When I was asked to produce a Nexus Post for the Kindle Project, I was excited about creating a new work of video art for this platform, or to experiment with new ways of talking about my work, or to make something that might inspire a new collaborative art project. But throughout the months leading up to my deadline, which coincided perfectly with the recent election, there had been such an immense amount of unexpected worry and sadness and anger throughout my community, which really changed my priorities in terms of thinking about or writing about my work during that time.
It’s not to say that my projects and goals will change drastically or that these issues haven’t always been important, but it just felt so strange, maybe self-absorbed or selfish (?) to create something all about me, during a time when so many were hurting. Especially throughout the months of November and December, trying to create something bubbly and fun and humorous and only talking about myself, when all around you, you see such pain, sadness, worry and anger.
So I scrapped the initial projects and experiments and tried to think about something that might possibly bring joy both to myself and anyone who might read this, and it felt like the perfect idea to use this as an opportunity to highlight and thank the artists and projects that have inspired me over the past fifteen or so years to make collaborative art projects.
To give you a bit of background, my name is Jaimie Warren and I am both a solo artist, making photography, video and performance projects (dontyoufeelbetter.com), and I am also the Co-Director/Creator of the fake public access television show and community arts initiative “Whoop Dee Doo” (whoopdeedoo.tv).
My personal photography work began as self-portraits that were re-creations of found photo-shopped collages made by anonymous web users, where I would attempt to re-create them without using photoshop, using myself as the main subject. They are always referencing pop culture figures, and I choose images to recreate that ideally represent my personal sense of humor, and also are highlighting celebrities that I have some sort of connection to or affinity for.
Inspired by years of working collaboratively on Whoop Dee Doo, which you will read more about below, my work has more recently grown substantially in scale, and the projects have frequently been large-scale residency projects, where I am working with up to 80 participants to create a final tableaux vivant and music video. These projects invite participants to contribute ideas, help create sets and props, and perform in the final piece with me.
Whoop Dee Doo spawned from a need to fill a void of entertainment in a smaller city, as it began in Kansas City, Missouri back in 2006. The combination of free, huge amounts of space, an amazing and supportive community, and very little to do, aided greatly in the creation of this fake public access television show, where we worked with artists, seniors, kids, drag queens, punk bands, high school choirs, zookeepers and more, to create a bizarre, uniquely Kansas City project for many years.
The project began to travel, working with festivals, museums, universities and the like to create unique installations and live shows featuring their communities. We always bring a core group of 8-12 artists, and most often collaborate with an under-served youth group to help create the sets and come up with the installation designs, collaboration styles and performance ideas.
Whoop Dee Doo has been located in Brooklyn, NY since 2013, and we have two recent Art21 videos that give a great behind-the-scenes glimpse at our processes. Check it out here.
Both of these projects are heavily reliant on the on the participation, artistic contribution and creative input of a large swath of contributors of all ages and skill levels. I have been working with various communities for over a decade, but the collaborative and energetic spirit of these projects is only possible due to the incredible artists and projects that have inspired myself and countless others over the years. I would love to use this as an opportunity to pay tribute to these people.
Since there is no real order from least to most or best to worst, I thought I would do this chronologically.
Thank you thank you thank you to the hundreds of people who made these artworks, ideas, performances, characters, puppets and productions come to life!
My earliest and most influential moment I feel may have defined my entire life and interests is this clip of the Cookie Monster on Sesame Street. I was obsessed with this clip, the combination of Cookie Monsters’ voice being equally joyous and terrifying, and the shock factor of this dark and goopy mess completely covering a perfect white baby gown – it is al too wonderful and it still shocks me to this day.
I think that an easy follow-up that represents something similar to me is this INCREDIBLE scene with Joan Rivers and Miss Piggy from the film The Muppets Take Manhattan. Miss Piggy’s squeals and her anger in general has always been thrilling to watch and hugely inspirational – not to mention making a giant mess!
And since we I am on this kick, I can’t leave out the Swedish Chef.
The opposite side, but still as important, is the straight-up terrifying moments of kids shows. These confusing, wonderful clips are still inspiring me, and I reference them often in my work. This clip of Ernie and Bert coming across a frozen statue of Bert’s Egyptian doppelganger is truly terrifying.
And this orange singing Habanera from Carmen… (chills). I believe this is one of the only animations in Sesame Street that Jim Henson worked on.
