What does it mean to be of service as a performer?
The pandemic dovetailed with my first year in the Art + Social Practice program, and by the time I began school, I felt worlds away from my former life and priorities as a performer. I was sure I’d be hanging up my showman hat forever, in order to do something that was actually useful. New age composer Kay Gardner’s words— “May the work that I do be used for the greatest good”— became my motto. I didn’t perform for the next ten months. By the summer of 2021, though, New York nightlife had resuscitated, and suddenly I was being asked to play one show after another. I said yes to them all— there’s nothing like an opportunity to flex what you know how to do. August, September, October, November— I was back, baby.
But was I useful? As I enter year two of my MFA pursuit, I remain uncertain as to how I can be of service as a performer. Those of us trained to flourish in the spotlight sometimes get a bad rap for being self-interested, and as you’ll read below, we are often caged into a restrictive, fame-driven notion of success. But in fact, a performance is a practiced offering; it gives us a reason to gather, a sight around which to congregate, a collective experience that leaves us changed. Performance is its own form of dialogue with a public. It’s a mutually beneficial transaction. So, then, can entertaining be an act of hospitality?
Turns out Jibz Cameron, the Los Angeles-based performing artist I interviewed for this issue of SoFA, has had similar questions on her mind as of late: “What is it that you’re actually doing? Why does it matter? What is it for? Who cares?,” she asked emphatically over our video call. It is simultaneously relieving and disconcerting that Jibz, a longtime professional artiste and recipient of impressive art grants aplenty, still experiences existential crises such as these. If anything, it underscores the timeless utility of creative reflection.
Best known for her prolific 20-year output as Dynasty Handbag (the disheveled lesbian madwoman who functions as her performance vessel), Jibz’s work as a performer, actor, and visual artist spans comical live solo shows, multimedia performances, musical green screen videos, pervy drawings (see: Untitled Orgy #3), and a forever in-progress cable television show. In the midst of all this, Jibz also hosts and produces a wildly popular monthly variety show called Dynasty Handbag’s Weirdo Night at LA music venue Zebulon. Weirdo Night was initiated to fill a void in the Los Angeles scene, which was notably lacking in support for cross-genre artistry. This stitching together of comedy, music, video, and performance art resonated with locals and forged a community of devoted attendees.
An iconic solo performer, I was curious how Jibz’s outlook on performance might have been reshaped by her experience as a host in support of other wacky artists doing their thing. Spoiler alert: it did. We talked about performance as a service and a collaboration; and we talked about letting go of ambition and the importance, as a host, of creating a unified space for the performers and the audience.
Becca Kauffman: I was curious to know what a day in the life looks like for you, as a working artist. I’m just asking in terms of isolation, because I spend all day alone. I work from home, I live alone, and I zoom into grad school from thousands of miles away. I feel like, bizarrely, as a performer, my life is highly solitary considering that my work necessitates the presence of other people.
Jibz Cameron: Can I just say what you just said? Except for I don’t live alone, but yeah, it’s very isolating. But it’s interesting, because it’s different now. I guess I’m wondering, is this COVID or not COVID? Like, just regularness? I [live a] pretty standard, not very exciting lesbian life, you know? I take pretty good care of myself, though, I have to say. A lot of my life is about regulating my mania, and my workaholism. So I have to temper that a lot. I have to exercise a lot, I have to talk to a lot of people on the phone and check in. I’m sober, and in recovery. So I do a lot of maintenance. A lot of maintenance.
Becca: It’s a responsibility to do that. I also have a lot of self-help and self-healing practices in my daily life that sometimes I ask, is this really indulgent or selfish?
Jibz: It can be if you don’t have a goal— the point is so that you can be of service, that’s kind of where I’m at right now. Like, I have to view everything as service now. Not in a people-pleasing kind of way, just more a way of like, if this is going to benefit me being able to do my job better, being able to be a better friend, a better person, or not even better, I don’t even want to use that word, just like, more at peace— useful. And some of that includes like, a lot of napping, sometimes it’s really intense work. But I’m always trying to balance it, you know, because I have a tendency to go one way or the other. It’s all nap, or all work.
