Irrational Exuberance: Jessica Campbell’s Playlist

Jessica Campbell: The Brutal Telling, 2018, acrylic rug on panel, 36 by 48 inches. Courtesy the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.


In a First Look profile for our December issue, Lauren DeLand writes on Canadian artist Jessica Campbell, who applies the line work and narrative methods of comic strips to her collages in shag carpeting, a kitschy material that she collects at trade shows. Her current exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago pays homage to her illustrious countrywoman, Emily Carr, with a fresco-like series of carpet collages illustrating scenes from her life. “Harnessing inelegant mediums to surprisingly emotive effect,” DeLand writes, “Campbell transformed the galleries into a temple to Carr’s legacy while staking out her own place within it.” Campbell contributed to our series of artists’ YouTube playlists with a collection of oddly funny videos. —Eds.


I frequently use YouTube to stream the news or true crime television, though I haven’t included either of these activities in my list. I also use YouTube in my classes as a way of screening interviews or lectures, though these are not the videos I watch in my leisure time. I like that the platform can accommodate a large range of production levels and popularity, though in making this list I have found that I tend to prefer the homemade videos with few views and unclear intentions. It is both liberating and daunting to live in an era where the means of production and distribution of culture are so readily available.

Every Room is a Waiting Room Part 1. I find Bridget Moser’s work mesmerizing. She is a Canadian video and performance artist based in Toronto who I met when we both lived in Montreal. Her work draws on the genres of prop comedy, motivational speaking, theater, and modern dance, but is unlike anything else that I have seen. Part of what I find appealing about her work is that there is humor embedded throughout. Her performance remains serious, often fraught, while she rolls around inside of a carpet, or wears an aquarium print toilet seat as a ruff, or yells “I’m a Beanie Baby!” The way she interacts with objects seems to reject the idea that cultural goods can be owned by corporations or institutions. I too feel like I often have an irrational or “incorrect” relationship to consumer objects. Moser’s illumination of their absurdity is liberating.

getting inside (second try). This video shows a man trying to get inside of a giant balloon. I assume it’s some kind of sex fetish video. Humans have a great range of turn-ons, and the man seems to be acting in an often unnatural way, saying things like “Oh drat, I am now stuck inside of this giant balloon!” What I like most about YouTube is that I can find videos like these, which are produced and uploaded by people who may not consider themselves to be artists.

Santa’s Enchanted Village. When I was a kid, my aunt gave my sister and I a Christmas VHS tape that she got from a dollar bin somewhere that contained several “classic” Christmas cartoons and this strange film. We both found it totally bizarre and it became a family tradition to watch it every Christmas Eve, in part because my mother found it painful to watch and we wanted to tease her. The director, K. Gordon Murray, was a prolific maker of B movies, many of which featured recurring characters from fairytales and folklore: Puss in Boots, the Big Bad Wolf, Merlin, and a skunk of uncertain literary origins. There is no clear plot in this film and the costumes look sort of like if a giant animal died and then was re-animated years after being buried. But the bad acting, strange angles, and Santa’s disturbing laugh are comforting to me, probably because of all the bad television I subjected myself to as a kid.

Surfer Dog Surfboard Switch a Roo. This is a video from a dog surfing competition. I have an intense and inexplicable fondness for all dogs, and watching one nonchalantly switch surfboards while coasting back to shore is a delight. The only thing better than the human reaction to the dog’s move is the dog’s unawareness that what he did is remarkable. He was just trying to stay afloat!

SHARON AND FRED CELEBRITY NEWS. Sharon and Fred are a couple in Kelowna, British Columbia. They upload a remarkable number of videos like this one, combining a flat affect with strange animations and graphics. From what I know (from these videos and a friend in Kelowna), they have a stand at local farmers markets and seem to lead normal lives, as evidenced by their YouTube channel, which shows them going to Denny’s, getting dental work done, and so on. They apply the techniques of reality television to ordinary life in a small city in Canada, without the slick camera angles and manufactured drama. They have a small following of commenters but it is unclear whom exactly these videos are for. Is the intention to become viral reality stars, or to live as obscure performance artists? I don’t know!

View Jessica Campbell’s playlist here.