The Muppets in general and Jim Henson – how could I ever express my gratitude. I am confident that this person changed thousands of lives and created so many unique artists. I cannot believe what Mr. Henson accomplished in his lifetime. From the Dark Crystal to the Muppet Show – the characters and clips that inspired me are endless. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you Jim Henson. There are many incredible moments, but one I have been enthralled with for so many years is this Muppet Show skit with Alice Cooper- it’s just such a perfect pairing.
And if you have never watched Jim Henson’s funeral, it’s absolutely beautiful. 2:11:20 is the pinnacle moment, besides of course, Big Bird’s tear-jerking rendition of “It’ Not Easy Being Green”.
Musicals from the 1980s were a personal obsession when I was a kid – from Annie (Tim Curry!!) and Oliver to the Sound of Music to my absolute favorite – Little Shop of Horrors. Rick Moranis and Steve Martin (wow), even Bill Murray makes an amazing cameo! And the layered complexity of Ellen Greene’s voice, paired with the unbelievable singing and voice acting of Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops, and that PLANT PUPPET!!!!!!!!!!! It’s in my dreams as much as it’s in my nightmares, to this day.
Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson.
I’ll never be ashamed to express my adoration for this absolute angel of a human being. I have made multiple tributes to this person and have read every book about him I can get my hands on. He never ceases to amaze me. This is someone the world turned into a monster, and it is such an examination of what the world as an audience is capable of, and it’s a truly heartbreaking story. All of this paired with the fact that he is simply the absolute greatest entertainer that the world will ever see, whose audience is the most inclusive – all ages, races, backgrounds – that there has ever been for a musician, whose music is still the absolute life of every party – I cannot say enough. I have been obsessed for different reasons throughout various periods of my life, and my passion for who he is and how he became who he is inspires, confuses, and intrigues me more now than ever. I love you, Michael.
Pee-wee Herman was always controversial for so many reasons, but he is a brilliant comedian, and the sets and puppets on Pee-wee’s Playhouse made him into the Jim Henson of the 90s. A book on the difficulties of this process – making such an incredibly complex show when in competition with shows that cost a fraction of the price by using cartoons and simple sitcom structures – is highlighted in an incredible book: Inside Pee-Wee’s Playhouse: The Untold, Unauthorized, and Unpredictable Story of a Pop Phenomenon. It takes a very in-depth look at his climb to the top, and the wonderful actors, puppeteers and designers he worked with. There are of course hundreds of clips of Pee-wee’s Playhouse to choose from, but I would rather show a rarer clip of Paul’s early days of Pee-wee on the David Letterman show. He has been a genius for quite some time.
Roseanne Barr was always an idol to me growing up, due to my Mother’s uncanny similarity in attitude and jokes, and the fact that the sitcom “Roseanne” in general could not have been more similar to my family dynamic. Even when the show went completely bonkers in the last couple of seasons, it just made into more of a cult phenomenon. But the most inspiring clip – maybe one of my absolute favorite things in existence – was something I did not discover until years later. This 1990 clip of Roseanne singing the National Anthem at the San Diego Padre’s game clearly exhibits that Roseanne is not only the ultimate feminist, but the ultimate punk. She is fearless and I love her.
What better role model could you have as a teenager than Courtney Love? This is super early Courtney, but Hole was an amazing show to see live in those wonderful teen years.
Bonus: Courtney Love & Kim Gordon on MTV 120 Minutes here.
The “Pope of Trash” John Waters has decades worth of inspirational material, and the documentary on his life – “This Filthy World” is was pretty much life-changing for me. The sets and color palate in Female Trouble and Desperate Living are particularly mind-blowing. While you’re at it, watch the documentary on Robert Crumb as well – “Crumb.”
Charlie White’s photography blew me away when I saw it as a student. It was one of the first times I had seen the potential of creating costumes and characters as part of being a “fine art photographer”. These provocative images were presented to me at the perfect time and changed my worked profoundly.
Nagi Noda is a video and performance artist whose work I was lucky enough to come across at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, NY, at an exhibition titled “Spectacle: The Music Video”. The payoff in this unique, 5-minute video is well worth your time. Very sadly, Noda passed away at a young age, but she left us with some incredible work.
Following close behind Pee-wee, Thu Tran’s explosive cooking show “Food Party” inspired me with her amazing sense of humor, energy and color, and really creating something catered towards adults that kids also go nuts for. Thu is a working artist in Brooklyn and continues to make interesting work for herself and others. I was lucky enough to meet her and hear her wonderful stories about creating this show in her living room with friends, and the hardships of selling your soul to a TV network.
