Voorsanger’s guileful ability to make work that is as addictive and kitsch as Heat magazine, operates on the same plain as the world she is critiquing.

Her subtle revelations of the seismic change in our relationship with fame over the years – from innocent adulation to street-savvy scepticism – speaks volumes about our dulled perception of the celebrity as someone special or gifted. In the series Stage Struck (2008), Voorsanger and collaborators belted out dodgy karaoke classics dressed as well-known faces like Elvis and Diana Ross. The performances were woefully shoddy, with all the social grace of a drunken uncle trying to grope the bride at a wedding; they put paid to the collective delusion that anyone can be a star.

Why we like her: For her exhibition, Crimefighters, in Germany last year, where she performed the 1960s theme tune to Miss Marple.

High-flyer: At heart she’s a frustrated airline pilot and fire fighter. “Maybe it was the uniforms I really wanted.”

Weirdest art experience: Voorsanger had lunch with David Cassidy for a London magazine in 2003. She was so nervous she forgot to ask him anything, and instead recounted a story of an artwork she had made that involved stealing Bob Geldof’s rubbish and then being interviewed about it on The Big Breakfast.

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