A tender glance into J.R’s world of big queer feelings, Star Trek Next Gen, and laying on the floor with Scott the cat.
On June 3rd, 2016, J.R. and her band Feminist Conference got the ball rolling at the Boston Center for the Arts Gala with a stage full of raucous. The unsuspecting crowd of movers and shakers of the Boston arts scene faced a barrage of discomfort and amazement as J.R. Urestsky crooned sappy 80’s ballads at full blast, eventually stripping off the majority of her floral print outfit to reveal red briefs and bare legs.
The response was a mixed bag of surprise and uncomfortable wonderment. Uretsky notes, “I like to set up all of my performances to be failures…where the ego or whatever you want to call it, the Leo in me, feels really bad about the fact that I worked my ass off for that performance and no one wanted to listen to me sing, you know, karaoke in my underwear. Like, why? This tension makes embarrassment function as the root of the performances, the almost disaster, the performer falling to pieces in front of you, that’s where the work really hits – for me anyway. ”
Much of J.R.’s work centralizes around what she calls “expressive confessions”, powerful performances that weave a messy ensemble of narrative arcs such as heartbreak, loneliness, and grief. “The characters that emerge through these performances are relatable yet also alien and non-specific, forging an ambiguous space where emotion is the remaining constant,” says Uretsky. “In short, I make ‘feelings porn’. Like pornography, pleasure is the main pursuit of my work. I want to make work that is entertaining, that feels good and that provides space for people—for me—to emote.”
Despite her emotionally charged subject matter (endearingly referred to as “sad bro art”), Uretsky creates an absurdist dreamworld of feelings through bright colors and character expressions frozen in time. Hailed in by the not-so-threatening nature of these gloriously fluorescent puppets, J.R. creates a sense of intrigue, while also suspending viewers in a space of discomfort. “I am sort of always feeling sort of weird about bodies and I think that manifests in the sculptures…the gestures are sort of folding in on themselves a little bit…they are bright and still kind of noisy. To me, they feel like they are not noisy on purpose. I think they look that way just because they do, not because they have a big personality”.
Uretsky utilizes performance, sculpture, music and puppetry to expose the messiness of human emotion that decentralizes the polite nature of our expected social selves; a composite and affective production that visualizes the internal struggle to be human, to be alive. Her puppets and sculptures are often constructed to be worn, so that their life is found in collaboration with body movement and sound. Her current exhibition “What I Found Out there” resides at the Boston University College of Fine Arts at the Annex. Leaning into scholar Sarah Ahmed’s writing on queer grief, Uretsky has constructed a series of visual art that integrates video, audio, and puppetry to examine pain and melancholia. With new music by Feminist Conference and intricately constructed puppets made of new and found small objects, Uretsky explores how the process of grief and mourning alter the body.
J.R. currently lives in Providence, Rhode Island and spends most of her time laying on the floor with Scott the Cat while watching Star Trek Next Generation and feeling feelings. After dropping out of bible school for Christian Education at BIOLA University in Los Angeles, she received her BFA in Interdisciplinary Studio Practice and an MFA in Sculpture and Video from the University of Connecticut. As a self-proclaimed masculine-of-center dyke, Uretsky spends a lot of time contemplating larger conversations about masculinity, visibility, queerness, and feminism. “I am trying to figure out if the layering of familiar objects, sounds, and environments mixed with the abstract and monstrous nature of my work can illustrate the emotional experience of other. What if everyone experienced what it felt like to be other? To be queer? Would we then feel less alone?”
J.R. Uretsky is a multi-media artist living in Providence, Rhode Island. Her work is currently on exhibition at Boston University College of Fine Arts through December 11th. Be sure to follow J.R. on Twitter.