can casey jane ellison make the art world funny?

i-D chats with the super serious Casey Jane Ellison about getting spicy with the art world.

by Jane Helpern
07 December 2015, 1:34am

Photography Ben Colen

Stand-up comedian slash multimedia artist Casey Jane Ellison is so inscrutably deadpan that she makes Sarah Silverman look like a perky cheerleader un-ironically wielding bubblegum pink pom-poms. In an internet saturated with "it-girls" and "influencers" vying for the world's attention, Casey Jane Ellison pokes fun at the art scene, pop culture, and our obsessive desire to be the center of attention… by demanding to be the center of attention. If there's anyone truly deserving of the cry-laugh-emoji, it's Casey and her brand of self-aware-pseudo-intellectual-narcissism. "A lot of people ask me what my work is about. I always tell them, 'Being pretty.' God, I'm gorgeous." she recently tweeted.

Online and in her oeuvre, which are inextricably linked, the art school grad challenges the absurdity, and hypocrisy, of it all, not exempting her own role in it. Earlier this year, she participated in New Museum's "2015 Triennial: Surround Audience" with her provocative Ovation Network online series "Touching The Art," an all female talk show style segment which invites prestigious artists, curators and collectors like Catherine Opie and Jori Finkel to debate polarizing issues like, "What is a bi/triennial, who are they for, and what if this is where Casey peaks?" and "What is art? Who cares?" As well as race, queerness, consumerism, and "the art world's least favorite topic: art." In addition to all this, she hosts a monthly stand-up night at Otherwild in Los Angeles, writes, gives lectures, and podcasts, and she'll be doing her thang at this year's Miami Art Basel. We catch up with the artist/pundit/witchy lipstick expert in a semi-serious email exchange below.

How did you get into stand-up comedy?
I forced myself into an open mic in the Lower East Side one day at 4pm.

I heard that your first performance was a total flop?
It was as much of a success as an open mic in broad daylight could be.

Do you remember the first joke you told that really made people laugh?
I don't remember what I said, but I remember being about 4 in the car with my family and they all laughed at me and then later, realized that was fun and really important to me. 

You have the most hilarious Twitter. What is your creative process for that particular medium?
Thank you! First I observe, then breathe, then let the notion swirl around in my mind and body. Then just squirt out a tweet onto the feed. Sometimes it leaks onto the feed.

Sometimes "Touching The Art" makes me so uncomfortable, especially when some of the panelists seem really offended, like they expect to be participating in a super serious "art world" show. How do you not break character?
It's more fun to stay in character. It's also respectful. The people on the show have their own personas. It's not my responsibility to shut them down and vice versa. It's very important to listen and be yourself on camera and in life.

How much of that person is you, and how much of that person is a character?
It's definitely a part of me. It's a part of all of us. An idealist who thinks she can change the world with one overly simplistic idea like, "excluding males from a panel discussion." I like how my version of a host was proven wrong constantly.

Sometimes it seems like the panelist has no idea what she's getting into. Is that extra fun for you when that happens?
I wouldn't say, "fun." All of the panelists understand the context of the show. Also, they were all amazing listeners and communicators. Obviously I love when things appear spicy. It's what we set out to do with the show, but the panelists are all very present and they're excellent listeners and communicators. The questions are intentionally unanswerable or have infinite answers. Showing those discussions and reactions was the goal of the show.

Obviously, there are "no boyz allowed" on "Touching The Art." Why do you think it's important to carve out all female spaces in the world?
I don't really believe in "no boyz allowed." That dynamic in the show was meant to reveal the hypocrisy and limits of talk shows, panel shows and even ideals in general. I loved playing a polarizing host latching onto a belief that she thought to be the answer to all the problems of the world. But for me, the show wasn't about 'carving out' anything although it maybe did that. Probably more 'just doing something funny and making it work as an interesting discussion.'

If you could invite any three dead art world people to be on "Touching The Art", who would they be?
Georgia O'Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, Catherine the Great, who wasn't an artist, but queens are allowed on the show.

What would you ask?
I'd just watch.

Art Basel is upon us. What will you be doing there?
I love Miami so much. I'm showing a video with NADA called "Casey Jane Ellison Personal Trimmer Internal Promo" commissioned by Art+Culture Projects and judging at BHQF Art Chopped.

Who else is doing a good job in art right now?
Math Pearl Bass is an incredible painter. But lots of people are doing great. Michelle Papillion of Papillion Gallery has an amazing space in LA. Otherwild run by Rachel Berks in LA sells art objects, clothes and wares by local artists and designers and features my monthly comedy show called Other Comedy.

Casey Jane Ellison's work will be featured in the group show "The Real World" at Steve Turner Contemporary from Dec 12-30th. 


Text Jane Helpern
Photography Ben Colen