Becca: I totally resonate with your idea of service. That’s how I’ve started to think of my approach to performance in the last two years, as well. For me, there are parts of performing that are personal, process-oriented expressions and expulsions that need to happen, but at the same time, I can tell that there’s also a benefit for the other people who partake in those experiences. So how can I refocus my energy toward being of service to the people that come into the orbit of an idea or project that I have? Did your idea of service start to develop more because of the pandemic, or was it fermenting before that?
Jibz: Well, it’s been fermenting for a while. I think part of that was developing Weirdo Night and having to go through a process of giving it away and being like, this isn’t really even mine anymore. Because I would get on a lot of ego trip stuff, a lot of fear, and, Oh, now it’s really popular, so it has to be amazing all the time. I would just stop remembering that it’s for the people that are there; that it’s one show at a time, and people are there because they want to be, not because they’re like, Let’s see what you got. Maybe there’s one or two of those people, but who gives a shit?
Coming back into [performance after the pandemic], I was like, Okay, some shit has to be different now. Because I really wear myself out and overdo it, overwork. And I was like, that needs to stop. Because it’s not even possible anymore. Like, physically, I’ve slowed down— just the regular COVID shit, we’re like, Oh my god, this is hard. But also just mentally, it’s, who cares? Like, it’s fine. Just letting go of ambition and striving. I just want shit to feel good.
I’m sure you’ve experienced this too, where you thought a lot about what performance is, and what the relationship is, like what is it that you’re actually doing? Why does it matter? What is it for? Who cares? Because everybody was questioning what their place on Earth was, you know? A lot of like, Does my art matter, blah blah. I think it’s this weird symbiosis between, nothing matters because we’re all like, going down— the apocalypse is happening. It’s not like, not going to happen. So [art is] really important, but then it’s also not important at all. So it’s like these two things kind of converging in the middle. I think it’s important for the Now. But the future of it doesn’t matter. Your future doesn’t matter. Your success doesn’t matter. Whatever you deem matters in the future, doesn’t matter. And so that helps me a lot, thinking about putting Weirdo Night on again, which is what I just did for the first time. I had to keep that in mind a lot. You know, instead of this larger scope of like, The show is back! What’s it going to be like, how am I going to navigate the world? Who knows, maybe we’ll go into another lockdown in a month. There’s no planning anymore. There’s like, vague goals.
Becca: It’s like a reframing of ambition, because meaning and purpose is all chopped and screwed. The future is truncated, or like, what happens later, or after, or in some distance ahead of time, basically becomes irrelevant because we’re in this chaos soup with no bowl.
Jibz: Yeah, no bowl for the soup. And all those cliches of like, “Be here now” and “Love the one you’re with”— it’s like, Oh, right. That’s what that means. It just means like, your side of the street, taking care of your community, your neighbor, your stuff. Like what is in your hula hoop first, you know?
When the ‘plandemic(1)’ first started, I was about to make this little TV show. And we turned in our scripts, and then the next week was lockdown. And we haven’t heard back since. And that was what I thought my life was going to be. But I kind of just don’t even care. I’m like, I don’t know, what business do I have knowing what I’m supposed to be doing?
Becca: I had a similar crisis during the pandemic, where I was like, Fuck, I literally only have soft skills. How am I supposed to make myself useful during this time? I decided emotional catharsis is one way— trying to make sense of things by using your body and your psyche as some kind of vessel, being thoroughly explorative internally and then willing to fish it out and dredge it up for sharing. That’s a form of offering that also justifies taking care of yourself, tending to your well being and making sure that you have tools to find clarity within yourself so you can communicate or create some kind of collective experience that allows people to realize emotions they are having that they might not have been able to access before.
Jibz: Generally what art is for: moving you through feelings or concepts or thoughts that can’t really be expressed through language in the same way, or written. Anything that makes you think about anything differently is valuable, I think. That’s why I’m kind of like— maybe this is just a lame excuse, but— not really having a gauge or an interest in high or low art and just being like, anything that makes me see something different is totally valuable. And if it propels me in any way, and it’s not boring, I’m there for it. And I think it’s useful. Like trash TV, or whatever it is.
