Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Cammofleur #1, Jennifer Juniper Stratford

Jennifer Juniper Stratford and collaborator Christine Adolph (Devastina) of "the Multinauts" 

Cammofleur #1, Jennifer Juniper Stratford is the first in a series of transcribed interviews between the artist Mary Anna Pomonis and creative women in the art world.

MAP:               Do you remember Art School Girls of Doom?

JJS:                  Totally.

MAP:               I was trying to explain that to somebody who had never seen it and I thought, This sounds    terrible.  But it was kind of amazing.

JJS:                 I loved the stuff that was on Liquid Television because it was so truthful in it’s humor.

MAP:               It’s been a long time but I remember, because you had to wait to see it. You had to plan to see it, and when I was living in the dorms in college we would schedule everything around that.

JJS:                 I miss that anticipation.  Many of my best memories are of running to catch something on television. 

MAP:               MTV at that time was in such a golden era. There was “Aeon Flux.” They were playing really beautiful cartoons.

JJS:                 The early days of MTV created a huge space for experimental animation.

MAP:                It was amazing, and the level of production for videos was maybe not figured out, but there was more variety.  It felt like there was. Or maybe I’m just wrong because I’m not watching it the same way I did when I was in my 20’s.

JJS:                  A few years ago I interviewed one of Liquid Television’s producers. Her name is Prudence Fenton.  She is who created many of the station ID for MTV as well. She then went on to produce Pee Wee’s Playhouse. After working with so many animators on staion ID’s she convinced MTV to make Liquid Television.  

JJS:                  Back then the world was open to things that were strange or cable TV was open because there were so many channels. But now everything has to sell something. Or it has to fit a brand. Everything has to be a mega success and to reach the masses you have to be pretty bland. It’s a lot like how Hollywood only wants to make blockbusters like Titanic and Star Wars; movies that make crazy amounts of money in just one gulp.

MAP:               Or even young musicians want to sound like a cover band. There’s always this contest to sound the most like the thing. It’s almost a Glee culture where everything needs to be a version of something perfect.

JJS:                 These days it feels everything has to fit into a defined category.

MAP:               Everything that you make is directly a backlash to that. I mean, everything.  I was looking through all the history of your video work. When did you pick up your first old, thrown-away piece of equipment?

JJS:                  I didn’t get to have a video camera in high school. I remember seeing skater boys rolling past me with  video cameras. They were all starting to make their own skateboard movies and I was just so jealous. But my mom honestly couldn’t afford it, so I actually stole a super 8 camera from school.  From there I was babysitting for money for film.  My sister and my best friend Marisa and I  we were determined filmmakers in high school. If you talk to anybody that I went to high school with, they would probably bring up my “Barbie movie” immediately.

MAP:                That’s amazing.
JJS:                  The three of us decided we were going to make this movie about these Barbies that go on this adventure to a male strip club. It was all stopmotion and inspired by the Wizard of Oz. When the quest begins, the three Barbies meet up with their friends and they get in the car, and they drive to the strip club, and they have to wait in line.  The set up is all shot in black and white, but as soon as they get into the strip club it turns to color. We spent all of our time doing it. Our bedroom has two twin beds with a miniature set in between them. This went on for all of 10th and 11th grade.

MAP:               What’s really interesting, have you seen the LPS [Littlest Pet Shop] videos that are online?
JJS:                 Yeah.
MAP:                My daughter watches them and it’s just girls playing with toys and video cameras, so they move the dogs and then the dogs talk to each other.  And there are all kinds of versions of teenage drama, but told from the perspective of a kid who has no idea what’s going on.  And they’re awkward and funny and you see their broken fingernails moving the dogs’ mouths. As I’m watching it--I watched it with her--I’m thinking they’re tremendously motivated to learn editing and how to create a scene …

JJS:                  Today it’s slightly easier with the home computer. But  because we were working with film, we would have to babysit to get the money to have the film developed. Then we’d have to babysit some more to get more film to shoot the next part. We could also only edit at school during a half-hour film class. It took so long to complete our ideas.

MAP:  Did you use that work to get into art school?
JJS:                 Hell no.

MAP:               That would’ve been a trip.
JJS:                 No way. I went to Art Center, so if they saw that they would never let me in.  

MAP:               Maybe, yeah. I don’t know. The Barbie might have freaked them out a little too much.

