Huge thanks to Christian Petersen at ARTslant for the fun artist feature interview that came out today! I really enjoyed being able to talk about how my deep and crazy past as a performance artist influenced my path through DJing and VJing.
Carrie Gates is digital artist and VJ (video jockey) based in Saskatoon, Canada. She has been creating live video magic since the early 2000s. In her own words, she makes “sound-reactive 3D processing and unusual rhythmic juxtapositions to create throbbing, psychedelic, responsive compositions that add a new dimension of interaction and intrigue to any environment.”
Gate’s wildly exciting visual performances are formed from eclectic video assets she creates using a variety of techniques. The source material could take the form of digitally created, futuristic 3D environments, or alternatively could be made from filming real humans engaging in subversive “concepts, costumes, characters, and scenes.” All the effort that goes into creating this work only truly comes to fruition when it is manipulated, distorted, and seamlessly merged together in a spontaneous, ever-evolving, live visual overload.
Sarahcam Supervisions, Video still
Christian Petersen: When did you first use a computer to make art?
Carrie Gates: Do Zork maps count?
The second time I made art with a computer, I scanned an origami mermaid pattern that looked like a vagina, then I printed it onto transfer paper and put it on a white t-shirt. I still have it…somewhere.
CP: When did you first become aware of the concept of Internet Art?
CG: Throughout my Art History studies at the University of Saskatchewan, I was very much interested in the concept of embodied knowledge and how that intersected with postcolonialism, feminism, and technology. I saw incongruities between the late 90s transhumanist ideals of the internet as being a place for bodies to reconfigure themselves in a utopian space and the concept of embodied knowledge that I was studying in class. A lot of early cyberculture theory posited that the internet would create spaces where anybody could reinvent themselves with a new identity. The problem is that we become ourselves and gain our knowledge of the Universe through the lens of our own experiences, which are shaped by our bodies and how we are each treated in the world. We cannot ever truly leave ourselves behind and begin anew, since our bodies create our sense of reality and shape how we process and respond to information.
I stumbled across Jodi’s main website and became fascinated with what they were doing. I got tired of doing Powerpoints and writing papers, as so much important primary research is lost that way in academia. Then I got my first laptop, went absolutely nuts on my research, taught myself how to hand code, and started to put my research about net.art online into hyperlinked essay-presentations. Those early websites I made about net.art were fugly and my writing was somewhat atrocious, but my research was good and the results are still online, even though hardly any of the external links go to active sites anymore. Ahhhhh, net.art ;)
I often remix my own work, even from a really long time ago. Here is a video still where I did a sound-responsive 3D glitch remix of a folder of about 10,000 images of interface parts from the OS 9 Mac operating system and cut up pictures of cyborgs.
OS 9 Glitchspace Remix,” Video still
CP: When did you first attend a rave, and how was that experience?
CG: It was 1994. I was fresh to the city from my small town roots. I went up some stairs into a dark, dingy club filled with skaters, goths, punks, and gays. The place was called The Plastic Puppet Motive (PPM). There was industrial music playing at first, but then we heard the sound of techno for the first time, thanks to the lovely DJ Deko-ze. Our jaws just kind of dropped and we looked at each other through the smoke and were like “what IS this?” And so it began. The club also featured very interesting performance art at each of the monthly events, so I got deeply involved in that element right away.
Then the first big rave in Saskatoon happened in ’96 with about 1,000 people. I had been DJing on the local community radio station CFCR 90.5FM, and DJ Deko-Ze asked me to play the closing set. That’s when he gave me the name “The Lady Gates Experience,” which I was embarrassed by at the time, but I kind of love it now. Since the PPM was known for doing performance art at their events, I got people to perform during my set. I got a bunch of babes to wear hula outfits and hand out pineapple skewers, then asked my friend Jamie to wear a white nurse uniform and put red Chinese funeral candles in his dreads and light them while handing out Q-tips. I also had my giant gong there. It was a happy occasion that lit the way to many more.
There aren’t a lot of photos from back in those days though, as digital cameras didn’t exist yet. I was too busy doing crazy stuff to think much about having photos taken. However, here’s a pic of me performing a three-hour set at the PPM’s 6 year anniversary, where Moka Only showed up and did an impromptu freestyle session with my mix. Dang, I wish we had taken a lot more photos back in the day!
