7 Rising Stars to Watch: Mike and Claire

by Paddy Johnson and Corinna Kirsch on August 26, 2014 Rising stars

Mike Bailey-Gates and Claire Christerson. Image by Matthew Leifheit.

Mike Bailey-Gates and Claire Christerson. Image by Matthew Leifheit.

If you’ve seen the work of collaborative Mike and Claire (Mike Bailey-Gates and Claire Christerson), it’s probably their GIFs. Over the past two years, the duo has been dressing up as characters of their own creation, animating their gestures to mimic silent films or cartoons like Scooby-Doo. “Playing with human animation and treating people like cartoons is something we think about a lot,” they recently told The Creators Project.

Case in point: their video “Fried Eggs,” a Looney Tunes-inspired cat-and-mouse chase between cartoonish police and naked women in colorful body paint. (Eggs get eaten). Further cartoon and arcane video games references can be found in their GIF series ”Characters”: a hyperventilating muppet in a sweater; a bird with a FUPA struggling to fly; and probably their most passed around GIF, a greasy Elvira figure sucking her teeth while a kid in gym shorts drinks blue gatorade. Caricatures– especially more raver/pop culture music video parody like “Mars”– bring to mind something between Cindy Sherman and Ryan Trecartin portraits. But overall, Mike and Claire treat GIFs like silent films, mugging for the camera in exaggerated wigs, slapstick movements and lots of make-up.

On some base level, we respond to the campiness of the work. And the real-life scenario is absurd too. You’ve basically got two of sexiest people on earth turning themselves into monsters (Mike’s on the back of VICE this month as an American Apparel model) and they don’t even want to be lovable. These are kids who don’t watch TV any more, but were deeply influenced by it; now there’s every technology in the world to turn them into a live action cartoon if they so choose.

That’s very specific to their generation, and to them as a collaborative team. We would have never thought to ourselves, “Now that I can easily overlay a cartoon sound track over whatever I want, I’m gonna be one.” It comes out of left field, and that’s a good thing.

What defines a good artist?

Mike: One that makes work.

Claire: Sticking to what you believe in and working hard everyday. Also being open to mistakes.

Who and what influences your work?

Mike:  I never know what to say to this. Recently I’m inspired by the idea of people. Like if an alien race of space explorers came to earth, and met all of us, what would make us interesting to them? We don’t have super heros or amazing abilities, but some people have a ton of character and imagination. I’m inspired by the people the aliens would take away as trophies.

Claire: I never really think about what inspires me, more i’m just interested in places. Something that I think about a lot recently is a castle sitting on a hill with a purple sky behind it and lots of moss growing in the yard. I also have a lot of pictures of kids in awkward halloween costumes that I like to look at. One of my favorite pictures is of a little boy vampire who is blue. I really love musicians like Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, and also Johnny Rotten interviews are good.

We really loved your character GIFs; we profiled several of them on the blog a few months back. In our write-up, we wondered what they were doing, what’s the storyline—if any. So, quite simply: What ARE they doing?

Mike: Just being them

Claire: They are each showing the viewer a little slice of their lives.

So much of your performance work is related to animation. What can you do with animation that you can’t do IRL, in your other performance work?

Mike: There’s more control, more space, and more room for getting it perfect. Although I think IRL performances the audience feels more of an obligation to keep quiet and watch. With animation it has to be 100% perfect to really get that respect from an audience which is hard.

Claire: We like to think of our work as human animation.  I think with animation you have a bit more control over where things are placed in your 1920×1080 frame.  When you do things “IRL” you must be precise and confident in your decisions because you can’t just go back later and make changes.  For us that is quite exciting because we really enjoy working hard with our hands to create things that feel worked on.

Do you guys watch a lot of movies and TV? It seems like there’s a whole lot of styles going on in your work that remind us of everything from horror movies to reality TV….

Mike:  I used to only exclusively watch spongebob as a kid. My mom is a big Chuck Jones fan, and my brother got me hooked on tarantino in high school, but cartoons are my favorite (thx mom.)

Claire: I don’t really watch much TV these days.  But I still watch shows that I loved growing up, Like Hey Arnold and the Mighty Boosh.  I remember the first time I ever saw the Nightmare Before Christmas, that hit somewhere deep I think.  My two favorite movies are Lords of Dogtown and Edward Scissorhands.  Hatchet Face from Cry Baby is really important to me.  I spend a lot of time listening to music and watching music videos the most though.  Right now I can’t stop watching Nina Hagen’s “Smack Jack” video. Wow…

Drag seems to be a normal, almost everyday part of your characters’ daily routines. Do you look up to drag queens?

Mike: For sure, Bushwick Drag doesn’t feel competitive, that’s what I like about it. Really likeHorrorchata, Macy Rodman, Shane Shane, and my favorite Lady Simon. The first time I met her she was standing alone in the rain outside of pyramid bar  down on ave A. That’s when she used to wear a huge turban. She didn’t know I was watching her, but she stood there taking drags of her cigarette then looked to her left and popped 3 balloons for a  birthday party with the butt of her smoke. I thought it was hilarious. That inspired a lot of work for a while.

Claire: Yes! I think that drag is different for everyone and it feels like something that is constantly shifting.  I think that it’s inspiring to see people use drag as a tool to explore different areas of life.

Do you see yourself living in New York for the next five to ten years?

Mike: I think so, i’m down for anything

Claire: Yes, but hopefully traveling and seeing new places too. I would really like to go to Iceland.





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