Artist Profile: Molly Jo Shea

Molly Jo Shea; Image courtesy of the artist

Molly Jo Shea: Emotions Are Everything for This Artist

Written by Genie Davis
As an artist, Molly Jo Shea is a bundle of emotions, ideas, and energy. Her work in performance, object making, and interactive areas is one half edgy and intense, one half utterly hilarious.

The performative quality of even her sculptural works may be in her blood – she’s the daughter of an opera singer and special effects artist after all. Her subjects and methods are diverse and exciting; and perhaps most importantly offer viewers a way to engage with the world, her art, and even each other.

Asked about her humor and edge, she says “I think that it is my personality leaking out everywhere. In these divisive times it is really hard to allow yourself the time to listen to people without reacting and to be able to absorb new information. Humor allows me to make connections with people that might not normally be art audiences.”

She says that she considers art to be a form of entertainment, and as such, she strives to make a visceral connection with her audience.

“Honestly, there is so much to compete with, be it email, our myriad social media inputs, fake news and daily stressors, that I try to make things that are visually compelling that people will want to spend time with it. Even though I do sculpture, installations, videos and even paintings, I think I’m still working from a “performance” perspective.”

This sense of showmanship serves Shea in good stead. She explains that she’s always considering audience, space, time, and the best way to “lead a person through an experience.”

Recently she presented work at Monte Vista Projects in DTLA centered around cryogenics.

She was inspired in part by her alma mater Cal Arts — and the mythology that Walt Disney’s frozen head is on campus, and the legacy of an artist.

“Walking through the show, you are essentially looking at things I’d imagine that would be defrosting in the future. The centerpiece to the show is a video installation entitled ‘Conversations With my Future Self’ in which I ask myself questions in a video that I anticipate a future Molly would answer. However, the video is displayed next to a video projection of my defrosted head which does not have any way of communicating rather than spitting up cryofluid.”

The intersection of the zany but possible outcomes with reality is a strong aspect of Shea’s work. At Monte Vista besides her projected self image, she includes that of a porcelain, crystalline-glazed mound of cat heads perched on a giant cat scratcher.

“This sculpture stemmed from research that I did into cryogenics, and how several people actually choose to freeze their animals to wait for them in the future. Within my sculpture is an audio recording of a ballad I wrote from the perceived collected consciousness of this entity.”

Also in this exhibition was a documentary on cryogenics within the show, as well as what she describes as “wacky blinking brain sculptures and an interactive cryogenic, karaoke booth where you can sing ‘Cool as Ice’ before being frozen alive.”

An intersection of reality and wild imagination is uniquely Shea’s style.

Molly Jo Shea; Image courtesy of the artist

“After this show, I also finished my thesis work at Cal Arts, centered around research I did in Tasmania and Australia in their seed banks, de extinction labs and other forms of living and dead archive. For this work I created a giant Chia pet of a marsupial character that I play.”

The character is intended to be the CRISPR (genetically engineered) version of the artist combined with a diseased Tasmanian Devil.

“In a video, I roam sites in Australia and Tasmania where the extinction of the Tasmanian Tiger was prevalent and exist within the in-between space of man and beast,” she says.

For this show she created seed paper from bath-water used while bathing with her Chia pet which she programmed to screen clips of her documentary using an augmented reality app.

“People could hold up their phones to my seed paper, and the seed patterns would start sections of the documentary. Upon a closer look into the paper, details like my pubes and the paper pulp would become more clear.”

For this project, Shea also collaborated on the audio component with Evan Wendell, an experimental trumpet and didgeridoo player and her opera-singer mother.

“She sang the DNA sequence of a human, and Evan pitch-shifted his didgeridoo to be the genetic sequence of a Tasmanian Tiger. You would then stick your head in a giant pouch in order to listen to this audio piece and become essentially caught between code.”

Currently, Shea is working on a body of work bound for Berlin. She describes this as “Centered around the mythology of the mandrake. I’m going to be bringing these really funky mandrake sculptures that also may be weed pipes -shhh- and performing as a mandrake witch using special effects makeup.”

As whimsical as this sounds, Shea says there’s dark folklore roots to the mandrake story.

“Essentially, Mandrake roots were placed under the corpses of hanging men because it was believed their semen would drip down and fertilize the root. Then in the dead of night witches would mount the root and create these evil creatures. The story was adapted in the 1920s with a buried novel, previously banned by Hitler.” The novel Alrune, might be the first genetic engineering horror story, Shea attests. “Essentially it is about using the seed of a convict and placing it in the womb of a sex worker to create the ultimate evil, a human mandrake. It is totally politically incorrect, but I think it is an important novel to understand the atmosphere of fear surrounding cultures that were misunderstood and the sexuality of women.”

Once again, Shea has used an accessible, engrossing, and humor-driven art platform to express ideas and information about something far too real today.

“This project was created for this amazing collaboration I was invited to do through Adjunct Positions Gallery, B-LA Connect. Essentially Los Angeles galleries and galleries in Berlin are doing show trades. Artists representing Los Angeles spaces will go to Berlin this year and then LA will host next year. David Prince, who runs Adjunct Positions, has been great to work with and I can’t wait to bring my work to Horse and Pony Gallery in Berlin,” she explains.

In the past, Shea sampled Shia LaBeouf’s unknowingly funny performance art tapes as a promotion of an unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign, in the process presenting the idea that that love can die, and will power along won’t revive it. Whether she’s poking fun and truth at the difficulties of the art world or inviting viewers to see her take a punch in the face to uncover layers of humiliation and face it; Shea is devoted to exposing truths and feelings in her work. Whether she’s considering the end of the world, or holding a “Pet Peeve Funeral,” or even raising funds for her Berlin trip (May 26th, at Adjunct Positions) “dressed like a creepy mandrake witch selling my small ceramics works,” Shea’s wit and emotional accessibility are both formidable.

Follow Shea at @mollyjosheart on Instagram to find out more.

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