Welcome to the first issue of “Odd Jobs,” in which we explore artists’ day jobs. Many artists have held very odd jobs in order to support their art practice, and more often than not these jobs go unspoken and yet end up informing their work. Today we chat with Jibz Cameron, a Los Angeles-based performance and video artist who performs as her alter ego, Dynasty Handbag. Apart from her short video productions, she has performed at the New Museum, Performa Biennial, The Kitchen NYC, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Portland Institute of Contemporary Art, and the REDCAT presented by The Broad in Los Angeles, California. She performed I, an moron at The Hammer Museum on October 2, 2016.
Calder Yates: You grew up on a hippie commune, is that right? Did that experience inform your perspective around work?
Jibz Cameron: You mean having zero responsibility and absolutely no willingness to earn money? Yup! My mom never really held a job. Mostly she cleaned hotel rooms and babysat. Sometimes she worked for preschools. Mostly we were on welfare and food stamps with my mom.
My dad broke his back when I was young and was in a body cast for a year. He went through law school while in the cast at home and taught himself how to be a lawyer. He was really smart. He became an attorney, but we lived up in the woods and nobody had money, so he ended up trading law work for an old car, stuff like that.
CY: What odd jobs have you held?
JC: Most of my work life, before I started to have respectable job titles, I was in the service industry. I worked the day shift at the Lexington Club, a lesbian bar [in San Francisco, since closed]. It was, I don’t know, pretty bleak, I have to say. There’s nothing like a lonely, alcoholic lesbian to, you know, dampen your thoughts of the future. But I bar-backed on the weekends when all the cool people were there and I got to make out with girls in the stairwell.
The weirdest place I’ve ever worked at, by far, was this chain restaurant, Buca di Beppo, in 1999. They had five-liter magnums of wine that were really cheap. One time there was a stripper. Another time there was a fraternity reunion party, which was a total horror show … people were throwing food. The waitstaff was just like wasted and doing blow in the service station. I had a friend, who was a server, who overdosed on heroin, in the restaurant, on the job.
CY: How long did you keep up with these service industry jobs until you found a “respectable job title”?
JC: It was a long time, not until 2009. When I was working at this Spanish restaurant in New York City. I got a job as a professor at NYU teaching MFA and PhD students. It was so weird. I don’t even have a master’s degree or anything.
CY: It seems like a lot of interviewers love bringing up Jack Halberstam and Jose Esteban Muñoz’s theories of queer failure and its relationship to your art. You always seem to explain that you don’t go out with the intention of failure, you don’t set out to fail. But we as a society have created this structure in which we inevitably are going to fail. So I was curious, to what extent is having a “real” job, or having are normal job with benefits and 401(k) or something, part of that structure?
JC: Having a job with a 401(k) seems like you’re just signing your death warrant right there. Just kidding. I don’t know. I’m barely grown. I barely have savings, which I actually just totally used up this morning. There’ve been times in the past year or two where I’ve been sustaining myself on my work and with my teaching, and I felt very complete doing that. I don’t feel like teaching is any kind of burden or B-job. I feel like it definitely feeds my artwork and keeps me in touch with the youth of today, as they say, because I have yet to understand what the hell is going on. I’m like, “Who are you? What’s your gender?” They’re like making things up all the time. They’re like “My pronoun is xyz…” They’re so wild. I’m like, “I can choose my own identity daily?”
CY: You’re still working on a new TV show with Jack Black, is that right?
JC: I think so? I don’t know. Jack’s been a real champion. But other people are like, “Yeah, this would be a great show!” And then nothing really happens. We had one meeting with Amazon, which was exciting. I shit my pants a little bit. But they passed.
CY: When was the last time you were fired from a job?
JC: I got fired from two restaurants in NYC in a row. I was obsessed with this girl I was dating, and talking to her on the phone while at work… I also got fired from Amoeba Records when I was 17, the first Amoeba Records, the first year it was open. And I got fired because I was “not professional enough,” which is hilarious. I totally cried my eyes out.
CY: Getting fired is tough no matter what. It’s kind of like getting dumped.
JC: Yeah, it hurts. But then you’re not really pining like a break up. You’re not like, “I wonder if we’re ever gonna get back together? I wonder if I’m going to see my job at that party? I wonder if my job has another girlfriend now?”
CY: Is there anything else you’d care to mention?
JC: I’m underemployed right now, so if anyone can think of anything, or if you need an entertainer for your birthday party or something like that, let me know. I can organize your files on your computer for you, too.