18

– Summer 2008

The Other Who Is Oneself: Cameron Jamie

Elizabeth Janus

Cameron Jamie, Self-Portrait, 1992, Spendex fabric, vinyl fabric, imitation fur, thread, laces, 32.4 x 29.2 x 30.5 cm. Copyright Cameron Jamie. Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York.

Cameron Jamie, Self-Portrait, 1992, Spendex fabric, vinyl fabric, imitation fur, thread, laces, 32.4 x 29.2 x 30.5 cm. Copyright Cameron Jamie. Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York.

Cameron Jamie's art has been described as a form of 'backyard anthropology'.1 His attraction to quirky pageants, ceremonies, contests and other commemorative or group activities is transformed into multi-media performances, films, drawings and object installations that are fascinating visual records of what makes a givenculture tick. Favouring certain aspects of lowbrow and popular culture, such as amateur and professional wrestling on the American West Coast or European Christmas traditions, he actively cultivates peculiar situations that are indicative of deeply rooted beliefs or the hierarchies and meanings of collective behaviour. Jamie, however, is no amateur social scientist doing fieldwork with the required clinical objectivity; nor does he mock or judge with any sense of superiority. In fact, one has the impression that he often identifies, or at least sympathises, with his subjects, willingly acting as a witness to and sometime instigator of the strange pantomimes that are as revealing about his own predilections as they are about the society from which they come.

The notions of 'distancing', exoticism, representation of the other, and difference are inflected, reworked, readjusted as a function of criteria no longer geographical or cultural but methodological and even epistemological in nature: to make foreign what appears familiar; to study the rituals and sacred sites of contemporary institutions with the minute attention of an 'exotic' ethnographer, and using his methods, to become observers observing those others who are ourselves - and at the limit, this other who is oneself...
Jean Jamin2

As an American living in France, Jamie already wears the mantle of outsider, one who is able to observe cultural specificities while remaining at a comfortable distance. His

Footnotes
  1. Ralph Rugoff, 'Backyard Anthropology', in Günther Holler-Schuster (ed.), Cameron Jamie, Cologne and Graz: Hatje Cantz Verlag and Neue Galerie Graz am Landesmuseum Joanneum, 2006, pp.66-72.

  2. Jean Jamin quoted in James Clifford, The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art, Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1988, pp.143-44.

  3. James Clifford, 'On Ethnographic Surrealism', The Predicament of Culture, op. cit., p.129.

  4. Jean Dubuffet, L'Art brut préféré aux arts culturels, Paris: Galerie Rene Drouin, 1949. Translation the author's. Also published in Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (ed.), Art Theory: 1900-1990, Oxford: Blackwells, 1992, p.594.

  5. See Mike Kelley, 'Legend Tripping', in G. Holler-Schuster (ed.), Cameron Jamie, op. cit., pp.23-33.

  6. Antonin Artaud, Works on Paper, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1996, p.61. Author's translation.

  7. Ibid.