Becca: You’ve talked about your impetus to start Weirdo Night being the creation of this kind of between space, a container for genres that didn’t really have a meeting point in Los Angeles. Providing a place where people can go, belong, and feel included in a new genre.
Jibz: I personally have never really understood where my place in any genre was. I really don’t still. And I like that, that’s the cool thing about being an artist, is that you can do whatever the fuck you want. I sort of thought I wanted to be a theater actor. I went to art school and then I went to theater school. But it’s too small. It’s too narrow. It’s too one-thing for me.
One of the things I always think about is, a really great time for me was in San Francisco in the late 90s and early 2000s. Even though I always kind of hated living there because it’s really haunted and creepy, and I kind of just wound up there. But there was a moment there where I felt like, everybody was doing stuff, you could afford to live there, and there was no question of whether or not you were going to get famous by what you did or make any money. It was already accepted that it was never going to happen, especially there. And then when I moved to New York, I was like, Oh, everyone here is looking to be discovered. Because you can be discovered in New York, but you could not be discovered [in San Francisco]. There’s no one there to discover you. So I think that’s part of it, is just that age old stupid thing of like, art for art’s sake, just cause you want to.
Becca: So a blissful time in your creative past was a period in which there was no spectre of, interest in, or ambition towards fame and recognition, being discovered. But then you moved to New York, and after that you moved to LA. I feel like part of a narrative I’ve picked up from you over the years, through jokes and asides that you’ve told, is you trying to “make it in Hollywood;” and this failed TV show, which sort of tidily folds into the essence of Dynasty Handbag’s schtick: being a mess. I’m curious about the relationship that you now have to fame and ambition. You had the 90s in San Francisco, where those things weren’t on the table, and now post-pandemic, where it’s also not really on the table— maybe it is, but we’re not thinking that far ahead. Where does ambition lie for you? When you’re workaholic-ing, what are you working for, in your mind?
Jibz: So the workaholic-ing, it doesn’t really have ambition behind it. It has getting-high-off-of-anxiety behind it, which is something that I had to figure out: that I was like, I feel like I’m really ambitious, but I’m actually just an addict who wants to feel like I’m on drugs all the time. When I am in a creative place and I’m making work that I like, I don’t feel like that, I just feel happy and in the zone, and energized in a regular way. But when I’m manic— it’s really the “-aholism” that’s important about it. Like, working isn’t bad, working hard isn’t bad. It’s just the intention. So I have to calm myself down a lot to make work that is not fueled by mania. I think this goes back to what we were talking about before: I’m gonna have these projects and do my thing, but I’m not gonna grip onto them as though I know this is gonna be the thing. There’s no thing.
Becca: So you’re not looking for a thing anymore?
Jibz: No, not really. I just want my projects to be fun and to be with other people. And to have energy and maybe get folks paid, maybe get myself paid. But I don’t really know what that is and I don’t really care anymore. I have things I want to do, for sure. Like I would love to make a TV show because I think it’s great and I love all the people I was working with. But my writing partner Amanda Verwey and I have a pact that, if it started to be not fun, we would stop doing it. Because there’s a lot of miserable people in LA trying to get their TV shows made… I don’t know what’s best for me, is all I’m saying, success-wise.
Becca: I think as a performer, especially, there’s a singular expectation of what you want, or what you should want, and what other people want for you— for everyone to recognize your greatness— which means, become famous. It’s a huge burden because it makes it challenging to just enjoy small accomplishments; they’re never big enough or good enough.
Jibz: And they never will be, Becca, they never will be! Because I’ve reached every single milestone that I thought I wanted. I’ve literally done above and beyond what I ever thought was possible for me. And I’m still fucking shit for brains crazy. And I still have the same hang ups.
Becca: Okay, so I’ve been thinking about hospitality as an aspect of performance, especially in the role of a host.
Jibz: You are the fucking master stewardess of the universe.
Becca: Ah, haha. Thank you. I was wondering if the idea of hospitality, being hospitable as a performer, sets off any sparks in your mind in terms of how you approach being on stage, and creating an environment and a culture inside of your shows?