JJS:                 I always wanted a video camera. I didn’t get one till after college.

MAP:               Wow.

JJS:                 My thirst for a video camera never went away. By the time I got one they were almost obsolete. I think I fixated on video cameras because  I  took classes after school classes at the public access station so my first experiences with video were on television studio cameras. 

MAP:               That’s amazing. Are you using old public access cameras?

JJS:                  I use a lot of old broadcast equipment.

MAP:               Gosh, I wonder how much it cost when they first bought it. It must have been huge!

JJS:                  I’m fascinated by theatrical television productions mostly those that came out of the BBC and ITV in the 80’s. Dr Who, Top of the Pops, and any early 80’s music video. That’s why I was so pleased that Gerard Way wanted to work with me and help bring that style back to the mainstream.
Video still from "Millions" by Gerard Way directed by Jennifer Juniper Stratford , 2014http://telefantasystudios.com/GERARD-WAY-Millions

MAP:               The production on it looks so much like my childhood. I was watching it few times today. It’s all mixed up production styles and it’s all different but it still reminds me of Abracadabra by the Steve Miller Band. 

JJS:                  Somebody else said that in the article. MTV wrote a review of my videos for Gerard and it’s totally because of my early days.

MAP:               Yeah, I remember seeing Abracadabra and thinking it was really hi-tech at the time.  I’m looking at it now, and it’s so funny because obviously you can see what’s going on, but there’s something nice about being able to see what’s going on that I miss. I remember when things looked hi-tech there was a grid-thing going on that was always there. It was always inherent underneath everything.  That’s all gone now. Everything is so sleek that you don’t see those things.

JJS:                  Everything’s so sleek it’s so boring. So high definition. I get annoyed when people as “Why do you try to make it look old?”  because that’s not really about that.  For instance some artists are photo-realistic painters while others draw comics. It’s my medium of choice.

MAP:               Yeah, it’s like your texture.  But I also think nothing becomes fine art until it’s obsolete as a technology.

JJS:                  You think so?

MAP:               I think so, because when you think about photography, photography was just a commercial industry and then as it became obsolete…

JJS:                  Photography definitely had to fight to be seen as an art in the early days.

MAP:               Because it was obsolete it became an art form.  All of a sudden somebody who knew how to print really well has an amazing skill nobody has that anymore. Or somebody who can create a compelling image that tells an entire story is important. That’s a really amazing skill because everybody is just pointing and shooting and nobody is thinking, “I only have one plate in the camera. I’ve got to get it right.” The preciousness of photography is totally influenced, I think, by the technology being obsolete.

JJS:                  Yeah it almost refreshed photography now that there is a respect for people who use film.

MAP:               Maybe there’s something to say about that; the idea that because the technology is obsolete, now it can become an art form, truly.  The idea of seeing video in the gallery--it’s been around now for a good 20 years--people have context to think about it and understand it. There’s been enough that’s been seen to a point that people get excited about what’s different or exceptional.

MAP:               Even the set-work in your pieces is just as important as the technology. I was looking at this level of the detail with the costuming and set. It’s beyond a sleek surface: there’s an inventive mashing of genres going on, too. You mash Dungeons and Dragons with space travel. It’s like this low-tech, hi-tech thing again because of the costuming and the hair so retro. Your main character is a guy with long hair that looks like somebody in a romance novel from the 80’s. Where did you find that guy because he totally looks like a book jacket cover?

JJS:                  That’s Riley Swift. He was our friend and the greatest Dungeon Master in the entire universe. We were already playing D&D with him before we decided to make Dungeon Majesty a TV show.  From there it developed organically. The five of use were so into our adventures that we decided to make it a television show and it just took off. It will always be my favorite project because it came out of the cast’s friendship at the time and is what formed the foundation for Telefantasy Studios. 

MAP:               So it was a collaborative piece between all of you?

JJS:                 Yes it was a very successful collaboration full of lots of good times on an off screen.

MAP:                You guys financed all of it yourself and you put it all together and got all the people to be in it?

JJS:                  Not only were we the cast, we were the crew, post production, model makers, and creature department.  AND  still, at that time we didn’t own a video camera.

Video Still from, "Dungeon Majesty"

MAP:               Wow.

JJS:                  We used the cameras in the public access studio. The reason we did it there was because we wanted to broadcast our show. I cant say enough good things about Dungeon Majesty, They are my dearest friends and without them there would be no Telefantasy Studios. Christine, the woman that plays the barbarian, Devastina: she’s been my best friend since high school.

