CAMERON JAMIE: BERNIER/ELIADES GALLERY • ATHENS, GREECE

For his first show in Athens, Cameron Jamie designed a specific installation to present his research from three of his films—BB, SPOOK HOUSE and KRANKY KLAUS—all looking into violence-related myths and rituals from Europe and America. The installation is comprised of videos, photographs, drawings, collected fliers and sculpture, each linked in some way to the films. The exhibition offers insight into the production of Jamie’s films and reveals the inherent theatrical nature of his subject matter.

The earliest of the three, BB (2000), presents suburban LA teenagers who created their own backyard wrestling events. Jamie’s fascination with wrestling dates back to his childhood, but now has little to do with an interest in sport; for him, as for Barthes, wrestling is an iconographic spectacle, an underground, naïve theatre complete with heroes and villains. As the teenagers stage their ritualized performances, costumes and masks conceal their identity while revealing the animated character enhanced by this “rhetorical amplification”.  

Continuing his investigation of violent suburban rituals, Jamie explores Detroit’s haunted houses in the days approaching Halloween. The result, SPOOK HOUSE (2003), is an alarming journey into the heart of vernacular culture, as a community revels in the macabre. Jamie, intrigued by the violence, death, and horror of these performances, likens them to early French Grand Guignol theatre. The effect of the photographs, fliers, and drawings from the film’s research is nightmarish and archaic like a voodoo ceremony—or, more appropriately, a Bacchanalian one.

The final part of the triptych, KRANKY KLAUS (2003), likewise confronts a fearful intersection of the ‘primitive’ and ‘civilised’. The film traces the violent behavior of the Krampus, According to the Austrian Christmas legend, these beasts punish the bad as St Nicholas rewards the good. The research behind the film reveals artist sketches for the Krampus’ masks were worn in a performance around Bad Gastein, as well as five carved masks designed by Jamie. By mapping out the thin line between entertainment and terror, Jamie’s work tests the very limits of acceptable intimidation.

Looking at the studies that mold his films, one must acknowledge the artist’s decision not to depict violence in a traditional documentary way. Jamie’s films are concerned with the theatrical rituals that form the spectacles of excess that thrive in the margins of popular culture. Rather than approaching legitimized modes of violence with a critical, derogatory attitude, the artist considers them myths that deserve a closer look. Cameron Jamie’s films attempt to communicate this structure of myth-shaping, fuelled by displaced identities and fictional selves. After all, as his favorite philosopher, Barthes, argues, myth is nothing more than a type of speech.