Jibz: I’ve seen a lot of drag queens in my day. I really think that model of hosting is where I get my inspiration from. I think the main thing about hosting is acknowledging the space that you’re in; acknowledging the reality of what’s going on. And helping people to feel like there’s someone in charge. I mean, with Dynasty Handbag, the fun part is that she’s in charge, but, do you really want that? It could go totally awry. But that’s the fun part. Because if you go to my shows, you know that it’s not going to go totally off the rails. It’ll go off the rails enough to keep it fun, but I’m not going to let anyone get hurt or say anything super fucked up— I’m not gonna make chaos for no reason, or make anyone feel bad. So that’s the main thing, is acknowledging what’s happening. Like, Oh, welcome to the show. So glad to be at Zebulon. I see we have blah, blah, blah, here. Watching drag queens is like that and then taking a piss on the whole thing, especially if it’s in any kind of a low brow situation.
It’s all these departure points of like, Oh, we’re all together. I like to talk about, Can everybody see? Oh, you can’t? Well, that’s too bad, because we’re in a class system. And the people who are more advanced got here earlier, and they’re in the front. So, just making it so that it’s like, the things that are awkward or uncomfortable about it are acknowledged. And I think it’s the same thing with hospitality in terms of when you go to a restaurant. I worked as a waitress for a really long time. All you need to do is smile at someone and say, Hello, I see you. I know you’re there. I’ll be with you as soon as I can. And then they calm down. If you go to a restaurant, and no one looks at you and you’re standing around, the person’s going to be angry in like, one minute. It’s just like, I see you. I see you’re here, I see you made the effort to get here. I like to acknowledge the fact that [Weirdo Night is] a gay space, queer space. You’re harming me if you’re heterosexual, and you’re here. But, you know, you can make it up to me by giving me your firstborn child. Because there’s always straight people that come to the show, and sometimes I know they feel weird. Because they’re like, Oh I’m in a queer space, am I allowed to be here? And I’m like, Yes, you’re allowed. And everyone’s a target, so we’re all on the same level. But I make myself the biggest target, so it can calm things down.
[At Weirdo Night] the tone changes a lot; you’ll have a really serious kind of thing that you don’t know if you’re supposed to take seriously, and then a comedian that you know you’re supposed to laugh at. My job is to weave it all together and make it okay; [so] that the experience is, We’re just here, checking things out. Like we’re really here just to support people that have a weird thing they do. And be entertained, and be in a live space that’s entertaining.
Becca: You’re reminding me of the eclecticism of Weirdo Night, and how prescriptive so many other spaces that performance takes place in can be. Like if you go to a music venue, your expectations are set to just see some bands play. And if you go to a comedy club, you’re primed to laugh, no matter what. So your job at Weirdo Night, because it’s beyond genre– like genre transcendent– is to keep holding that space of open-ended experimentation, and to create this lens where people don’t have a script of how they’re supposed to behave or respond to what’s happening.
Jibz: They don’t have a script. Exactly.
Becca: What’s the difference between how you approach your work on stage as the host of Weirdo Night versus when you’re doing a solo performance as Dynasty Handbag?
Jibz: It’s a pretty different thing. Weirdo Night is like, I’m thinking about this big macro thing that’s happening. Sometimes I forget to even plan what I’m going to actually do. I’m just thinking about putting the show together, collecting all the videos– you know, people walk in and there are videos playing, and that’s one of my favorite things to do, is find weird videos to play. I think about that too much. And then figuring out what I’m going to talk about, how I’m going to open the show. It is like a [late-]night show, like on TV, because I always reference things that are happening in a particular way. It’s like what you were saying, hospitality: Welcome to the space. I’m gonna guide you, here’s what’s going on, here’s the reality that I’m creating. And when I’m doing a solo thing, I can just go up with my laptop and just do whatever the fuck I want. You’re at a Dynasty Handbag show. But [Weirdo Night] is way more about the audience. Like at my own solo shows, I don’t care about the audience. [Laughs]
Becca: You did have everyone rearrange themselves according to height at the show I saw last week.
