Artist Profile: Body by Body


Body by Body & Julia Rob3rts, Sculpture for Burning Man (2012)

Why did you choose to create Body by Body?

CAMERON: I wanted to start something like a band but with visual art (but not a collective). Or at least have a Malcolm McLaren type role. I still would like to start a visual art version of Bow Wow Wow. So we started Body by Body, and it was nice to make work that was different from what I did solo.  When we started the Aventa Garden series, we needed a writer with a certain tone of voice, so we made Julia Rob3rts who does all the writing for us and about us.  In this way, we have our own private economy.  She writes all our press releases and sort of plays the 'artist as researcher/digital ethnographer/cyberflaneur' role for us, so we can focus on being symbolic artists and beatniks. This isn't new by any stretch, Pessoa is the first thing that comes to mind...

MELISSA: It was pretty random and not as deliberate as it seems now. Parker (Ito) and Caitlin (Denny) asked me to do something for jstchillin, and at that point I had been out of school for two years and wasn’t really making much work. I said to Cameron, 'I don’t know what to do for this but I think we should make something together and sell it on the site'. Then Cameron suggested we use a pseudonym to identify our collaborative efforts. The name stuck and grew into something else. We started creating other ‘characters’ and giving them a life, but really the pseudonyms function, at least for me, as a psychologically liberating outlet. It helps to not get bogged down in what one thinks they should be making or how it will be perceived – it’s kind of like wearing a Halloween mask (though not so much for purposes of hiding behind). It's an outlet for our multiple personalities to grow so that we don’t second-guess and suffocate the ideas just as they are beginning to coalesce. It also just makes sense to me since my interests change almost daily.

BODY BY BODY: One way to deal with these shifting interests or our reluctance to commit to anything is to work in a similar cycle as fashion houses i.e. Autumn/Winter, Spring/Summer collections.   

Your 2010 L00kbook includes a reference to Baudelaire's concept of Spleen: "Thus began Baudelaire's infamous 'Spleen,' that debilitating condition whose symptoms included an excruciating sense that time had been reduced to a crawl, a paralyzing state of hyperstimulation in which it was impossible to be productive." What's the relationship of your work to Spleen?

CAMERON: We have been asked about that quote before, Baudelaire is obviously a source of inspiration for a lot of artists for various reasons.  Specifically to your question, I would say our work relates to Spleen in several ways: for one, there is our tendency to just watch people and things and to use what's immediate as subject matter.  In the past we've taken mushrooms or acid and then picked a random destination.  Last time it was Chelsea: we sat in some cafe, and there was this 90 year old woman sitting there writing in a notebook.  She looked like a skeleton but at this hip Chelsea cafe with Depeche Mode's "Never Let Me Down" playing. That song juxtaposed with this corpse surrounded by these young dancing waiters.  We were laughing and crying. Also, there is one chapter in Spleen, about him dropping this flower pot on someone's head from his window on purpose, I think about that a lot.  Lastly, Baudelaire was concerned with details, and we are too.  

MELISSA: I wouldn’t say that there is a direct correlation between our work and Baudelaire’s use of the word ‘spleen’ -- signifying everything that is typically considered wrong with the world. I think we read Baudelaire in a more holistic way -- his words are timeless and elegantly point out the dichotomous truths in life. Our work is however subject to a plethora of schizophrenic role-playing identity crises swimming in a spleen-erific horror film marred by flowers and traditional beauty. In other words, “what it all boils down to, is that no one’s really got it figured out just yet”.

In the most recent Body by Body show at Courtney Blades in Chicago, niche Internet iconography is utilized in tandem with commercial images and logos. Collapsing corporate and homemade imagery appears to be a strategy within your work -- can you talk about the interplay of these images?

CAMERON: That's interesting that in the Courtney Blades show you think there is a lot of corporate imagery.  I thought in that show we were actually getting away from that.  The one Internet niche iconography would be the trollface painting ('Ghost Tweets')  by Deke2 so I cannot claim responsibility for that.  The interplay of the images in this show is more about the interplay of the characters/'artists' involved: [email protected], Julia Rob3rts, Deke 2 and Body by Body.  This show is definitely influenced by our love of group shows as a thing in itself.

MELISSA: Hmmm… I know we hang out with a lot of people who make work that utilizes the type of imagery you are mentioning, but I don’t think we really do much of that -- aside from when we made our shirts in 2010. I guess the video game we made for that show, features Whole Foods, Kombucha and the New Yorker – but that’s just our reality and we’re not trying to comment on it or anything.

