The absurdist Canadian video artist is either an idiot or maybe-not-an-idiot, he's not really sure.
Montreal video artist Jason Harvey's world is one of hip extraterrestrials, anthropomorphized cigarettes and 18th century wigs. He's been steadily making music videos for the cream of Canada's crop, with sleazy cat animations and costumed cavorting for rawk sybarite Mac Demarco and lush, layered footage for the austere, intense pop group Majical Cloudz.
The first piece of Jason's I ever saw was of a stoic animated butt releasing gas to the strains of classical music. Since then, Jason has embraced a more hi-fi aesthetic, shooting with fancy cameras and trying the Young Professional lifestyle on for size—without foregoing the wonkiness of his earlier, more flatulent experiments.
His latest video, made for the inscrutable Montreal muzak duo Prime Cuts, is a confounding, rather homoerotic romp through generic stock scenes—pouring coffee, riding bikes and popping champagne bottles with your best pal in the woods.
Jason's work takes the rote artifacts of Cool and reduces them to their symbolic essence—a process that ultimately renders them both blatant and enigmatic. Or, as he put, "You can't tell if I'm an idiot or kind of smart."
We hung out in cyberspace to talk about cool rock 'n' roll dudes, Mozart and scatology.
Noisey: Hi Jason. When I just called you, your profile photo was an alien with a Chanel necklace. You use a lot of alien imagery and weed imagery. What's the deal?
Jason: I like those because they're part of the lexicon of alternative imagery that was part of mall subculture. Smoking weed has a whole culture based on being chill, like, deep chill. There's something funny about that almost fake subculture that's so branded and everywhere.
In your music videos, you play around with what seems to be stock animation, making bears play guitar or floating a cigarette all over the place. There's also an element of stock video to some of the more recent work you've done with actual cameras.
I like playing with stock imagery. You fuck it up just a tiny bit, so people are like, "What? Is this…?" We're inundated with so many images all the time that are all bought from these data banks of images and they come from a generic blob of similar imagery that's created just to sell things. Like: Cool Dude in Bar, Cool Dudes at Party. I like to play with that. Also I like the process of recreating it almost 100 percent, but doing it yourself instead of buying it. It's a counterintuitive process.
What was the process like for the most recent Mac DeMarco video?
You know Mac, his personal brand is "Rock 'n' roll guy, I'm naked, I'm super wasted," and I was like, that'll be easy: drunk nude guy, that's it. But trying to do the inverse of that. I said, "I want you to look like Mozart, like a Dandy, like an 18th century man. Put on a nice expensive wig like a duke or viscount would wear." Mac has really catchy, nice songs, but they also have this feeling of desolate prairie life and darkness in them. I felt like a good backdrop for that would be these hideous parking lots in Laval [Quebec], but also this stoic beautiful scenery right by a highway.
I like that you mention the idea of personal brand. With our online personas and social networking profiles, I don't think anyone can claim that they don't have a personal brand. What is Jason Harvey's?
Whenever I've thought about what people will find when they look at me on the Internet, it's probably a lot of scatological tweets. Not knowing me but seeing me through the Internet is kind of ideal for what I was saying about [appropriating] stock footage. It's about straddling the division between idiot and maybe-not-an-idiot.
I guess many of us are. Are you happy when people tell you they find your videos funny?
If people find them funny, I think that's a positive. The Prime Cuts video is the best example of something where I would say the intention is most unclear—if it's supposed to be funny or if it's supposed to be serious beauty shots of these two dudes. I really like the idea of creating tension between humor and stoicism. It's like a joke that's broken. There's no punch line, but it's still a joke. I think there's an interesting middle ground between, you know, LOL and Serious.
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