Enter the surreal, colour-saturated world of the GIF-devotees and longtime collaborators
As part of our new digitally-led US project States of Independence we've invited our favourite 30 American curators, magazines, creatives and institutions to takeover Dazed for a day. It only seemed right to hit up New York's art 'it girl' Petra Collins for an insider take on US creativity right now. In this five-part series, Petra Selects, the prolific photographer shoots and interviews her favourite underground creatives set to steal the scene stateside.
Young New York-based artists Mike Bailey-Gates and Claire Christerson (Mike and Claire) have been sharing their colourful, surrealist visions for the past three years. The pair met at art school (Manhattan SVA), where they realised that despite differing styles and practices they should buddy up.
Visually vibrant and often comical, Mike + Claire combines the internet imagery of Tumblr, Myspace and early Flickr communities. There's an old New York quality to their work – silent film tropes often feature, blending old and new aestheticism to produce original and often bizarre creations. Despite a hyperactive, kid-in-a-candy-shop approach to mediums – hopping from GIFs to videos, costume and production design to character-based performance art, their work is indefinably unique.
You've collaborated for some three years now. What are the benefits of collaboration, for you?
Mike Bailey-Gates: I moved to NYC to be an artist but forgot about the reality of it all. It's easy to fall off-track or suddenly find yourself doing something you hate just so you can make rent. Claire and I have always supported each other with the push and pull of making art and dealing with reality, and reminding each other about what's really important.
Claire Christerson: From working with Mike I love seeing how the work between us has grown. We've watched each other change and find new inspiration from being friends. It's cool to be able to trust each other and see how the collaboration grows.
How has your process of working together changed from those early days, to now? How are you different from each other in your processes?
Claire Christerson: When we became friends we would help each other a lot and it became a natural collaborative friendship. We did so much together before that it only made sense to team up and tell stories together. I feel so lucky that I get to do what I do with my best friend. We balance each other well, sometimes I can get really crazy because I get so excited about doing lots of projects and Mike is really good at taking things one step at a time.
Mike Bailey-Gates: In the early days I would just go upstairs to claire's apartment and spend everyday making stuff. Clothes, props, putting makeup on for quick selfies. Our work started off very playful because we were tired of looking at cynical views. When we realized that you can create change and revolt through joy or through being happy, I think that was a game changer for our process. We're slowly developing a language for our work where we can be aggressive, but also be true to our style.
Your practice focuses on creating characters. Do you think this makes it more approachable for the uninitiated?
Mike Bailey-Gates: When people are made it's always been from sex, but characters are made from something else. Characters are made to help tell a story, but they are alive. When I was a kid I thought Mickey Mouse was real and alive because he was so popular. I really think it depends on the viewer.
Claire Christerson: I don't really know if we've ever thought about whether our work is approachable or not. For us it's just really fun to create these personalities and see how far we can go and explore. We're just interested in telling stories.
You have been known to work with GIFs, for example in your Witch GIFs. Describe your views on GIFs as a fine art medium – what is unique about them, and what are their limits?
Mike Bailey-Gates: No one took color photography seriously until Egggleston showed his work at the MOMA in the 70s. Color photography was a gimmick, or something exciting to share. It's the same way with GIFS today, they are usually viewed as something trivial like a cheap party trick. GIFS are made of frames, so you're working with individual moving frames, just like in early cinema. It's a new medium that uses an old idea, which is really exciting to us.
Claire Christerson: GIFS are moving images that help tell the story of the image in a way that a still can't. Something that can be limiting when working with GIFS is the size limitation, which can be fun because it challenges you to have to work around certain constraints. I like GIFS because they push you to make intricate stories.
Your art practice works on, with, for, and because of the Internet. What aspects of your work are “analogue”, still?
Claire Christerson: Though a lot of our work is made for the screen, a lot of what we do is inspired by theatre and cartoons. Anything that we can do by hand, we do, from our props to our costumes. For us, it's about bringing elements of the human to the machine. We don't want to be limited to one medium, but would like to move into sculpture and performance.
Mike Bailey-Gates: We've been experimenting a lot in the past year or so and we've realized that doing as much as we can "in camera" keeps our work faithful to our style. For me, I need to have people be painted on set, or have a glass smashed over someone's head in real time. I want to see it for myself. I think we are both very selfish in that way, where we want to see the magic happen in front of us, rather than afterwards. As for the internet, for all artists today it's a major part of their process whether they want it to be or not, because it's how work is shared.