BODYBYBODY: The Courtney Blades show is probably best understood in the context of being the second part of a 'trilogy' of shows called Aventa Garden.  The first being 'Anime Bettie Page Fucked By a Steampunk Warrior' with Body by Body, Deke 2 and Julia Rob3rts at Headquarters in Zurich back in March. The third I think will take place in a coffee shop across from where CBGB's used to be (now a John Varvatos store).  And then the three shows will be "laid to rest" in a self-released artist's book/monograph.   In a way, this trilogy is like a movie or play with a beginning, middle and end.  That's why the press release reads like an introduction and that's why the artists are more like different roles we take on:  [email protected], for example, is us pretending to be a painter who doesn't know how to paint, Julia Rob3rts: a polemicist/critic.... Often times the subject matter is very self-destructive and nihilistic. In that sense, it's sort of cleansing.

How do you feel your work is transformed by its manifestations on the Internet versus in a gallery space?

CAMERON: I think that the only transformation that concerns me is that it can be misunderstood.  This is why interviews are good, because it's the only place where you can directly say what you're really about without anyone projecting anything onto you and boy, do people like to project!!! Little projectors everywhere trying to fit you into their narrative (or block you out).  

MELISSA: The obvious ways I guess… though I’m still waiting for the moment when the only documentation I have of my work is a photo I found on Instagram posted by a stranger – an image of some dude’s head drinking a beer, with my work in the background all blurry and dull looking.

A post on Julia Rob3rts' Tumblr, details her exploration of Natural Body Magic through DeviantArt. Another post explores the "contemporary Dolling scene." The pieces seem like they're telling microhistories or defining the rules of certain image-based vernaculars. How have these kinds of images and the communities surrounding them influenced your work?

CAMERON: I am not sure if they have influenced the work directly but they are definitely inspiring.  NBM and Dolling show other ways of making work that's different than anything else going on.   They can provide answers. And it's all self-organized, self-policed.  I guess some of the artist's names (since they use pseudonyms) influenced Julia Rob3rts.  I would also say writing about these artists helps so that people can see where we're coming from more and can get into our headspace, see how we see.   

MELISSA: These kinds of images display a certain unschooled and wacky aesthetic that is not really considered in ‘high’ art or work that one typically sees in a gallery. I think we were drawn to it for that very reason, but also the format of DeviantArt – how everyone has a profile with a pseudonym, giving them anonymity in some respects.

It is inspiring to see how much variety there is in the DeviantArt community, and that is something we keep in the back of our minds. We want all of our shows to look like group shows.

Going back to the characters from your Courtney Blades show, it's interesting that the work comes with a prepackaged unfolding narrative, as you've described. Do you think of Body by Body as attempting to disrupt or rearrange contemporary art historical narratives--narratives that may be trying to fit you in or block you out (as you said, Cameron)?

CAMERON: Rearranging or disrupting makes it sound like we have some kind of power or influence or even worse, a lofty academic agenda.  Also, we aren't really trying to convince anyone that these artists are real which I think would be required in order to disrupt, right?  To try to explain it that way, for me, bogs it down into an intellectual k-hole, the truth is it happened very organically.  It was like "Oh, Julia Rob3rts would do this." So we did it.   The work led the way.  Probably the same thing happened with Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse.  Aside from this, personally, I like how group shows look, and I like looking at group shows online. They're aesthetically pleasing.  I think it's all the white.  So in a way, the Courtney Blades show is like a portrait of a group show.  That's why we're able to scribble all over the photos of it. But again, the next show will be completely won't be so geared towards a gallery because it will be in a coffee shop (another great environment).  We're going to take it back to the streets.  

MELISSA: It’s all in the spirit of playfulness. Although we are both very critical people (critical of ourselves as well as others), we don’t intend to take on or criticize any particular contemporary art historical narrative. We are just contributing to the chatter in hopes that we can create confusion as people are just starting to pin us down as something.

Age: 26 and 28

Location: NYC

How long have you been working creatively with technology? How did you start?

MELISSA: I definitely started feeling a spark between me and the computer around the time I first got to play Myst on my PC. I think it was the combination of the visuals along with the sounds that really made an impression on me. I also really loved the game Creatures.

CAMERON: Computers have always been around so hard to come up with a singular moment.  I remember I had Macromedia Director in middle school and made animations w that.

Describe your experience with the tools you use. How did you start using them?

MELISSA: I don’t work with tools, I manipulate ideas, I have bowel movements and I breathe effortlessly for the most part.

CAMERON: Melissa put it very poetically.  Work is like breathing and shitting.