MAP:               That’s the best name: Devastina.

JJS:                  It’s so good. In  a lot of ways she my favorite character, because I loved seeing her transform  but then again  I love all of them . A Druid, Sorceress, Barbarian, and a cleric is pretty much an ideal team! 

MAP:               Why isn’t there a person named Devastina? That’s such a great name.

JJS:                  Christine is a genius. She thought of her name in two seconds.  Sometimes I regret never being in a band but then I remember Dungeon Majesty. Some girls form bands, and some girls make public access shows.
Video Still from" Dungeon Majesty" featuring Devastina

MAP:               It’s nice to see. Maybe because we don’t see images of women doing really great things all the time.
JJS:                 Everyone assumed a man was behind the show too. That always made us laugh. 

MAP:               Really?

JJS:                 Yeah. No one believed we were actually gamers.

MAP:               I thought it was the other way around. I thought you guys cast Riley because he looked like what a Dungeon Master looks like.

JJS:                  No, Dungeon Majesty is completely sincere.  He was already our Dungeon Master and he also wrote the adventures that  we actually played live  in the studio.  

MAP:               It’s funny. That didn’t occur to me. Because I know lots of women that are into Sci-Fi and into fantasy.  And if you look at the genre, Ursula K. Leguin has won the Nebula Award more than any other person, which is amazing. There are all these women who dominate that field, like Eugie Foster,Margaret Atwood, and Octavia Butler, but people still think of it as a guy thing. I don’t know why that is, but there are so many great authors and people who are in that world.  The presumption is that it’s a male world, but it’s not. I mean Mary Shelly invented the genre with Frankenstein.

JJS:                 Plenty of women play D&D and are into science fiction. 

MAP:               Why is there a presumption that its male?

JJS:                 It’s an old school mentality. 

MAP:               It sounds so weird to think that that’s still in society’s subconscious, because it feels like we grew up in a time when we should know better.  I think about my mom reading Ms. magazine and then talking about feminism all the time and thinking prejudice against women was going to be gone in the next century. There was going go to be no discrimination by the time I was an adult. Then, still seeing it so blatantly on display--it’s kind of shocking.

JJS:                   I remember I went and did an artist talk at Otis College of Art and Design about Dungeon Majesty and during the Q&A  the teacher that invited me, raised her hand and she said, “Is this purposefully a feminist show?” Honestly, I had not thought about it until she asked.  But I suppose seeing a badass barbarian wielding an axe and taking down a warlord is powerful imagery.  We were just living out our fantasies. Never did we think that we were portraying a feminist agenda. We were merely  slaying monsters but I walked away from that talk and felt proud of of our representations of women.

MAP:               It’s a little too bloody for my ten year old, but for older girls it’s awesome.
Video still from the Multinauts

JJS:                 There isnt much human  blood in Dungeon Majesty. Maybe a few goblin guts but thats about it.  I actually don’t  think I like gore anymore. Actually my mom saw The Multinauts, and she is a woman who has worked in surgery her whole life, and she thought it was far too gorey for an audience.

MAP:               I thought it was funny that the first person to get their neck torn out in the second episode is the frat guy at the keg, because usually the first person to die in a movie is always a woman.  However, the first person to die in your movie is …

JJS:                 Is the jock.

MAP:               How funny is that? That’s something that I think probably every girl would want to do.

JJS:                  Yeah, you know that’s the idea that’s an idea Christine came up with. We had a lot of… Well you can see what our issues are with privileged people were right under the surface of that episode of the Multinauts.

MAP:               That’s awesome.

JJS:                  Multinauts was an extension of Dungeon Majesty. All of the same people were involved as in Dungeon Majesty, but here we combined several worlds and created our own multiverse.  This time we had a script (written by Riley, Christine, and myself) and we shot the first episode in my garage.

MAP:                Looking in the background, I thought, Oh wait, that’s Pearl Hsuing who’s going to the bathroom.

JJS:                  Yeah we would cast anybody we knew that we thought would be good in front of the camera. We loved turning everyday people into some fantasy character. We’d hand them a script and  send them into the dressing room and they come out ready for action.

MAP:               Did you play dress up a lot as a kid?

JJS:                 No, but I played Barbies for way too long.

