Sweeney Todd

September 20, 2009


This Week’s Film:    Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Time:   4pm

Place:   FAD 111

Date:    Wednesday, September 23

This week we will be watching Sweeney Todd directed by Tim Burton in 2007.  Neither Julia or myself have seen this film yet.  I think it will be a good intersection into our discussion of coolness as seen by Daniel Harris.  Harris talks about the Halloweenesque goth culture that teenagers embody to become their parents’ worst nightmare.  Tim Burton, Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp are the poster children of this aesthetic and I’m thinking that this film will be a visual stunner like Burton’s other films.

All are welcome!

I will remember to bring some tasty snacks!



First Discussion: Ironic Mustaches, Teenage Angst and “What is the historic meaning of Quaint?!”

September 20, 2009

I think the first discussion was great, despite our cramped quarters on Julia’s office floor.  Thanks Julia for letting us invade your space.  The idea was suggested to move our discussion to the new coffee shop on University Avenue.  Caffeine does go well with conversation and I love coffee!

Thanks Jenn, Julia, Andrew and Charlie for discussing the readings with me.  Your feedback is greatly appreciated!

This week we discussed Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp” and the introduction and first three chapters of Harris’ book.  We didn’t get around to talking about the Cuteness chapter of Harris, but we did delve into the ideas of Quaintness and Coolness.  I think it is a challenging exercise to think of artists that fit each of these aesthetics.  Jenn suggested that Karen Kilimnik’s work fits into the camp category and I agree.  I also think that Hernan Bas is another contender for the camp aesthetic.  We talked about the similarities of Kilmnik and Bas in our Painting/Drawing Seminar with Ron.  It is hard for me to think of any other artists that I would put into the aesthetic of camp.  It has to be someone that looks to the past, favors the extravagant and is sincere in what they do.  Andrew suggested the CoBrA artists fit into the camp category.  I will have to do more research on their ideas, but I think aesthetically that they do.

I think that our discussion of coolness was the most exciting to me.  Andrew questioned how the hipster culture fits into the idea of cool, and we discussed poverty chic, goth culture, and the ironic mustache.

Oh Harris, you have proved to us that we are all united in consumerism and it is useless to struggle against it!  (I’m really kidding, but also totally serious!)

I think the Harris book is so important for us to read in conjunction with this discussion because it gets to the essence of kitsch.  When we get to our other book, it will be more revolving around the history of kitsch, but with Harris we are in the right now.  Why do we do what we do?  Why are some images and aesthetics powerful to us?  What is the real urban cultural mythology that is embedded in everything around us?  As artists we can not pretend that we are not surrounded and influenced by consumer culture.  We can no longer believe the myth that it is separate from us.

The discussion involving quaintness seemed to be the most disturbing to all of us.  This is the lowest of the lows in the aesthetics hierarchy.  This is Cracker Barrel.  Julia brought up the fact that she questions the usage of the word quaint and looked up its many meanings.  It is derived from a very ancient term for female genitals.  What?!!!?  I wonder if Daniel Harris knows about this?  I agree that the term quaint is not exactly what I would call this aesthetic.  I never really thought of quaintness as being a bad thing…just of it being reminiscent and nostalgic.  I think that we will have to unpack this idea of quaintness further.  This is truly confounding.

According to Harris…Quaintness is…Cracker Barrel, Renaissance Fairs, new appliances made to look old, clutter, country coziness…

There are many levels to quaintness.

We were unsure over whether Civil War re-enactments were quaint.  We will have to come back to that.  I look forward to our further discussions.

Civil War Re-Enactment Meets Ironic Mustache

Civil War Re-Enactment Meets Ironic Mustache

First Film Screening

September 15, 2009

Thanks to Julia, Charlie and Scott for attending the first Kitsch Camp film screening last Wednesday afternoon!  I think the first screening was a success and that everyone enjoyed the film very much.


There was lots of laughter whenever the monster appeared on the screen.  The first appearance of the monster’s menacing hand coming out of the water elicited several chuckles.  As the crescendo of the music and the action built, we were quietly watching and then unitedly giggling.



We will discuss the film tomorrow (Wednesday Sept 16) at 4pm in Julia’s office.  All are welcome!

I really enjoyed the film.  I especially loved the beautiful underwater scenes of the blissfully unaware beauty swimming at the surface of the water and the monster swimming below.  The water changed scene to scene from being murky to inky but the monster was unchanged.  His face portrayed no emotion whether he was killing, drugged or on the hunt.  There is a real sincerity in this film.  That simple sincerity was charming.  I loved the plastic monster, the beautiful shots of the springs of North Florida, the pseudo-science of the plot, and the settings of both boat and grotto.

There is no safe place in this film.  The monster is not safe in his grotto as he is invaded by the scientists.  The boat is not safe for the scientists from the monster.  And the lagoon is anything but a neutral space.  The scientists drug the water and use it as their spear-hunting grounds.

Just as there is no safe place, there is no safe character in this film.  Everyone participates in the hunt or be hunted mentality.  While watching the film, I wanted to feel a softness for the monster, but it was not there.  Maybe it was the unyielding mask that was his face, but I felt nothing for him.

I felt less for the human characters.  I liked listening to the easy ways they spoke and argued with one another, but they were virtually indistinguishable from one another; a crew bent on capture or murder.  I think that the real subject of the film, for me, was the landscape.  These beautiful trees and waterways that are so much a part of my personal landscape.  In the film they represented something far away for the desired viewer–the mysterious Amazon.  But for me they represented a closeness…something I know to be true.

Somehow everything about this film makes sense to me.  Maybe it is embedded in my consciousness?  Even though I had never seen it before, something about it was in my memory.


