Monthly Archives: October 2006

Cameron Jamie’s Drawing

Cameron Jamie: Suburban Apocalypse as Theater


David Bowie said he decided to become a rock star in order to leave his native suburban neighborhood. Matt Groening became a cartoon star by turning his suburbia experience into The Simpsons. Once standing for the utopia of a peaceful life, it has become the site of a zombie apocalypse (witness the comedy film Shaun of the Dead (2004)). Now Cameron Jamie’s observations on suburban desperation make for good theater also in contemporary art.

Since his international breakthrough in the exhibition Let’s Entertain (Au-délá du spectacle) at Centre Pompidou, Paris in 2000, an array of his works has been under review by some of the major art venues back home. His video works Spook House (1997-2000), BB(2000), Kranky Klaus(2002-3) and more recently JO (2004), featuring music by Japanese musician Keiji Haino, are on view at this year’s version of the Whitney Biennial under the banner title ‘Day for Night’(through May 28th). The Wrong Gallery – a prankish exhibition project launched by curators Maurizio Cattelan, Massimiliano Gioni and Ali Subotnick, who also organized the 2006 edition of the Berlin Biennale 4, includes Cameron Jamie in its talent roster. Now his most comprehensive solo show in America is to be mounted this summer (July 16th-October 18th) at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

Cameron Jamie was a suburban kid trapped in a sleepy working-class neighborhood in southern California. He describes his childhood in his hometown, San Fernando Valley, as something like a mental confinement. Thanks to the Northridge earthquake, he was able to escape from suburbia in 1994, eventually into Paris, France, ‘the city’ of culture and sophistication and surely a nice place to work on clearing his suburban childhood backlog. But then dreary suburbia is everywhere, even in Paris.

There are backyard wrestlers, Austrian mountainfolk in their traditional pre–Christmas „Perchten“ dance and French Neo-Nazis as seen through the eyes of a home video ethnographer in search of the odd. Primitive are the others, we learn from Cameron Jamie, and they are now no longer in remote continents, as was the case with 19th century colonialists, but in our own backyard. While the likes of Picasso found the ‘primitive’ an inspiration for artistic renewal, here we get to see oddities mainly for their oddity-value, and one of them is Jamie himself: in his self-portrayal video The New Life (1996), the artist disguises himself as a wrestler dressed in long Johns and a self-made mask and engages in some clumsy two-some action with a Michael Jackson look-alike.

Cameron Jamie’s drawings are self-portraits to his statement that his “inside had died and what had been buried come out as zombies.” He doesn´t do all of his zombie drawings by himself though. In the Maps and Composite Actions series, produced in 2003, he collaborated with Dutch graphic artist Erik Wielaert, who illustrated scenes which have been vocally described by the artist. Dressed up as Dracula with a large comforter, he is depicted as a lonesome poseur in a large black cape and white socks in a bizarre LA taxi scene. In Composite Action 2, Dracula is roaming in the suburban night street on a white horse, perhaps inspired by horrid images of Rip Van Winkle in The Legend of the Sleepy Hollow. Composite Action 3 depicts a scene in a 24-hour supermarket, where the artist enters as a limping hunchback Dracula and spooks late evening shoppers.

His drawings are linked to his videos and performances. Inspired by images of goats, devil masks, and spilt gut, there are remote resemblances to the Graffiti Art of Jean-Michel Basquiat, the expressive scribbles by Art Brut master Jean Dubuffet, or occasionally to Cy Twombly. Some of more recent drawings from 2004-2005 have taken on more in the manner of stream-of-consciousness sketches consisting of thin continuous lines with no distinguishable beginning or end. Doodles used to be preparatory scribbles for the creative mind. But for Jamie drawings are annotations to his videotapes that suburbs are indeed odd and folk rituals are primitive.

*This article originally appeared in Contemporary21 no. 83 (Special issue on Drawing, 2006).

Mozart Frenzy in Vienna 2006

Vienna News

Angus Fairhurst, The Problem with Banana Skins, Divided Inverted, 1998, Polyurethanobjekt, 7 x 36 x 36 cm Photo: EVN Collection, Maria Enzersdorf.

“Everything stays better (Alles bleibt besser),” promises the current chancellor who is running for his third term in the national election this October – A fitting slogan for the Austrian angst of anything that might change and an illustration for something that has changed, albeit in a frog-in-a-slowly-heated-up-pot manner, especially concerning art.

In the meanwhile, on Tuchlauben, Vienna’s elegant street in the city center, a taste of bitterness lingers at Bawag Foundation’s “Nothing but Pleasure” show, examining absurdity and irony from its contemporary collections, as if it is a metaphor for the recent Worker’s Union-owned Bawag Bank scandal which will eventually end in the Bank’s liquidation.

This summer, the Culture Minister, after years of haggling, did let go of Nazi-looted art by Gustav Klimt to the niece of Adele Bloch-Bauer after a dictum by an American court. In the face of losing a pre-eminent cultural treasure that once shaped the zeitgeist of the Modernist era, the Austrian public showed nonchalance. There was more sympathy with the Saliera, or rather with its snatcher, who took the treasure out of the Kunsthistorisches Museum three years ago without the annoying hindrance of an alarm or security guards and the help of a convenient scaffolding. Right next to it, on Heldenplatz, the most obvious installation this year was an oversized “Mozartkugel “, a chocolate ball respected by tourists and locals alike, a fitting sight to celebrate the Mozart-year – besides Amadeus salmon, Mozart yoghurt drinks, and Mozart sausages.

Although, or because, art dealers and city-run museums as well as artists are left on their own devices since 2000, when umbrella for state-patronage was removed, some of the Viennese contemporary galleries on Seilerstätte and Schleifmühlgasse have recently been the most aggressive promoters at major international art fairs. Austria showed off 22 contemporary galleries at ARCO ‘06 in February. The Viennafair 2006, sponsored by Erste Bank (a newcomer in the Austrian corporate art collection), took place this April with an emphasis on Eastern European art and an unprecedented power-selling attitude. 20 days in September and October will see the launch of the brand new “Vienna Biennale,” a slightly misleading title as it will take the shape of a fairground for young artists rather than of a thematic biennale.

Exhibition Recommendations:
Kunsthalle Wien, Paraflows 06 – Annual Convention for Digital Art and Culture in Vienna, September 9-16th,  HYPERLINK “http://www.paraflows.at/” http://www.paraflows.at/ shows current digital creativity and state of net culture through local and international projects at various Viennese art spaces.

Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien(MUMOK), Joseph Beuys from the MUMOK Collection, August 4th-October 29th,  HYPERLINK “http://www.mumok.at/” http://www.mumok.at/ Marking the 20th anniversary of the death of Joseph Beuys, Vienna’s MUMOK is showing previously never shown drawings and sculptures which had been done for his various exhibitions in Vienna during the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Generali Foundation, …Concept Has Never Meant Horse, September 15th-December 17th,  HYPERLINK “http://foundation.generali.at/” http://foundation.generali.at/ Titled from a quote by Daniel Buren, the exhibition presents socio-politically focused conceptual works from the 1960-70’s from its collection.