Also titled “Urgent Blowout,” it’s a surreal 3D photographic scan of his head, from the bottom of his curly mustache to just above his eyebrows, turned into a 10-foot-wide and nearly 6-foot-tall inflated fabric sculpture. (You can hear the hum of the blower.) It has something of that uncanny feel of a digital image that has been rendered into an object with which you not exactly comfortably share the room. The top of the head is hollowed out so that it serves as a bowl holding three dozen smaller photographic self-portraits printed on inflated fabric heads that feel a bit like balloons—this time the full head, a bit over life-size at 17 inches tall. Each has a different expression—eyes wide or squinting, smiling or scowling, mischievous or pained, as he mugs for the camera. Some of the smaller ones are hung on the nearby wall, a bit like punching bags.
“’Urgent Blowout’ amplifies our desire to fill, inflate, and replicate ourselves,” according to a gallery statement, “we float around aimlessly bumping into one another, changing course based on wind currents, Black Friday sales, foreign influence, and cat GIFs; we may not know where we’re going, but we remain desperate to get there quickly.”
Over his career, Warmouth has often blended conceptually driven performance art and humor—kind of in the neighborhood of Weimaraner photographer William Wegman. Warmouth’s comic 2007 animation and puppet video “SPUDNIK,” which was featured in the “2007 DeCordova Annual Exhibition” in Lincoln, was a mock newsreel/science documentary, full of potato puns, about a Soviet-styled nation of potato people and their quest for the stars.
He likes to satirize the language of product marketing—all the advertising slogans and jingles aimed at inflating our desires. Warmouth’s “SuperJEFFUMarket,” from 2001 to 2014, represented supermarket shelves socked with “Jeffu”-brand cans labeled “Awareness of Mortality Mix,” “Bagel Belly,” “Cold Blood,” “Crushed Hears,” “Crushed Resolve,” “Drained Self-Esteem,” “Unresolved Guilt,” “Chest.”
Warmouth has often been a comic character at the center of his pieces. His “JFC,” “JeffuBurger” and “Il Jeffuria Pizza” from 2009 and 2010 were goofball interactive videos set up like fast food joints that allowed visitors to order from gag menus with Warmouth clowning as the food preparer and server. The pizzeria offered the “iSlice” (think iPhone), a flying “UFO Pizza,” monster dough, and pizzas that could be played like electronic drums (“If your ears had taste buds, they would say this is delicious,” the announcer explained).
“Urgent Blowout” echoes “The Great Inflate,” the 30-second video that the artist exhibited on the 80-foot-high marquee of the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center as part of the “Art on the Marquee” in 2017. The animation depicted Warmouth and his wife, the artist Ellen Wetmore, as their heads inflated like balloons, then lifted them into the air. Warmouth wrote, “As an artist couple, we often find our heads filling up with our own ideas, our daily concerns, our neuroses, our current or next project, or what to make for dinner.”
“Urgent Blowout” can also feel like a cartoon of bubbling thoughts and delights and anxieties overflowing from one’s head. From another angle, it can look as if the big head’s brains have been scooped out, turning it into a bowl with all these little Jeffu heads poured in. It begins goofy and slowly becomes unsettling.
A 14-minute-long video loop on a wall to the side animates the balloon-heads dropping into the big bowl-head (their expressions now read more like surprise), bouncing around, overflowing, being spooned out (like a cereal or brains or thoughts) until a big Jeffu head falls, completely filling the head-bowl. Then all the other little heads vanish.
If this is the kind of coverage of arts, cultures and activisms you appreciate, please support Wonderland by contributing to Wonderland on Patreon. And sign up for our free, weekly newsletter so that you don’t miss any of our reporting.