Carrie Gates performing live at the Plastic Puppet Motive’s (PPM) Six Year Anniversary
CP: When did you first realize that there was an important connection between music and visual art?
CG: It wasn’t the music or visuals that brought me into the rave scene, it was the performance art. I was always interested in creating fantastic environments for people, environments where people would feel like anything could happen next. The music, the lights, the costumes, and the aesthetic all worked in harmony naturally to create strange spaces for lines of flight in thought. Through all of my work, I’m always trying to remind people that the fantastic is at our fingertips, and that we do not have to behave according to a grid of predetermination. As a performance artist and dancer, it was easy to feel the synergy between rhythm, movement, and color. The way that this synergy can affect a crowd of people feels like magic in its transmutative power for positivity in emotion, connection, and thought. It was easy for me to see how I could use other elements to enhance this experience for us all, so my movements from performance art to DJing and then VJing seem like the same action to me.
Slice by Carrie Gates and Annie Hall
CP: How did you become a VJ? What was your first VJ experience?
CG: Around 2004. It involved VHS tapes. A lot of VHS tapes. I used an analog mixer from our local artist-run center, Paved Arts. I used to have huge boxes of tapes containing small chunks of video art I had made with nefarious methods. I used to have to take small books with me listing all the time markers corresponding to each video art segment until I switched to DVDs. I used my trusty old Videonics MX-1 to bend it all together into the screens at some local clubs and, soon after, at raves around the province and country. It has been absolutely fascinating watching the technology for digital video mixing emerge right under my nose. My back is grateful for the technology too, since carrying those huge Rubbermaid bins of tapes up and down steep, muddy festival hills was kind of crazy.
CP: How does your approach differ between your live visual work and your internet-based art?
CG: I’m still trying to do the same thing—remind people that the fantastic is at our fingertips, as strange and scary as it might be sometimes, the power to create our world begins right there.
My Pizzabook project is a good example of how I like to subvert expectations of the use of mainstream technology for social interactions. Pizzabook is a browser-based project that turns your Facebook profile into an animated pizza adventure. It’s probably my most widely exhibited standalone piece of art to date.
Pizzabook turns your facebook into pizza
Pizzabook Project Poster
CP: You began as a performance artist. Can you talk a little about what that work was, and how that experience influenced your live video work?
CG: Performance art at raves in the 90s was very interesting in that it wasn’t always happening on a stage. Often, it was integrated right into the dance floor and there wasn’t a way to tell if it was a planned piece of art or some kind of spontaneous social combustion. That blurring of lines was very exciting and it added to the feeling of intense possibility in the air.
Once upon a rave, I handcuffed my friend to a metal chair on a podium in the middle of the dance floor with 500 or so people around me and force-fed him a milk crate full of fruit that I chopped up with a meat cleaver on top of some equipment loading boxes. Then I dragged him around through the crowd on the floor, continuing to force feed him, as we wrapped up the “performance” and slithered away into the shadows.
I still incorporate performance art into the footage that I shoot when I create my VJ clips. Doing those video shoots is some of the most fun I’ve ever had in my life.
Awakenings by Carrie Gates and Trancer
“Post-Eclair Bash Video Shoot Interview at the Hotel Saskatchewan” featuring Nicky Click and Carrie Gates
CP: What part has costume and cosplay played in you performances?
CG: Creating an environment of possibility involves work on many levels. Costuming helps inspire people around you to feel more giddy and free and gay. You can’t have a bad night in an orange ombre wig, and neither can the people around you. It brings out the clown in all of us, the Jester, the Raven, the Other. We all have this inside of us. Sometimes, we need a crazy outfit to get started.
Here’s a photo of a few of my friends and I crashing last year’s Nuit Blanche event in Saskatoon, dressed as a McDonald’s Happy Meal:
Carrie Gates and Friends Bombing Nuit Blanche Saskatoon 2016 as a McDonald’s Unhappy Meal
Here’s a photo of one of my live performance looks while I was taking a quick break to pose with a friend and my taxidermied squirrels, CherChow and Blossom:
Carrie Gates and Friends with CherChow and Blossom
CP: What part does humor play in your work?