September 7, 2009

Here are the questions that I would like to answer through our research:

What is kitsch?

How do kitsch, camp and cult relate/oppose?

How are kitsch and class related?

How are kitsch and academia related?

How are kitsch and consumerism/advertising related?

What is the history of kitsch?

Is kitsch still a valid term?

What is the relationship between kitsch and television/film?

How are kitsch and control related?  Is kitsch political?

What is the relationship between kitsch and cute?

Who decides what kitsch means?

How is kitsch related to tourism?

Kitsh/Humor/Poor Taste/what is the relationship?

Can kitsch be subverted?

When did kitsch begin?

Can kitsch only exist in a consumer society?

The Creature From the Black Lagoon

September 5, 2009

For our first screening on Wednesday,September 9th will be the Creature From the Black Lagoon.


Director: Jack Arnold

Year of Release: 1954

Not since the beginning of time has the world beheld terror like this!!

Karen Kilimnik

September 5, 2009

Julia gave me an article on our first meeting to look over and think about.  The article was, “Karen Kilimnik: Fearless Diller” by Matthew Debord.  It appeared in Art/Text in the fall issue of 1999.

I have been familiar with Kilimnik and a fan of her work for a while.  I like her work the best when it appears in an installation setting.  Her ability to pair her work with ornate interiors and hanging crystal chandeliers is really exciting to me.  I think that would be the ideal situation to view her paintings; in a space that she had created for them.

My favorite piece by her is the “Red Room” installation she created for the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia.  Read a review of that exhibition by Roberta Smith here:



I want to think about Kilimnik’s work in reference to our topic of “contemporary kitsch”.  This is something that will probably come up in future blog posts again and in relation to our discussions of other artists.  I’m not sure if I think her work is kitsch, probably I think it would fall into the realm of camp more (or at least Susan Sontag’s idea of camp (which I will discuss further in my next blog post.))  (But then again, I am completely at a loss at this time of what I think kitsch actually means right this moment.)

The reason I want to classify it as camp rather than kitsch comes down to two factors.  As I have been reading more about both aesthetic ideas, I think that Kilimnik’s work references more high culture than low.  The links to royalty and the leisure pursuits of the upper class are hard to ignore although they are often coupled with influences of past and contemporary popular culture.  The source materials of her paintings is vast, but a lot of it points towards a nostalgic view of both the 1970s and the Romantic period.  The nostalgia of the past echoes into her vision of the present and it clouds the paintings and installations with more than a bit of campiness.

I know that these paintings are problematic for a lot of people in the art world.  Even in my experience of graduate school, I have found people either love her work or are completely opposed to it.  I loved it from the moment that I first saw it.  I didn’t question her style of painting or the content of it.  It just made sense to me. Coming from this viewpoint, I found Debord’s writing on Kilimnik to be completely insulting.  His reading of her work was all over the place and I felt that the majority of the time it was a personal attack on Kilimnik and had nothing at all to do with her work.

The most problematic part of the article was when he talked about a top 10 list that she created for the September 1998 issue of Artforum.  It was like he was expecting her top 10 list to just contain references to high art, but she wrote about all sorts of things that were of influence to her including the cinema.  He even went so far as to criticize her grammar in the list.  What’s the matter Debord?  Feeling a little threatened?  Is that why you had to be so mean?  I can’t help but think that if another (perhaps male) artist had written a top 10 list that included references to cinema, theater, and popular culture he would probably be praised for being so multi-faceted.  I think there is something about this work that brings out the meanness of people that don’t get it.  And it is strange.  I don’t understand how people could hate this work.

For me there are many layers to this work.  It is not shallow or unintelligent.  In the end, Debord calls Kilimnik’s work an “art drug.”  Despite all Debord’s protests, he couldn’t help but be a little bit enchanted by it.

Film List

September 5, 2009

Proposed list of films (subject to change)

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls– Directed by Russ Meyer 1970
Pee Wee Herman Show Live at the Roxy 1982
Big Doll House–Directed by Jack Hill 1971
Barbarella–Directed by Roger Vadim 1968
Switchblade Sisters (The Jezebels)–Directed by Jack Hill 1975
Welcome to the Dollhouse–Directed by Todd Solondz 1995
Pecker–Directed by John Waters 1998
UHF–Directed by Jay Levey 1989
But I’m not a Cheerleader–Directed by Jamie Babbit 1999

What is kitsch? What is Kitsch Camp?

September 1, 2009

Kitsch Camp is a blog based on an independent study course happening this semester between myself and Professor Julia Morrisroe.  I am a graduate student pursuing my MFA in Drawing at the University of Florida.  Julia and I met to plan this course based on my desire to demystify kitsch and find its place within both contemporary art and my own art practice.  I also wanted to distinguish between kitsch, camp and cult and discover where the three terms intersect.  We will be meeting each week and alternating between film screenings and reading discussions.  Our two main texts are Daniel Harris’ book, Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic: The Aesthetics of Consumerism, and Celeste Olalquiaga’s book, The Artificial Kingdom: On the Kitsch Experience.31WCMMV5G6L._SS500_story

We are beginning the readings for the course with Susan Sontag’s essay, Notes on Camp. Other shorter contemporary articles and reviews will also be read.  Any suggestions on readings related to kitsch, camp and cult phenomenons either in film, fine arts or popular culture?  Please share!  We would love to add them to our reading list.

I have titled this blog Kitsch Camp as a play on words.  I feel like Julia and I are entering another world delving into the domain of kitsch and camp.  Putting the two words together creates the place we will be going for our screenings and discussions.  We are going to Kitsch Camp.