Between shooting and production of music videos with flashing colourful lights and people singing/lip-syncing their hearts out, we sat down with UNIT/PITT’s artist in residence Casey Wei to talk about her inspirations, community involvement, and current art work: “Karaoke Music Video Maker Free Store.”
As an artist where or who do you get inspiration from?
Well, I have a video and film background with my masters, since then the aesthetics of video artists like Hito Steyerl and Chris Marker – how they combine disparate things in unique ways such as footage or subject matter and then tie it all together through narrative are inspirational to me. Their works have a sense of romance and sincerity. Maybe not so much romance, romance is more the byproduct I read into. That’s more a personal thing. I don’t consider that a starting point but an end result.
Not like romantic love but romanticizing?
Yeah, and I understand there’s baggage associated with that. And I realize that. Like the idea of romance is indulgent but a little bit of that indulgence makes for powerful poetry. I think it’s cliché and we’re all suspicious and weary of it given our place in history and the obstacles we face. But there’s always going to be a part of my sensibility that relates to that. I’m reacting to it, or against, or maybe both at the same time.
You make your own music as well right? Through Hazy and Late Spring. Now with this project how do you find it ties in, or how does this project grow your practice?
I think of Hazy and Late Spring are a kind of a practice a bit separate from visual art. This project relates more to the Art Rock and Agony Klub – this label I have that I’ve worked on the past couple of years.With that it comes from a place where you want to exist in community or discourse. I was coming in to music scene as like an outsider I feel cause I didn’t grow up playing music. I’m making music/pop music in a way I think is good. Because of my visual arts background I have other things influencing it, other visual or cinematic things. Not that musicians don’t already do that but for me those things came first. That made my music the way it was.
Art Rock and Agony Club gives more of community in my head. I try to make them the foundational space for this project to flourish. It gives people a reference point of who I am and what I’m about. It helps them trust me a little bit more and like know my motivations for why I would want to do this. It’s not to make fun of karaoke or to put on like, something where I’m a star – it’s not about that. I’m offering a service and a business, like an actual business and it’s more about the product that you would normally request and pay money for but out side of the normal monetary exchange process.
So your Kingsgate Mall Happenings and Chinatown Happenings projects had similar themes with community connection. Can you talk a bit about how community involvement is important to you and your work?
I think it Is because as an artist, when thinking about art as my life’s work, and I think about making it alone in an studio or computer – that is too isolating for me. And I don’t know how to navigate the existing ways for artists do that. There are these artists that I know and support and whose work I really enjoy. But I don’t think I make that type of work that flows in to that community easy. Even with Art Rock, and Agony Klub, and everything else, I create my own way and entry point in to bridging myself in to that [art] community and with another community. I find that’s where I get my inspiration. To me the real world more interesting than an art gallery.
But I don’t want to use that and put it in a gallery, like it’s not to use in utilitarian way or career way. I just want to be apart of it. So community engagement is just the given to how I want to exist in the world as an artist.
You are great with people, I find just from being in the space listening to you, you have a very positive and adaptable energy when working with people to make these videos, and they are mostly strangers right? So how do you tackle working with strangers and still having it be comfortable?
It’s because I’ve been doing this for quite awhile. You know, not so long, but working with people like when I made video and films where had to be in world and interact with people. Even before video work I made photographs and would put myself in uncomfortable situations like asking people to write their favourite quote – that was this one project in art school. Just making myself uncomfortable, cause I’m naturally a shy person I think a lot of artists are. So I’ve been using art as an excuse to engage with world as personal challenge. There’s this artist I really like, Gillian Wearing, she speaks about that and was an inspiration for that in art school. One of her projects was on Craigslist; she would ask strangers if she could take photographs of herself with them in bed. I haven’t gone that far — but over time pushing to put myself to be in social situations just pushed me to be more comfortable as person. Especially in art more than real life. In my art I want them to feel comfortable so how to do I make that happen. I need to be myself but more like a certain version of myself for the art. It’s a casual and a bit professional type of performance.
Artists think about that distinction between Art and Life and I’m still trying to erase that line. This is closet I’ve been able to come to that to this point.
What sort of platform does UNIT/PITT as a space provide for your work?
Well they’ve been so chill about everything I’ve been wanting to do. Even painting the walls. The space is amazing and don’t know if any other place of this size and is a professional gallery would allow be to do. Kay [Higgins]’s attitude towards it has been light and accommodating. Neither her, nor I, nor Jamie[Ward], were really prepared for the undertaking it has been. Now the project has hit its groove. The first few days were trial and error – figuring out how it would work with the tenants and such. To be fair it’s not normal exhibition so I’m asking them to adapt with me. It’s the exact kind of experience at Kingsgate Mall with trying to adapt to ecosystem but here is way more contained and gallery with studios so less potentially loaded with traps that public spaces have. It’s great they’re so supportive of this happening. I think UNIT/PITT is kind of like a funky weird artist run centre and not so traditional in the way the exhibitions and stuff, so I actually think it’s the perfect place to do this.
That’s awesome. Speaking of trial and error is there something that surprised you or that you found most interesting so far with this project?
I would say the way people have been with me, in the maybe six people I’ve had so far. At first as a human being coming in to a room without knowing what it would look like and how it would function and over the course of an hour or less the shedding whatever guarded reservations they may have had. Even with 2 or 3 songs they become more comfortable and had no camera shyness, um, no reservation redoing it, and it just became this natural being present in the moment experience. That’s not something you can anticipate. That’s something I hope happens every time! Sometimes it might not be as smooth but that’s my job to facilitate good energies. I think of like a mall portrait studio and the photographer in a way, getting people to smile, but doing that with making a video is … maybe it’s easier. There’s an hour time slot instead of five minutes with a screaming child or something.
More fun too probably
In the promotions it says anything is possible …
What sorts of backgrounds are there? Can they choose or?
I’m going to shoot all the footage and then ultimately I guess I do have artistic control but with bands and people who have ideas I really want to be accommodating to them, but at the same time I’m editing it so there will always be my sensibility to it. I think there is a level of trust operating between the bands and me. It might be found footage and stuff I can shoot in the world. I like looking through old movies for obscure references and affecting or collaging them to look trippy or strange. The challenge will be in making all 20ish videos look dissimilar.
What are your hopes for the videos/ project?
At the end of all this in the summer after editing, maybe have a performer screening and possibly with everyone’s consent at the cinematic, they have this dim series for artist films. I don’t have any desire for a festival showing. And then just giving everyone that participated their copy.
Anything else you want us to know about that you’re involved in right now?
The Art Rock series is every third Tuesday of the month at the Astoria. It’s a night of curated live music. Like experimental and a bit out there I guess, for people to make music who don’t really fit in to normal indie or underground shows. And agonyklub.com, which is the label where I make music and printed matter.
To book your free hour-long session, contact Casey at: freekaraokemusicvideo@gmai