“Tramps” at the Contemporary

Artist Jamie Isenstein on the all-female exhibition, and being heckled by Will Ferrell

For Pratfall Tramps the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center’s (ACAC) first exhibition of 2015, Curator Rachel Reese had a particular goal in mind. “It was very important that this exhibition was all-female,” she says. “The history of women in comedy runs parallel to the history of women in various genres and fields in Western society, including visual art.”

With that in mind, Pratfall Tramps, highlights humor in art through our varied interactions with different mediums. “Comedy is collective, a code of behavior; culture and history play a role in and even create the systems that inform these comedic codes,” Reese says. “What makes you laugh, versus what makes a group collectively laugh? What constitutes humor? Studying humor is a curious thing.”

The exhibition includes works from artists working in different mediums such as Tammy Rae Carland, Sara Greenberger Rafferty, Mary Reid Kelley, and Jamie Isenstein. Isentein’s works often blurs the line between sculpture and performance and she has shown her art around the country and across Europe and Asia. For one of the live performances in Pratfall Tramps, Isenstein utilizes her body, more specifically her arm, to create a form of paradox on “Magic Lamp,” one of her nine pieces in the exhibition.

Creative Loafing spoke to Isenstein about using deceit in her work, interacting with viewers and that time Will Ferrell tried to get a reaction out of her.

Tell me a bit about your ACAC sculpture/performance, “Magic Lamp.” It reminds me of another work of yours, “Snuffer,” where you employed the use of a limb as well.

In both “Magic Lamp” and “Snuffer,” you see my arm and hand, and both depict light being sustained in different ways. “Magic Lamp” is one of my inhabited sculptures so the “arm” of the lamp is actually my arm emerging from the back plate. I am holding a light bulb that is lit despite that there are no visible electric cords. I will actually be inhabiting this work at ACAC during the opening weekend. When I am not there a tiny “Will Return” sign will predict the next time I will lend my arm to the work.

I feel like most of your work is based on deceit and absurdity, which can often be humorous.

I do think a lot about deceit in my work. I am fascinated by our attempts at understanding what is true and natural versus what is artifice. We are surrounded by deception in our culture as others use any means possible to try to convince us to buy or vote for what they offer. We are so used to Adobe Photoshop now that we just assume every printed image has been doctored. We also are now generally sophisticated enough to realize that even photographs straight from a camera don’t always tell the truth. I like to create artworks that play with the understanding that “truth” is relative. Often the result is absurd and funny. For all my works that are funny though there is also an underlying element of sadness as well.

What are some things you look for or listen to while you stand in, if any?

I cannot see if anyone is looking at me when I am in my work but after a while I start to sense when people are near me. If they are close I can feel their breath or the movement of air if they leave quickly. I try not to react to their presence and I often have no idea how they are reacting to mine. For one work I had my hand in a frame in a wall at MoMA PS1 in New York for six months. While inhabiting that work I could hear people talking if they were close enough. After a while I started to keep a tally of how many times I heard people wonder if my hand was made of wax or mechanical, etc.

Have you ever had a memorable pratfall?

Not really unfortunately! I did have an experience while inhabiting “Magic Lamp” at an art fair in 2005 that might come close. Someone poured a cup of ice on my arm to see how I would react. I didn’t! But no one should try this again! I was later told it was the comedian Will Ferrell. I guess that’s my equivalent of having a pie thrown in my face!