Jo Mitchell: Cruiser
7 September – 12 October 2002

When ornament contaminates the integrity of the structure of a word to the extent that it is rendered almost illegible, a second order of coding comes into play. The word becomes an image, not only of itself, but also of the fields which inform its new incarnation as a syntagmatic ghost, haunting meaning, but always screaming silently.
The centre-piece of Jo Mitchell’s semiotically succulent exhibition was the eponymous Cruiser, a word of manifold meanings, from the specialist – a style of motorcycle riding – to the sexual vernacular, as in cruising a club to pick up a potential partner. The multiple readings were echoed in the imbricated layers of leatherised card from which the piece was fabricated. The cut-out technique was also used in the spray-painted leatherette firebrands  of Hers and His (2002), whose fringed and flaming fronds – appropriately, here, rendered in the colours of the German flag – further distanced the words from the realm of grammar and eased them into the universe of objecthood.
Initially derived from the lexicon of the tattoo parlour, the graffiti tag and the baroque excesses of drag-strip and hot-rod car decoration, the object-words in Mitchell’s incisively thrilling and exquisitely nuanced cut-outs have undergone a dynamic reification into ciphers for a feminised intervention into the sanctioned spaces of high Modernism. With titles like Skulls (white, green & chrome), 2002, the cool masculinised, Greenbergian artefact is evoked – only to be subverted by an overload of imagistic content, filtered through the mythically saturated zone of the neo-gothic, and impugned by the most astute of triple-wound, thrice-knotted, theoretical twists.
The performative persona of the artist is elegantly inserted into the his-story of late-modernist-macho with the installation of photo-works entitled Angels (chrome, violet and white), 2002. The slippery syntax of slick-wet silver paint on skin and skin-tight body-hugging hot pants evokes an eroticised sci-fi scenario where Lara Croft meets the cyborg from Blade Runner in an in-your-face replacement of the phallocentric Flash Gordon alpha-male – flipped through the prism of a post-Warholian, equal-but-different multiple aesthetic. Neo-versal adventures in the city of angels.

© Richard Dyer for Contemporary magazine, Issue 11, Nov 2002