Where did you go to school? What did you study?

CAMERON: I went to San Francisco Art Institute.  I studied graffiti ( Not 'street art.' ) In school, I bounced around different majors until I fell into New Genres (West Coast thing).   I will never get an MFA unless it's free and they give me a stipend.  Basically, I will accept one if they pay me to have it.  And even then, I might not out of spite.

MELISSA: I was an Individualized major at the California College of the Arts with a focus on sculpture and video. I was really into making 3 second loops on VHS tapes.

What traditional media do you use, if any? Do you think your work with traditional media relates to your work with technology?

MELISSA: The words 'traditional' and 'technology' hardly ever come into my head when I'm thinking about my own work.   I mean most imagery that I refer to has come off a screen at some point, so even if I were to traditionally ‘paint’ a figure onto a canvas, I’m most likely referencing a hallucinatory image in my head that is an amalgamation of figures in my dreams, the person standing next to me, a picture of Bai Ling, a shitting dick nipples image I once saw on 4chan, and an amorphous carrot.

CAMERON: I don't make those divisions.  It's whatever works for what we want to do.  

Are you involved in other creative or social activities (i.e. music, writing, activism, community organizing)?

CAMERON: I write. We know a lot of people involved in music.

MELISSA: Well, I like to eat… a lot! I like thinking about food and what I’m going to eat next. Karaoke is fun too, but it’s hard to find a place that will play Cibo Matto and I really want to sing ‘sugar water’ for some of my friends.

What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously? Do you think this work relates to your art practice in a significant way?

MELISSA: I’ve mostly worked as an administrator in the arts -- as a registrar at galleries and a studio manager for artists. I also pretty seriously got into Fine Art appraisal and had the opportunity to see some bizarre collections (and their owners).

CAMERON: I work for a software company specializing in travel.  I think it relates to my work in a significant way in that my schedule is flexible.  

Who are your key artistic influences?

MELISSA: My answer to this question changes constantly, but earlier this year I would have said the Chicago Imagists. Now I’m really inspired by body horror – body manipulations/modifications, Marlie’s face operation to remove her polyostotic fibrous dysplasia, and shitty Halloween makeup.

CAMERON: Bruce Conner, Wallace Berman, Jay DeFeo, Ed and Nancy Kienholz, Walter Beirendonck, the Antwerp Six, Dubuffet, COBRA, Picabia, Patagonia, Dieter Roth, Sigmar Polke (and a lot of other German painters), Chicago Imagists, Los Angeles sculptors like  Eric Wesley, Jorge Pardo, Liz Craft etc. etc. Europe: a lot of eurotrash art from the Stadelschule. I'm  also inspired by a lot of movie directors actually: lately Dario Argento, Michael Snow, Jean Rollin, Chantal Akerman, Leos Carax. I watch a lot of movies.   I'd like to make a movie one day.  I don't find any Internet art inspiring except for DeviantArt.   

MELISSA: Ya, and those guys too... except for Jorge Pardo. ;)

Have you collaborated with anyone in the art community on a project? With whom, and on what?

MELISSA: See Cameron’s answer.

CAMERON: Yes we collaborate quite a bit.  Our Aventa Garden shows are all collaborations.  We collaborated with Parker Ito (Deke2), I think he keeps getting credit for Anime Bettie Page but he gives us shout outs.

Do you actively study art history?

Melissa: In spurts… for appraisal work I have to do some intense research in a short amount of time.

Cameron: Yeah.  But probably all stuff skewed to what I'm interested in at the time.  Recently it was James Ensor and Richard Dadd.

Do you read art criticism, philosophy, or critical theory? If so, which authors inspire you?

MELISSA: Since I’ve been out of school, I’ve been less inclined to finish entire books. I usually glean a few sentences here and there. I’ve been attempting to read Chris Kraus’s new book, but no luck just yet. I enjoy reading the New Yorker mostly and am really into the lyrics to Jewel’s song ‘Pieces of You.'

Cameron: I really like Armond White's film criticism, he really flips everything on it's head, there's an article where he relates Transporter 3 to Cubism.  People hate him.  I wish there was someone like him in the art world, maybe there is (?)  

Are there any issues around the production of, or the display/exhibition of new media art that you are concerned about?

CAMERON: I don't consider myself a new media artist.   All I see when I hear that term are people more concerned with the instruments that they're using rather than the work itself.   

MELISSA: I don’t really like work that is clean or displayed in pristine settings. I keep trying to get our work to look a bit nastier and dirty, but the real challenge is how to display the dissonance between these two aesthetics.