MAP:               That’s amazing. I never was allowed to have one and so as a result I was always very jealous of people who had them. Because my mom was a feminist, so she would go out and buy gender-neutral, or opposite toys, on purpose. My sister and I had a Hot Wheels collection we had more Hot Wheels than anybody else. We had carrying cases that were in the shape of cars, because we would go to the store and ask for Barbies and she’d say, “No, but you can have any hot wheel you want.”

JJS:                 Wow. That’s so funny.

MAP:               Then we would go to people’s houses and that’s all we wanted to do was play with Barbies, because they had Barbies and we didn’t have them.

JJS:                  For me Barbies were a vehicle for storytelling. I knew I would never look like her!  Plus, my mom didn’t care if we cut their hair. The best thing is that we had a bunch of dolls and then Jem and the Hologram dolls [came out].  But they were bigger, because they weren’t made by Mattel and soon figured that all of Jem and the Hologram’s clothes fit on Ken. So most of our Kens were in drag.

MAP:               Nice.  So you cross-dressed Ken--that’s great. Barbie tried to do a rocker show to rip off Jem …

JJS:                 Yeah, Barbie and the Rockers.

MAP:               I totally remember that one. I watched both of those shows.
JJS:                 Cool, but not as good as Jem.

MAP:               No it wasn’t. Somebody printed a video clip of a bunch of Jem episodes to P.J. Harvey’s "50 foot Queenie."

JJS:                 No.

MAP:               It’s really neat.

JJS:                 I’ll take a look at that.

MAP:               Because I love that song and then to see it with … It must be one episode where Jem becomes giant and she goes smashing through the city like the 50 foot woman. It’s awesome.

JJS:                 I still really love Jem. I think it’s a great show for girls.

MAP:               Totally.

MAP:               I remember there were a lot of great characters in cartoons at that time, too, like ThunderCats. I remember I loved ThunderCats. There was a black character, Panthor, who was the cool cat, and I thought, this is an awesome character. There were all these different creative characters on TV.

JJS:                 Yeah, and they were weird. Their genders were not totally identifiable too.
Video Still from Meet Cynthia a Telefantasy Studio Production and a part of the MOCA Step and Repeat Performance Series, 2014

MAP:               I just want to make sure if there are things that you want to talk about that I haven’t talked about.  Are you doing a project that you’re working on next that you want to talk about?

JJS:                  Im excited for the new year and making more mutant forms of television. Without being heavy handed I know that  I want to continue to make work that is feminist and queer and is a voice for the underdogs.   I don’t think I’m that interested in being an art star or making my work fit in a gallery. I just want to be my own Hollywood, a self sustainable movie factory focused on innovation.

MAP:               It’s interesting because a lot of female artists are moving away from the idea of the galleries taking care of them like a husband.

JJS:                 I never thought of it like that.

MAP:               When I was talking to her about those ideas of marketing herself in any way, or making projects and then making money in any way, outside of her gallery, it was scary to her. She’s been around for a long time. She’s a famous female artist in Los Angeles and I said, “God, you just go to your gallery like it’s your husband. You ask them what to do and how to deal with our money.”  I said, “I don’t think male artists do that.”  You can buy John Baldessari pillows online. He markets pillows and Ed Ruscha markets towels.I don’t even think I was talking about t-shirts. I think I told her she should make a poster so that somebody who wanted to buy a $100 object at her show could afford it, because her paintings are expensive. I want to buy a painting, but I can’t afford it.

JJS:                  That’s the thing about contemporary art that scares me. When the artist has to become a brand.

MAP:               I said, “If you went to your show and you sold 100 posters, that would be a great thing, because more people would enjoy your work and I don’t think it would be bad for you to do that. She said, “I don’t know. I have to talk to my dealer.” I thought, Oh my God, it shouldn’t be like this.  I don’t think guys ask permission as often.  But one of the things I think is great, looking back, is that you didn’t have to ask or wait until anybody said, “I want you to produce a TV show.” You just started producing TV shows before you knew how to make them. 

JJS:                  Because I grew up in Hollywood, and I knew that most people go crazy waiting for someone to green light their dreams. Especially women.  I saw that happen to so many people growing up that  by the time I was in high school I thought, I'm never going to wait around for Hollywood.
Portrait of Jennifer Juniper Stratford, By Mary Anna Pomonis, 2014

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