Bronx Flavor Baron Ambrosia is a show I am OBSESSED with, but no one seems to have ever heard of it. It’s a public access show from the Bronx that had a stint on the Cooking Channel (even an appearance from John Waters!!). The acting is awful, but that is almost always what makes it so amazing. The Baron, who writes, directs, and stars in the show, causes mischief and fights local folklore, while pairing up with actual restaurant owners, wait staff, and customers of local mom and pop shops, restaurants and bodegas, asking them to be actors in his show while simultaneously cooking, thoroughly describing, and/or eating their ethnic cuisine. It is the awkwardness in the cast that makes the show equally bizarre and heart-warming.
Philip Kwame Apagya is an artist from Ghana who makes brilliant studio portraits. The colors he uses, his one-of-a-kind painting style, and the sweetness of these images make him one of my favorite artists of all time.
Guy Ben-Ner is an artist from Tel Aviv who uses public spaces to create video work. He is mostly known for his video series recreating scenes from soap operas in IKEA bedroom sets with hidden cameras. In these videos, the actors lipsynch and use all available props in ingenious ways while shoppers continue browsing or are stopped in confusion. My favorite component of his work, however, is the fact that he often uses his family, including small children, as his main actors. It’s adorable and truly wonderful to watch.
Nothing is exciting as when two opposite worlds collide. I think this is why I am so obsessed with puppets and people coexisting. These two phenomenal pairings are so gorgeous to watch, and represent the best of all worlds.
RuPaul Charles is a drag mother for hundreds. The show RuPaul’s Drag Race has changed drag forever. We all know that drag had strong roots well before the show, but this project put drag in the mainstream in a way that is creative, cut-throat, heart-warming and tear-jerking. Every season has an amalgamation of talent that never ceases to impress. They never stop one-upping each other and it is as viscous as it is beautiful. Thank you RuPaul for your genuine program that keeps getting better and better. And your autobiography is brilliant as well. AND AND – always be on the lookout for RuPaul interviews – TV, radio, etc. They are always impressive.
Jean Paul Goude is a French photographer, graphic designer, illustrator and filmmaker. Goude’s creations bridge the gap between fine art and commercial work in a way that I have never seen. Most known for his collaborations with the inimitable Grace Jones, Goude’s 30-minute portfolio “So Far So Goude” is something I have watched literally hundreds of times. It is jam-packed with brilliance, most specifically the documentation of his most ambitious curated performance, when in 1989 he was asked by the French government to create a show that would celebrate the Bicentennial Anniversary of the French Revolution, seen here in this video at 14:20. Absolutely unreal.
That just about does it. These are the works that have impacted who I am and what I do throughout my life. All of these are things I revisit often and continue to be inspired by. But beyond all of these amazing people and works of art, I want to thank all of the people who have helped me with projects and with Whoop Dee Doo over the years, and of course to the Kindle Project and their absolutely phenomenal, caring, and ever encouraging staff. This sort of genuine support by people who truly care about what you do and why you do it is so rare to find. I am so honored that they have found me and that they have welcomed me under their umbrella of artists and organizations that they care about. It is moments like this that are what allow you to be truly inspired, and I thank them for it dearly.
Thank you to the Kindle Project, and thank you to Matt Roche, Sofia Dixon, Calder Zwicky, Michael O’Malley, Megan Nelson, Sarah Dahlinger, Danny Crump, Anna Platt, Erin Sheehy, Rebecca Fayemi, Xiaoyang Jin, Mya Edwards, Monika Uchiyama, Eileen Emond, Andrew Mandinach, Matthew Leifheit, Megan Goddard, Joseph Keckler, Erin Zona, Lee Heinemann, Jessy Abid, Justin Oswald, Michael Boles, Tim Barber, Josh Pavlick, Peter Fankhauser, Tara Perkins, Garrett Fuselier, Daniel Goggin, Stuart Scott Smith, Natalie Myers, Chris Beer, Rachel Helm, Lindsey Griffith, Elizabeth Allen-Cannon, Roger Link, Madeline Gallucci, Brandon Nemeth, Molly Ryan, Ryan Comiskey, Kate Hackman, Raechell Smith, Colin Self, Erica Peterson, Peggy Noland, Andrea Peterson and Katie Vaughters for their help in the creation of this work.