Jibz: I did. That’s true. Because that’s just basic, annoying shit, for people. And I really don’t like it when I can’t see the stage. It sucks. It’s like, you all paid the same amount of money.
Becca: I’m obsessed with trying to impart spatial awareness to a crowd of people whose attention you have. I did this show the other night, and I borrowed that request of yours. I said, Okay, you have one minute to arrange yourself according to height, shortest to tallest, oriented towards the stage. Go. And they all did it. It was very satisfying.
Jibz: Oh, I’m gonna steal that. Just as, like, a performance. You’re all in a performance now. Go! Quickly!
Becca: That’s what I’m trying to do— I was talking to you about this after your recent show at Union Pool in New York. I’ve been researching larp (live action role play) as a way to rethink what I’m doing onstage as less of a performance and more of a structured improvisation through character. Eventually I’m trying to rope everyone else into it, too, and decenter myself somehow. Not in an annoying, like, Can I get a volunteer from the audience, kind of way. Because I hate that.
Jibz: I should be like, Can I get a volunteer from the audience to leave? Because it’s real crowded in here. Someone needs to give up their seat. Can you take a later flight, please?
Becca: You can give them a voucher.
What does Dynasty Handbag mean as a character? Is it a character? Or is it just a formal name to you now, for when you’re operating in a performance state of mind?
Jibz: I think it’s that [just a formal name]. I mean, I do think it’s changed a lot since I started hosting, because when you’re hosting, you have to acknowledge reality. Even if it’s skewed, and you’re making things up. It would be disrespectful for me to not say who was coming on the stage and just make something up. I need to frame it for people that are there. I need to be respectful of the artists. I can’t just live in Dynasty Handbag’s reality. So they’ve definitely melded a lot more, because I have to be in whatever this reality is. And if I’m just doing my solo thing, I don’t have to do that, really. Like I don’t have to engage in anything that isn’t conceptual. Unless I’m like, Can I get something in the monitor? You know, like those moments. But as Dynasty Handbag, I have to incorporate that reality and sort of filter it through her, and make it funny. So that’s how it sort of ends up coming out.
One time, there was a kitten that [accidentally] came onstage at Weirdo Night. And that was… For real, Dynasty Handbag left the room. I became like, lesbian Jibz— animal rescuer, vegetarian nerd took over. I did not know what to do, it was so weird. There’s an alleyway [below the venue] and the kitten was living down there. Somehow it got upstairs and got on stage. And I was completely derailed.
Becca: I mean, I don’t know you very well, but I feel like when I’ve seen you perform, I’ve been watching you and Dynasty in dialogue. I gather there’s a lot of improvisational moments and responsive decision making, and that sometimes I’m witnessing, as an audience member, a discovery that you’re making about what you chose to do as Dynasty. So I don’t feel like you’re absent. And also people have their own kind of wrapped-in-plastic idea of the person in the spotlight; everything and anything you do is generally accepted and understood as a purposeful, in-character move. The idea of you feeling like you broke character to take care of the cat— a lot of people might not have even seen that you stepped into full Jibz in that moment.
Jibz: I don’t think they did, but my body did. I left that consciousness. And usually when I’m on stage, I don’t leave the consciousness. Even if something kind of throws me a little bit, I can quickly make a decision that it’s Dynasty Handbag, like exactly what you said. I can stay in character, what have you. I can method act my way through moments, you know. So if there’s a real thing happening that needs to be dealt with, I can deal with it as this person. I can make that happen pretty quickly. It’s cool to hear it reflected that you observe decision making, but that’s what improv is, is just watching someone decide things and you’re like, What? How did that come out?
Becca: My favorite part of that process, as a witness, is seeing an actor surprise themself, or notice what they did and react to it. It’s like a live laboratory.
Jibz: Like when you’re watching SNL and you know someone’s improvising and their scene partner is like, losing it.
Jibz: It’s the best moment— you know they’re just being like, You are so fucking funny I can’t stand it.
