Cameron Jamie’s work—a blend of video, performance, sculpture, and drawing—turns a sharp critical gaze on various underground and fringe aspects of American suburban culture, particularly in California’s San Fernando Valley, the middle- and working-class suburb where the artist grew up. Using a methodology informed by scientific and forensic anthropology, he explores vernacular rituals such as backyard wrestling and Halloween spook houses, making films and photographs that hint at the significance of these subcultures and their influence on individuals’ fictional worlds and fictional selves.
BB (2000) was filmed after a long investigation of the backyard-wrestling phenomenon in southern California, in which teenage boys imitate the moves of their favorite wrestling stars with equal measures of youthful athleticism, sexuality, violence, and aimlessness. For two years Jamie followed groups of young people in the San Fernando Valley, shooting videos, going to their wrestling shows, and integrating himself into their community.1 Eventually, he abandoned the video footage he’d made and shot BB in one afternoon in black-and-white Super 8 film with no sound and edited it in-camera.2 He added a sound track—the timeless, demented, slow, forceful music of the Melvins—that creates a dreamlike state, reinforcing the nightmarish spectacle of the backyard ritual.3 “It was very important to show the middle-class utopian suburbs in America as a third-world hell,” Jamie says. “BB was also a very biographical work that said so much about my own upbringing.”4 The autobiography includes Jamie’s long fascination with the spectacle of the World Wrestling Federation, as well as his own earlier performances of one-on-one “apartment wrestling” documented in his videos The New Life (1996) and La Baguette (1997). In BB Jamie takes the documentary format to another level, to what he has referred to as a purgatory state—a middle ground that, in his view, is perfectly embodied in the very notion of the suburb.
BB is one of a trilogy of films that explores quasi-macabre rituals. Spook House (2003), shot in Detroit around Halloween, documents residences that have been converted by their inhabitants into haunted houses, dungeons, and torture chambers. The artist relates this phenomenon to the nineteenth-century French Grand Guignol theater, which specialized in productions designed to terrify and sicken viewers through the display of violence and horror. Kranky Klaus (2003) looks at a Christmas ritual in rural Austria involving a shaggy creature known as the Krampus, which visits villages to punish those who have misbehaved. Ominous and intense, these three films are “outlets for people to express fantasies and ideas about themselves” and also comment on “ritualized social theatrics in America that people rarely or never acknowledged.”5
Jamie says his many road trips began to feel like the exploration of events on another planet or in a distant universe. “So the title [BB] was metaphorical in referencing the scale of something small and mysterious, like a tiny planet, and its double meaning as an ammunition bullet for youth became more meaningful by the time the project had materialized as a Super 8 film.” From correspondence with the author, July 28, 2004 (Walker Art Center Archives). ↩
The Walker’s collection includes a DVD installation version of the Super 8 film. ↩
In 2003, the Walker screened BB in the Auditorium with a live performance by the Melvins. ↩
Quoted in Jens Hoffmann, “Cameron Jamie: Comparative Anatomy,” Flash Art 36, no. 229 (March/April 2003): 69. ↩
Ibid., 68–69. ↩