– Summer 2008

Suburban Attractions

Edwin Carels

Cameron Jamie, Kranky Klaus, 2002 – 2003, Still from color video, Soundtrack by The Melvins, 25min. Copyright Cameron Jamie. Courtesy Gladstone Gallery.

Cameron Jamie, Kranky Klaus, 2002 – 2003, Still from color video, Soundtrack by The Melvins, 25min. Copyright Cameron Jamie. Courtesy Gladstone Gallery.

'Pardon my French' is a common English phrase used to excuse obscene language. The phrase has found widespread use on broadcast television and in family films, where potentially offensive words are followed by the expression in order to emphasise their meaning and simultaneously dodge censorship or rating guidelines. Some believe 'Pardon my French' originated in the nineteenth century; others trace it back to World War I; still others say it was popularised by 1950s intellectuals who were well-versed in French. Whatever the origin, it reflects the Anglo-Saxon association of the French with vulgarity, also evident in terms such as 'French pox' (for genital herpes), 'French-sick' (for syphilis) or 'French novels' (for sexually explicit).

The sense of media literacy and centuries-old traces (even scars), the awareness of motifs and influences that travel from one country to another and from one century to the next, and the acknowledgement of what is generally considered too vulgar to even be mentioned are all recurring elements in work of Cameron Jamie, an American artist who has lived in Paris for the past seven years. For instance, his Neotoma Tape (1983-95) is a compilation of public-access television recordings, including excerpts of New-Age aerobics classes, interviews with obsessed fans of heavy-metal music or bands such as Sonic Youth and The Go-Go's, segments of parents discussing paganism and Satanism, talk shows with porn stars and born-again Christians and footage of teenage brothers vomiting in shopping malls. Jamie likes to direct our attention towards the weirdest (but in his opinion the most genuine) obsessions and fantasies that surface in everyday life - in the case of Neotoma Tape those that are unleashed in the suburban broadcasts of

  1. All the quotes by Jamie are taken from interviews that took place during the preparation for the 2008 edition of the International Film Festival of Rotterdam, in which Jamie featured as the 'artist in focus'. They were published in De Volkskrant IFFR, 17 January 2008. The author is the curator of the 'Exploding Cinema' section of the festival.

  2. See http://www.nathansfamous.com/nathans/contest/index.php (last accessed on 4 March 2008).

  3. The exhibition '3Radicals (Paul Sharits, Robert Breer, Cameron Jamie)' at TENT. in Rotterdam (2008) included a slightly condensed version of Jamie's exhibition 'Carved Ink', originally at Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris (2007).

  4. Wanda Strauven, 'Introduction to an Attractive Concept', in W. Strauven (ed.), The Cinema of Attractions Reloaded, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2006, p.18.

  5. Tom Gunning, 'The Cinema of Attraction(s): Early Film, Its Spectator and the Avant-Garde', in W. Strauven (ed.), The Cinema of Attractions Reloaded, op. cit., p.384.

  6. Quoted from the IFFR festival leaflet.

  7. See Philippe Vergne, 'An Archeology of Violence', in Kathy Halbreich and P. Vergne (ed.), Cameron Jamie (exh. cat.), Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 2007.

  8. Quoted by Molly Nesbit, Atget's Seven Albums, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1992, p.35.

  9. Ibid., p.9.

  10. 'Maps and Composite Actions', De Vleeshal, Middelburg, The Netherlands, 2003.

  11. Cameron Jamie and Mike Kelley (ed.), Exquisite Mayhem: The Spectacular and Erotic Photography of Theo Ehret, Cologne: Taschen, 2001. This sentence is a quote from Roland Barthes, 'The World of Wrestling' (trans. Annette Lavers), reprinted within Exquisite Mayhem.

  12. R. Barthes, 'The World of Wrestling', in C. Jamie and M. Kelley (eds.), Exquisite Mayhem, op. cit., p.9.