Becca: Yeah, exactly. It’s like a hyper presence, too, because you’re riding the line of reality and the fictitious world that you’re inventing in real time. It’s magic.
My own performance persona, Jennifer Vanilla, is for me an imprint of influences that I need to purge somehow through my own interpretation.
Jibz: Purge and celebrate. It’s the same with me. Even Weirdo Night, my dream is to have that as a series, like make more of the films, but then have a set, too. It would be like all the stuff that I was totally hypnotized by as a kid, The Muppets, Soul Train Solid Gold, all the variety shows I loved, like Carol Burnett. I was so into that stuff. That stuff kind of saved me. And it’s all in there. I didn’t know what I was even laughing at, but I knew that women who were exaggeratedly feminine and ridiculous were funny. I didn’t know what that was, but I knew it was funny. And I knew that I identified with it. I know what it is now, because gender is ridiculous… I didn’t feel like a woman in the right way. I never have. I always felt repulsed by any kind of femininity that was subscribed, you know? I just didn’t get it. So I feel like Dynasty Handbag is a lot of that. And also my mom was kind of a hippie. She came from Vermont and she was from a farming family. So she was very sturdy. She never wore makeup. She was not a “together” woman. She never looked feminine, she didn’t really know how to put that all together, really. She was also pretty mentally ill. So there’s also that part of it. She’s definitely in Dynasty Handbag, in that way— a reality that no one else is experiencing around you.
Becca: You grew up in a commune kind of scenario, is that right?
Jibz: Commune adjacent. To be fair, the commune wasn’t dysfunctional. It was really my particular set of parents. I mean, there was dysfunction there, of course, but they weren’t abusive, or culty, or freaky. They were just like hippie-activist-clown people.
Becca: There’s something about growing up outside of the mainstream in that way, in terms of a family arrangement. I have my own version of that— I have lesbian parents and a gay dad, and I was very consciously brought into this world via turkey baster in 1984. There’s this plasticity that your work and my work share: the interpretation of the human condition, the complicating and operating outside of gender norms. Neither of my moms or the women that they eventually got involved with after they split, are decidedly femme or butch. They don’t express their queerness in fixed, cookie cutter terms. There was no one feminine in my family, and no one really particularly masculine either. I wonder what the effects are, just hearing about your background too, of growing up with nothing nearby to rebel against or be repelled by.
Jibz: Yeah, the thing that I’m repelled by, are hippies. [Laughs] But I’ve thought a lot about my mom, because I get this sort of label of “failure of a woman,” putting it all together wrong, and stuff. And I think that’s part of it, is that I never had that modeled… Most of the women models in my life were really scrappy. You know?
Becca: Yeah. And is that okay?
Jibz: Like there was no makeup in my house, or heels, or like blow dryers. Do you know what I mean?
Becca: Yeah. Were you drawn to any of that? Did you bring it in?
Jibz: I was drawn to it. But in this very weird way. I had this obsession with— I loved it, but I knew that it was sort of theatrical; it was always a play thing— my friend and I had this thing where we would play hookers. We didn’t know what hookers were, but we knew that they smoked cigarettes, and we knew that they wore pumps. Because it was the ’80s, so every ’80s woman looked like that, right? So it was this thing of like, dragging, that I grew up with. I didn’t have any real model for that, so it was all TV and films. I didn’t know any women like that. It always seemed like just something that was only on TV, you know?
Becca: Do you think that growing up outside of and far away from mainstream norms make them seem exotic, glamorous even, because the only way we accessed them is through the media?
Jibz: [My] first introduction to art was crazy hippie clowns who were being activists and getting run out of town because of their antics. That was what [I] grew up with. I grew up with political lampooning. And so I was really drawn to that stuff, the glamour and all that stuff, but I knew that there was something inherently not good about it. That it was all a sham. And, you know, that the government lied, and all that stuff. This commune that I grew up around, they started a summer camp for kids for performing arts and circus arts, and my parents both worked at it. I went there from the age of six to age 12 or 13. And it was by far the best thing about growing up, it was so much fun. It was Wavy Gravy’s camp, the emcee of Woodstock, the hippie clown. So he was my improv teacher. And everything was, you know, making fun of the Man, it was all beatnik humor. But underneath it is very earnest… weirdos, like weird people. Not like peace and love hippies with patchouli, like weird people.
