Artists Jordan Wolfson and Joey Frank have a rare friendship

Jordan Wolfson

Joey Frank

Interview & Text Ariella Wolens
Photography Nick Sethi

Who do you call first when you need to ask someone honest advise? The very provoking contemporary artist, Jordan Wolfson, and his mate Joey Frank have an intimate relationship.

Over the past 14 years, both Joey and Jordan have developed to become transgressive creators, establishing new precedents in contemporary art. They both share wild imaginations and when together, they enter into their own language of absurdity. Over the years, freedom and spontaneity have become part of their everyday.

Where did you guys meet?

Joey:  At a party.

Jordan:  It was a Brown party.  My girlfriend at the time went to Brown University, I went to RISD (Rhode Island School of Design). When I came to the party, Joey was sitting on the floor with a group of people, playing clips of his film that he had been working on, “Manda Bala,” mind you, off a mini DVD tape. He had a video camera hooked up to the TV to show off his footage. And it was so good. I just immediately wanted to be friends with Joey, or know Joey. And then, I don’t remember talking to him at the party, but we must have talked. And then I invited him over for shumai and I showed him the video I was working on. And then it just went from there. And I don’t think we’ve had any lapses in friendship. It was actually kind of a slow, steady progression from there.

Have you guys have worked together on shows?

Jordan:  We did this one project together in 2004 where we made a 3D film of this guy Al Bielek who had been involved in what became known as the Philadelphia Experiment. What happened was that the US military had supposedly been doing these experiments where they created electrical fields around an object and then rotated the electrical field. Somehow that was able to distort time and space, the object was able to become hypothetically invisible. There’s this whole conspiracy theory that this ship, the USS Eldridge, was in one place and ended up in another, and Al Bielek claims to have jumped off that ship and basically arrived in the future. So Joey and I went to Florida and made this film called, End of Time which was this 3D film of Al Bielek on this boat, with us interviewing him. What was interesting with that the story, if you wanted to look at Al Bielek skeptically, is you could say that its the basic story of homosexual repression and AIDS, all these things which came into play in his life.

Joey:  I have been involved in some really fucked up Jordan artworks. I remember when Jordan was asked by someone at Yale’s sculpture program to give a lecture, and Jordan said he wanted me to come with him. So we go up there, and I couldn’t believe how he included in this talk these works that were failures. And then at the end of it Sam Anderson said, “Wow, we’ve never seen an artist self-aware enough to say, “This is a project that didn’t quite work out. This is one that I really knocked out of the park.” I never understood what it meant to be a contemporary artist. I remember once in Berlin, I was interested in smoking salvia, Jordan was interested in watching me smoke salvia. He wouldn’t do it, he was aware that he was in a really crucial work setting.

Jordan:  I was an artist in my twenties. And looking back, it was the most stressful and scary commitment. It’s an uphill battle in an incredibly bureaucratic situation, it’s a nightmare.

Joey:  Just to actually navigate the art world, not even considering trying to make art or find yourself as an artist.

Did you help each other to navigate it?

Joey:  We’ve had a lot of crazy things happen to us. When we were in Martinique the collector expected Jordan to produce something while he was there. He wanted to make a museum of these artists he had invited down, and for them to make a work while being there. So Jordan asked for thirty canvases and he made all these portraits of me, which was very sweet. He made them with gold paint, I still have one. They were really quick portraits, and he video taped me shitting on one of them. We got naked and I shit on the painting of my face. Jordan really wanted to show them to Carter Foster from the Whitney. So I had Carter Foster at my dingy fucking apartment in Red Hook to look at these pictures of me shitting. Carter and I have been friends ever since.

How would you sum up what you think each others work is about?

Joey:  Well I think that our relationship is about permission. That was a big word for Jordan, before intuition became a big word for him. So his work is also about permitting himself to do certain things. Like, “Can I do this crazy thing to this video? I permit myself to do this”.

Jordan:  It’s ridiculous to me now.

Joey:  It is. But at the time it was important. I grew up in a very atheistic house in Washington D.C., my parents are both psychiatrists. They’re Jews but there was no questions about God, no conflict.

Jordan:  But I didn’t grow up in a God household.

Joey:  No but your parents were more into business.

Jordan:  They were more self conscious, judgmental. They would always say things were weird. Joey was so free and loose.

Joey:  So what’s my work about?

Jordan:  I don’t know. Even though I think about it all the time, I’ve never been asked to talk about your art. The work is kind of psychosexual and also kind of spirit art. Its also spirit art to me because of the negation of craft and material. When Joey makes something, it sometimes looks like someone cut all his fingers off. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. A lot of people start as artists because they have this obsessive need to be makers, or they have this love of how material feels or the presence of materials; I don’t think Joey had those concerns.

Joey:  Once when I gave a toast to Jordan, I wanted to explain my essential insight into his work. I said, “Jordan’s work to me has always been about a single figure in a ground that is speaking directly to you. Whether its the robot, or the Jew, or the crow, its a single, maybe slightly melancholy, but emotive work. You come through a journey and meet face to face with an oracle. And when you meet the oracle he gives you a truth, and the truth is that you are a being in time.”


※This interview is an excerpt from PARTNERS Issue #1