CG: I’m not very funny, but I’m really good at making up knock-knock jokes about people in 10 seconds or less right after I meet them.
The art world can be too serious about itself sometimes. There is value in bridging a sense of humanity and compassion with the more theoretical concerns from the traditional art world. That bridge is something that I believe should be nurtured in order to communicate with broader audiences.
Sometimes I will create source materials for my videos that people find amusing. For example, here’s a sound reactive video made from hundreds of Klingon typography glyphs that I filled with custom bread and bagel textures. I’ve also made a few videos with chopped green peppers, doughnut icing, and mint leaves. One could say that I play with my food a lot.
Excerpt from VJ Mix for The Drake Hotel, Video by Carrie Gates with Sound by CJ Milli
CP: I read that drag culture is an influence on you work. Can you explain how?
CG: A lot of my friends perform drag. Whether they are male-to-female, female-to-female, male-to-male, female-to-male, or other, there is profundity within exploiting the world of gendered culture through caricature, as we all are deeply affected by the impact of gender in different ways. It’s easy to admire the visual aspect of drag in a casual way, but it can also be extremely intellectual, so it makes great food for visual thought.
TUSK – The Rain Keeps Falling Down, Official Music Video by Carrie Gates
CP: When You VJ, how much is pre-planned and how much is improvised?
CG: I have about 2TB of video clips and stop-motion .png image sequence files that I made. Sometimes I have very clear ideas in advance of an event about certain motion compositions I would like to make, but it depends so much on what the music is doing that I try not to be too attached to my ideas beforehand. Rather, I prepare for anything and then adapt in the moment to what is going on around me. My approach to DJing was similar, as I found that if I planned things too tightly, it left me little room to integrate my inspiration from the environment.
However, when I make music videos with VJing software, I am extremely controlled with how I represent the music because in that context I can plan everything down to the second, and I do.
Chlorophillinhale by Carrie Gates and YUNG PHARAØH (aka Kevin Carey)
CP: Can you talk about your technical set up a little? In terms of how you create the visuals live and how you make it react to the music?
CG: No, then I’ll have to kill you. However, I am available to be hired for workshops and one on one tutorial sessions :)
Carrie Gates teaching a VJing workshop at the Vancouver New Music Festival
CP: How much does audience reaction influence the direction of your live work?
It’s not a direct response to the audience, per se. I feel as though the music and the audience and I become a whole organism together one when I’m VJing. The energy is best when things are fluid, so I try to allow a certain flow to take effect.
I do get requests from time to time though, but that’s usually from one of the video models I’ve worked with if they happen to be at the show. I do try to play the clips that my friends are in when they are there. I love watching their faces when they see themselves transformed and projected onto the screen.
CP: Internet and digital art has become a natural home for new feminist thinking—why do you think that is?
Hand of OMG
CP: Is there a parallel of that movement in the live video art scene? How has your experience been generally as a woman working within it?
CG: Well, most of the time when I get to a show, the people behind the stage think I don’t know what I am doing and won’t make space for me, so I end up moving their stuff. Half an hour later, they’re usually buying me drinks and trying to chat me up. It’s annoying, but I’m used to it. I’ve been at this game for a long time.
CP: I read that you were obsessed with “post apocalyptic survival.” How prepared are you for a post apocalyptic world?
CG: It’s true. It’s my mission to watch every single movie on the subject. I fantasize about how people will self-organize under pressurized conditions with limited resources all of the time. There’s this really cool First Nations Elder I’ll try to follow up North when it all hits the fan. My partner is planning to teach me archery soon, too. Then I’ll have some seriously killer survival skills to add to my arsenal.
CP: What do you have coming up?
CG: I’ve got an upcoming screening at Nuit Blanche in Toronto, hoping to work with SAT Dome in Montreal, working on some music videos, making a living creating websites for artists and musicians, and revamping my personal design portfolio. I just finished performing at the Motion Notion festival in BC this weekend, way up in the mountains, and it was mind-bogglingly intense, as always.
VJ Carrie Gates performing live at Motion Notion Festival 2017 Ancient Gardens Stage. Documentation by Lewis Casey.