Becca: It’s like a consciousness that you were imbued with from a young age, a commentary or an outside perspective where people poked holes in structures and systems. Maybe that’s how you learned to do it. And it’s sort of been the perspective that you operate from ever since?
Jibz: But I’ve always been that way. I know that just from things that my parents have told me about what I was like. I was always sort of… I was disruptive and disrespectful of authority and systems. I didn’t buy it, or something, like even before I knew what it was. I don’t know why I was like that. I was always suspicious. That’s not entirely true— I remember being in school when I was really little and enjoying it and stuff. But once that crack in the psyche comes at like, 11, 12, forget it. I was like, No, this is all wrong. I’m getting out of here.
Becca: What purpose does music serve for you in your performances?
Jibz: I think more than any other medium, I’m inspired and moved by music. I love to listen to music. It sounds stupid. It’s like when people say, I love comedy. It’s like, of course! Who doesn’t love music? Duh. But I’m very compelled physically by music. I cannot-not dance if there’s music playing that I like. I’m really a dork in that way. I’m one of those people that, I hear a song, I want to hear it a million times, I memorize all the lyrics. The timing is really important to me too. I think about song structure and I like thinking about, like, what goes into music and how difficult it is, and how it’s like this magic thing that happens. It makes me happy, I’m moved by it. I have to listen to music every day, I like to listen to music really loud. It can make me have feelings, if I need to have a feeling. I can listen to a song and, you know, lay on the floor and cry or whatever. How it works for me now is to help a narrative or a story, or help me move. A sound can help me move on stage.
Most of the time, what I want to do is like, a cover of a song that’s really fucked up. Like a Red Hot Chili Peppers song or something. I really love working with the familiarity of something, something that everybody knows. And then you’re like, What is Dynasty Handbag gonna do with this? And what is this interpretation? That’s what I’m good at. Nobody wants to see me actually play a cover of that— who cares? So I have to think a lot about, What do I need to get this thing across that I’m trying to do? And am I working too hard at it? And is it actually funnier and more interesting to just have like, a stupid reference to this thing instead of actually build a background or make a fancy costume or make a set? It has to really serve Dynasty Handbag, and most of the time she doesn’t really need that much.
Becca: Performing a song that produces a collective recognition in the crowd, like a Red Hot Chili Peppers song, creates an instant release in that moment. It just made me think, that’s kind of what your persona, and sometimes a persona in general, does: draw in and interpret a set of disparate-but-familiar references to produce this trippy experience where little glimpses of recognition come through for people at different times. That’s like the meat of it.
Do you have a goal for your live performances? How do you conceive of your role and purpose as an entertainer, when you go out to do a show? Let’s say, specifically a solo show?
Jibz: I mean, besides just making people laugh, and maybe we’ll have a good time. Freaking people out? I think that’s internal, but I don’t actually think about that before I go out. I don’t think about it in terms of a goal. I do sometimes have to tell myself, These people are here because they want to be here. They’re not your enemy. I don’t have to prove anything. I’ve already got the job. I can stop auditioning, I can stop applying for the job that I already have. So just do your job. That’s kind of what it is. And sometimes I’m scared and I’m not in the zone. But as you know as a performer, you get there. You have little things you can do onstage to refocus or, sometimes I close my eyes if I’m just like, Okay, I’m not connecting with the audience. I need to go inside, to connect to something. And then that’ll come out, and I’ll get connected. Or I have to totally dissociate and go into an imaginary place. Did I do that thing at Union Pool where I’m like, in the woods?
Becca: With the guided voiceover? Yeah, I’m obsessed with that.
