There's an important difference between collaborators and twins. The former invest time in getting to know each other, slowly over time intuitively syncing up to each others' rhythms, ways of thinking, and creativity. The twin is an entirely different story -- a collaboration born uncomfortably and non-voluntarily, that's subject to fetishization and prying speculation, the twins are bound for life but may never truly understand each other. Los Angeles-based artists Jemima Wyman and Anna Mayer are of the former persuasion. Working together as a collaborative since 2005, when they met as graduate students at CalArts, today Wyman and Mayer finish each others' sentences, intuit each others' thoughts, and act as each other's mirrors. Even having a conversation with the two of them is slightly overwhelming -- they are one mind distributed across two bodies. Moving across the spaces of social practice, performance and sculpture with a focus on feminism, intimacy and the politics of pleasure, CamLab is also interested in 'feral institutions' built by individuals with outsider or non-institutionalized art world tendencies.
"Our collaborative relationship is a model relationship for social interaction," says Wyman. "We mark our bodies through the wearing of garments made with optical patterning. We're interested in imaging the female body in such a way that it doesn't blend in with the furniture or become innocuous or automatically sexualized."
CamLab isn't imposing, predatory or even awkward. Both are affable and friendly, often giggling as they finish each others' sentences, like that favorite, drama-free best friend from high school who we still hang out with in adulthood. Though they prefer to be known only as the collaborative CamLab, the two also maintain their own separate art practices. Wyman, who lives and works between Brisbane, Australia, and Los Angeles, graduated with a BFA in Visual Arts from Queensland University of Technology, and in 2007 she received her MFA from CalArts. Mayer, who grew up in rural central Illinois, lives and works in Los Angeles, also receiving her MFA from CalArts in 2007. Their individual practices and lives aren't important to note, however, so we'll just skip everything but the credentials. Together they are CamLab, an entirely collaborative, non-singular entity, which effectively erases individuality or the artist as 'unique' or 'genius.'
The collaborative's resume is that of a thorough and accomplished emerging artist, with nearly one solo exhibition per year in locales ranging from Los Angeles to Chicago, Brisbane, Australia, and El Paso, Texas. They've been included in group exhibitions in Torrance, Santa Monica, the Czech Republic and Scotland. CamLab has gone to a few residencies as well, including ThreeWalls in Chicago and the Ox-Bow School of Art. After getting to know them as a duo, it's hard -- even painful -- to ever picture them apart.
Most recently, CamLab traveled to El Paso for a project called "Wearing Witness," in which they both donned something they refer to as 'self empathy' garments, and interacted socially with the people with the premise of this social practice art. Their dresses were covered with selfie photos of the other, becoming both overwhelming, excessive visual displays of the self as other while creating a mirror reflection when the two ended up in the same space. The wearing of these dresses is both an invitation and a rejection of another's gaze -- the selfie dresses create both the beginning and end of a conversation about the self. Writes CamLab in their artist statement about the dresses: "As the selfie and, in particular, the 'artselfie' emerge as both the bane and the inspiration of contemporary visual culture, CamLab emphasizes themselves by wearing them selves on their sleeves." Los Angeles had a chance to experience CamLab's selfie dresses in 2013 at the opening of their solo exhibition "Permissionary Work" at the Center for Arts in Eagle Rock, which also included a neon sign spelling out the name 'Rebecca Kosick,' a woman who is both student and collaborator.
In another garment-focused project, "With and Between" (2014), CamLab stitched a text poem in blue embroidery thread on to their clothes and those of their students for the opening of eachother, an exhibition at the Luckman Gallery at Cal State L.A. The essence of CamLab extends beyond any predetermined ideas of what one thinks of as collaborative, creating an entire environment through the performative showcase of garment-wearing.
When CamLab is out together performing, they create another reflective layer of their self-magnifying mirrors through documenting everything on their Instagram account CamLabia. Interestingly, even before the selfie became recognized throughout mainstream media, popular culture and the art world, CamLab was using the selfie mode to document and make work by doing performances, making videos or taking photographs in which they held a laptop or camera between each other, using it as a public mirror of the self as seen through the other who is mirroring the self. Ultimately, this type of interaction is about recognizing the mirroring nature of female friendship.
CamLab's work is influenced by the strong feminist histories and experimental practices they encountered at CalArts, as well as the social practice and community-focused nature of L.A. artmaking. In Fall 2015, CamLab will be Occidental College's Wanlass Artist-in-Residence. In this next collaborative role, Mayer and Wyman will teach a class, curate an exhibition, exhibit their own work, and make an autonomous structure on campus. Ultimately, the two want to build a structure out of which they can teach and program, a roaming being not unlike CamLab itself.
All images courtesy of CamLab.