Photography: Jaclyn Elizabeth
Growing up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Chicago performance artist Jake Vogds became heavily immersed in a competitive theater program called, “Forensics, Speech and Debate,” which had nothing to do with crime scenes or dead bodies—instead, the eight person troupe would perform 15-minute versions of musicals, where they weren’t allowed to look at or touch one another, using only colored blocks as set pieces and a 10-foot by 10-foot space to retell the entire narrative.
“I love the idea of creating a little ecosystem of performance isolated by its own limitations that can travel anywhere, allowing the audience to see a contrast from their own reality next to the borders of this small square space,” Vogds said. This early taste of niche performance, along with weekends spent creating Ryan Trecartin-inspired projects that “exaggerated, mutated and destroyed” pop culture, helped inform Vogds’ work today, which celebrates and criticizes contemporary culture through a queer, camp lens.
His debut EP POSTCAMP directly confronts pop culture—an examination rooted in a Marxist concept called, “Accelerationism,” or the speeding up of capitalism until it implodes upon itself. “I tend to exaggerate, exhaust and deconstruct contemporary trends, clichés and pop mentalities until they begin to eat away at each other,” Vogds said. “In staging such collapses, I aim to give my audience a foggy peek around the pop apparatus’ curtain, hoping to instill a similar desire of deconstruction within them. I also believe Accelerationism is extremely telling of American culture today, where a Twitter argument becomes its own ecosystem that crescendos to no limit.”
The three-song release was made entirely on Garageband, piecing together sound bites from some of Vogds’ favorite early 2000’s pop songs by Missy Elliott, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. He said he overloads each song with harmony, dissonance and beats until they’re “ready to burst;” only then, he decides to pull back. “Though I detect the gargantuan sighs and eye rolls from sound-engineers and musicians for working with Garageband, I am no longer embarrassed,” Vogds said. “I want my music to keep that DIY flavor of ‘anyone can make this,’ because it’s true—you should, and we’re all ‘selfebrities.’”
Vogds’ interest in the selfebrity, or a homemade Internet star, gets heavily dissected on the track, “SelfAbrasion,” where the singer suggests this online phenomenon has ultimately erased celebrity culture. “If everyone is famous, no one is, though I don’t think this would be a symptom of social media that the commercial world wants us to be aware of,” he said. “The song’s title is a reference to the [Kool & The Gang] song, ‘Celebration,’ but also refers to the overuse of social technologies, as compared to an OCD rubbing of the skin until it bleeds.”
On the POSTCAMP cut, “Mass,” a gregarious voice lists an exhausting number of Internet trends that, when grouped together so homogeneously, puts a mirror to things we’ve all become numb to—that bottomless Tumblr feed of mindless memes, gifs and viral videos that now feel so everyday. “Gradients, palm leaves, ‘Bye Felicia, Yas Queen,’ nineties style, neon signs, nostalgic memes […] identity politics, sea punk, Lisa Frank, get crunk,” the infomercial-sounding voice asserts, as Vogds’ soulful vocals cut in and out with the breathy tenor of Mariah Carey.
“One of my original goals in creating a pop identity was to give mass audiences a queer boy icon that challenges images like One Direction and Justin Bieber,” Vogds said. “In doing so, I’m also critiquing my own race, privilege and marketability through performance and songwriting. The way that capitalism is pushing acceptability, most recently with queer or transgender communities, and markets toward such groups is fascinating and oppressive. In my work, I’m often parodying commercial worlds selling trend through queer bodies. Though I may put forth a stereotypical white twink image of myself, I never want to adopt a calculable identity in any discipline. I will always be a critical caricature of myself.”
His EP cover art plays to this concept of identity, showing Vogds in a cropped fuchsia tent and matching shiny hot pants. He’s self-aware, consciously submitting to the skinny, clean-cut Grindr archetype of a twink, while intelligently weaving in commentary on camp culture—something that’s been synonymous with gay culture for decades. “Campiness,” Vogds said, is rooted in the oppression of queer bodies; it’s a way of laughing at the gay body for its overly ambitious attempts to stir up cultural norms.
“My live work involves performers entering in and out of tent suits that I fabricate to discuss these readings of queer bodies as ‘campy,’” he said. “This is a method of reclaiming the ‘camp’ language. The tent suit I’m wearing on the cover of my EP calls out contemporary trends for their own campy nature, talks about my own body’s perception by mass media and also refers to that as a protest—a sit-in or an ‘occupy’ pop.”
For Vogds’ performances, he revisits those earlier experiences in “Forensics, Speech and Debate,” traveling only with a 10-foot by 10-foot stage that can be constructed in any environment. “I love being able to set up my stage anywhere—performance art spaces, gay night clubs, public streets—and watch as the contrast of our aesthetic ecosystem agitates its surroundings,” he said. “I don’t feel like I have an ideal location to perform this work and that excites me.”
During a recent Chicago showcase, Vogds’ production opened with an uncomfortably long five-minute intro filled with cliché pop riffs and energizers, followed by his three brief studio songs and another overly extensive outro of him vibrantly yelling, “Thank you, goodnight—you’ve been a wonderful audience!” All these elements broken apart are key components of a palpable Britney Spears-style pop production, but Vogds has strategically exaggerated the standards to provoke a specific response. “When people come to my show, I want them to think they know how to handle what’s going on—a pop concert—and then watch as I slowly disgust and overload the pop-tropes that once allowed them to be so comfortable,” he said.
This humorous, tongue-in-cheek method is purposeful—a rebellious response to the safety net of minimalist, “serious” performance work so many artists box themselves into. While attending the School of the Art Institute Chicago, Vogds said he saw an abundance of this type of behavior, which helped direct his critical mentality within the performance umbrella.
“My issue with this genre of performance art is its raw, serious aesthetic that attempts to avoid aesthetic categorization, but in doing so, falls victim to its own stereotype,” he said. “A lonely wooden chair, a shoe, a traffic cone, performers dressed in all black, silent audiences—everyone is so captivated only by their own awkwardness, but are afraid to say so. It’s also difficult when the ‘Grandmother of Performance Art,’ Marina Abramovic and SAIC are both fighting for this type of work to define the medium. I truly believe that working with a strong element humor and humility is key to any innovative practice.”
Through his work, Vogds said he strives to break the silence of white-politeness—the cold, elite and illusive nature of pop. “Personally, I love humor and the pathetics of pop because it reminds us that everything is vulnerable, both the corporate and the individual,” he said. “I hope to encourage other artists to recognize and disturb tropes of their own mediums by tearing down walls that wear cultural progression like a Halloween costume.”