Jamie makes you feel you’ve witnessed a violent crime
June 18, 2011 10:20 AM   Subscribe

"Punk-artist-anthropologist Cameron Jamie has made three documentaries on violence; I’ve read about them all and seen just this one." The author speaks of "Kranky Klaus," LA-born artist Jamie's peek into the Austrian folkloric character Krampus, a sort of photo-negative of Santa Claus who comes on Christmas to punish bad children.

Although the Krampuses in Jamie's documentary have gorgeous, if terrifying, costumes, Jamie's film focuses on the victims of the Krampuses -- passers-by who are pushed into the snow, and children gathered in a house who sit, weeping and terrified, as the jingling of the krampuses jingle bells approaches. "Jamie makes you feel you’ve witnessed a violent crime," wrote a critic for the Boston Phoenix.

Jamie's documentaries also include "BB," a product of two years spent investigating backyard wrestling matches in southern California, described by Philippe Vergne on the Walker Art Center's blog as "shot with two Super-8 cameras and is superimposed with the timeless, demented, slow, and forceful music of the Melvins"; it's roughly edited and without additional narration, giving it the feel of a home movie.

Jamie also made a film called "Spook House," a look into backyard and garage haunted houses in Detroit, again with music by The Melvins.

Jamie's own art blends the urge to create these makeshift rituals with the urge to document them, and see how they change over time, something that has been dubbed "Backyard Anthropology." Among Jamie's work include an interview with an older photographer, Theo Ehret, who snapped blatantly erotic images of women wrestling in a living room in their underwear (a phenomenon called "Apartment Wrestling," which continues to this day (link NSFW!)) Which, in turn, caused Jamie to create his own apartment wrestling spectacles, with him dressed in a sort of Mexican wrestling mask that was intended to resemble his own face, with long johns with a faux-exposed derriere; he most notoriously wrestled a Michael Jackson impersonator, both filming and photographing the event.

(How did this happen? As the story goes, back in the mid-‘90s, Jamie often spent his lunch hour outside the Hollywood Wax Museum watching a Michael Jackson impersonator until one day Jamie asked him, “Hey, you want to wrestle.” And “Michael Jackson” said, “Sure.”)

One of Jamie's most mysterious projects is the "Goat Project," which may or may not ever have happened; we're just going to have to take his word on it. Perhaps inspired by, or connected to, his documentary of haunted houses, every so often Jamie returns to suburban Northridge, his childhood home, to ... well, let's let Frieze magazine explain:

[H]e returns to Northridge wearing ‘white face paint, a white shirt covered in fake blood, black cape, dark pants and a dark cape’, though never around Halloween time. Once he reportedly ‘walked into a supermarket limping like a hunchback’; another time he ‘rode a white horse through the dark suburban streets of his old neighbourhood’.

If I understand properly, Jamie brings a witness along, and this witness then reports what he saw to a commercial illustrator, who draws a representation of the event. At an exhibition at the Walker Art Center, Jamie built an enormous wooden mountain. Patrons would enter, singly, lit by an electronic lamp, like a character from an old horror film that was about to enter the Carpathian Mountains. Winding their way inside the structure, the adventurers would find these illustrations, which looked, at best, like high school drawings of Dracula, and were lit only by the dim electronic lamp.

By the way, Jamie also enjoys this sort of game of artistic telephone, as something gets communicated from artist to artist, and transforms. There is, for instance, his "Untitled Portrait (Hand)," which, as I recall, started with a photocopy of a hand with eyeballs on it, and was passed to another artist (Jamie especially likes street illustrators), who converted it into an image of a bald man with his mouth smushed to one side of his face, and so it continued, through several illustrators, producing an increasingly realistic image of a man. Similarly, "Untitled (Eight Portraits)" "got its start when he had a street artist draw his caricature with a Bart Simpson doll he’d found. He paid one artist after another to copy the image, so that the caricature evolves into a portrait of a mother and child in pastel, then oil, then pancake, then styrofoam, then painted photo." (Source)

I may be somewhat misrepresenting some of his work. Some of it I have written from memory, and may be distorted as a result. I get the feeling he'd like that, though.
posted by Astro Zombie (12 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Here's an image of "Untitled Portrait (hand)".
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:25 AM on June 18, 2011

This is awesome.
posted by Dmenet at 10:37 AM on June 18, 2011

fantastic work, AZ.
posted by mwhybark at 10:54 AM on June 18, 2011

Thanks, this is fascinating. I've never heard of Krampus before. Where is Mike Mignola when you need him?
posted by sneebler at 11:48 AM on June 18, 2011

Memphis legend has it that Elvis would get girls wearing only white cotton panties to wrestle for him at Graceland.
posted by vibrotronica at 11:48 AM on June 18, 2011

There are many moments when I envy Elvis.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:54 AM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not me. White cotton panty-clad girls wrestle once a week in my... ummm, imagination.
Elvis is nowhere to be seen.
posted by sneebler at 12:06 PM on June 18, 2011

Santa agressions,The Melvins and appartment wrestling. I'm sold.
posted by SageLeVoid at 2:19 PM on June 18, 2011

Obligatory Wonderella reference to the Krampus.
posted by mordax at 10:13 PM on June 18, 2011

I was in Germany and a costumed Krampus terrified me and my gf.
posted by Brainy at 10:51 PM on June 18, 2011

Wow, this is a great FPP. You sucked me in with Krampus, but there's so much more here to explore. I love this attitude to art.
posted by daisyk at 12:03 PM on June 19, 2011

Obligatory Venture Bros reference to the Krampus (which predates Wonderella by five years).
posted by ErikaB at 9:45 PM on June 19, 2011

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