Jibz: When I’m doing that stuff, I really am, like, in the woods, like I’m there. I’m thinking about everything that that voice is saying. I’m basically just being in a play. So I guess the goal would just be, to be in the play. Be in the play that you’re in. That I wrote. Or that’s being written by me and the audience in the moment. Be in that place. And that’s really what people want to see, too, is you just experiencing something, and, what you said, filtering it out and embodying it and stuff. And now that I have enough of an audience, there’s this other relationship in place where, if I’m performing for an audience that I know doesn’t know me, my shit is a little bit different. And if I’m performing for my audience, you know, there’s a language there already set up. Not everybody’s like that. Some people just get up and they do what they do. And that’s what they do. And that’s also totally rad.
Becca: But there’s something cool about making adjustments, being aware of who you’re engaging with and making choices to help people who aren’t familiar with your work access it, and get the gist of it all. Also, it helps you have a more successful show and feel understood.
Jibz: Yeah, you’ve got to comfort yourself, too, you gotta familiarize yourself with it. Making a joke about the space you’re in is always a great entryway. Like, you know, Does anybody smell a fart? Whatever it is. Or did anybody get intimidated by the person who took your ticket? Anybody feel like they don’t belong? Anybody scared? Bringing my own vulnerability first.
Becca: It seems like, potentially, now that we’ve gone through the pandemic, and as performers kind of bottomed out or felt sort of taken out of the equation for a while; now that we have audience back, and the opportunity to be inside of a real space with people, there’s even more of a desire to collaborate with the audience in real time, because it’s a fleeting moment, more pronounced than it was before. Is there a collaborative element between you and the audience?
Jibz: Yeah, always, that’s what a live performance is. It’s a collaboration. It’s not mine, it’s ours, in a lot of ways.
(1) This came out of Jibz’ mouth as a hilarious and accurate flub of speech
Becca Kauffman (they/them) is a performance artist based in New York City with an interactive, genre fluid approach to their multidisciplinary solo work. Their self-guided career through art, music, comedy, theater, and dance converges in the cultivated pop persona, Jennifer Vanilla, a world-building fantasy vessel through which Becca creates original voice-oriented dance songs, choreographed stage shows, musical albums, radio shows, videos, and merchandise-as-conversation-pieces. Becca was a member of the experimental Brooklyn pop band Ava Luna for ten years, and is now a second year MFA candidate in Art and Social Practice at Portland State University, where they are working to incorporate socially engaged art strategies into their performance work. They are currently exploring the potential of live action role play to carve out new social and relational spaces and possibilities. A catalogue of projects past and present can be found on their website, and portal to all things Jennifer is @jennifervanilla.
Jibz Cameron (she/her) is a performer, visual artist and actor. Her multi-media performance work as alter ego Dynasty Handbag has spanned over 15 years and has been presented at arts venues such as The New Museum of Contemporary Art, The Broad Museum, The Hammer Museum, REDCAT, The Kitchen, BAM, Centre Pompidou among others. She has been heralded by the New York Times as “the funniest and most pitch perfect performance seen in years” and “outrageously smart, grotesque and innovative” by The New Yorker. She has written and produced numerous performance pieces, dozens of video works and 2 albums of original music. Jibz produces and hosts Weirdo Night, a monthly comedy and performance event in Los Angeles. She is a 2020 Creative Capital Grant awardee and a 2021 United States Artist Award recipient. She recently sold a short series to FX network titled Garbage Castle, which is on hold due to Covid. Her film Weirdo Night, directed by Mariah Garnett (a movie version of the live show) is a 2021 Sundance Film Festival selection. She lives in Los Angeles.
The Social Forms of Art (SoFA) Journal is a publication dedicated to supporting, documenting and contextualising social forms of art and its related fields and disciplines. Each issue of the Journal takes an eclectic look at the ways in which artists are engaging with communities, institutions and the public. The Journal supports and discusses projects that offer critique, commentary and context for a field that is active and expanding.
Created within the Portland State University Art & Social Practice Masters In Fine Arts. Program, SoFA Journal is now fully online.
Conversations on Everything is an expanding collection of interviews produced as part of SoFA Journal. Through the potent format of casual interviews as artistic research, insight is harvested from artists, curators, people of other fields and everyday humans. These conversations study social forms of art as a field that lives between and within both art and life.
Sponsored by the Portland State University Art and Social Practice MFA Program