This is a piece I wrote on Cameron Platter which appeared in his catalogue HARD TIMES / GREAT EXPECTATIONS:
Cameron Platter’s work, which stretches from drawings to video to sculpture, can sometimes be hard to pin down. The best word I could get to describe it is apocalypsonaïve. It is a portmanteau made up of three separate words, but in Platter’s world of Sportswater-and-Penis Combos and killer transvestite scorpion zebras from outer space it seems to fit right in.
Apocalypse, the first element, is because of the dark sci-fi undertones and storylines and the post-human characters. It is a world where LOLcats come back to haunt us. It is for the fear of KFC and WMDs. Apocalypse allows for an area of rich fantasy and, like all good apocalypse narratives, a healthy dose of social commentary.
Naïve, the second element, is for the childlike drawing, the cut-and-paste animation and the gratuitous use of paperback verbal cliché. It lends an innocence all the worse for the violent content. It’s like watching kids playing with guns, sweetly involved and terrifyingly earnest. Linda Stupart once described it as the “embittered and delinquent love child of Quentin Tarantino and Dr Seuss”, which is as appropriate as funny.
In the middle of my word is calypso, the third element, for the syncopated rhythm of the islands. It is the Durban sun, the bright colours and the taste of the subtropics. It’s the creole mix of a crocodile and a detective. It’s the secret hideouts of Scaramanga and Dr No. It’s the gaze of the colonialist. And it is the dirty parties when the sun goes down, the strippers and sex tourists, the drugs and speedboats. It’s the sound of a zip on red latex boots.
RS: In most of your work there is a big contrast between the childlike style of drawing and the violent or mean content. How do you see it affecting the viewer?
CP: I think of it as a form of reportage. I only transcribe what I see around me: night clubs, hookers, sex, fast food, tabloid horror stories, the art world, TV, films, politics, consumer culture etc. The fact that the “style” is childlike, that’s just how I see things. It doesn’t really matter to me how it affects the viewer- they choose to eat it up how they want and then spit it out again. Treat adults like children and children like adults and you can’t go wrong…
RS: It reminds me a bit of Tank Girl. Reacting to the wrongs in the world with reckless abandon.
CP: How can people not react? I’m astonished that people can go about their lives smiling, eating KFC, watching TV, buying cell phones, wanting the latest 3-in-1 penis combo. Tank Girl. Doesn’t she wear revealing outfits?
RS: She does. And reacts violently.
CP: I suppose I’m like a passive-aggressive-slacker-Lebowski type of reactor.
RS: Do you bowl?
RS: I meant ten-pin…
CP: That’s, like your opinion, man. Once or twice. In Parow.
Platter’s animations are often made with simple colours, minimal movement and with cutouts glaringly stuck on. The backgrounds flash and the shots are long and drawn out, like anime from the 90’s.
RS: Your work has a very handmade feel about it even though it’s digital.
CP: Funny. My video work is almost the most handcrafted, hand-done, side of what I do. Even though it’s digital
RS: Somehow things that are digital can look more handmade. I think it’s because unslick digital drawings refer to the past.
CP: I think there’s a return to doing things yourself. Making things from what you got. Not just in art. Like growing a vegetable, instead of buying one. Which may mean people would start making their own art instead of buying it.
Platter often repeats motifs, such as crocodiles, porn, fast cars, bars, John Muafengejo and KFC legs. Certain characters also make multiple visits, developing quirks of personality over time, resembling the repeated characters in crime novel series.
CP: The latest animation, The Old Fashion, started out as a remake of my 2005 animation My bm is bigger than yours. I literally re-storyboarded scene-by-scene and then just let it develop. It turned into something completely different to the original. And that’s when I realized that things like the zebras, the crocodile had this real potential to be these important, familiar, characters. Like the players in a crime novel series. I love the contrast of high and low. And I love people, things, that don’t take themselves too seriously.
Platter overtly refers to detective fiction and is a massive crime fiction fan. One of his repeating characters is a crocodile who talks like Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe and falls in love with fallen women. The villains are often straight out of James Bond, though Blofeld’s cat gets the active part.
RS: You refer to bad literature or at least genre’s that aren’t considered ‘literature’, like paperback sci-fi or spy thriller James Bond-style and crime novels.
CP: I suppose I feel some sort of kinship with crime-fiction books. The fact that they aren’t supposedly “hardcore” literature. I don’t make politically correct installations dealing with violence, race, oppression, and poverty etc. I make bright, colourful, “childlike” works that are slightly funny, off-kilter or humorous. Doesn’t mean I don’t have a political agenda though.
RS: Crime fiction, especially the old kind, like Raymond Chandler and Dash Hammet, are in essence morality tales, but with an unconventional bend. Do you feel there is an off-beat sense of morality in your work?
CP: That’s it. I’m big-time into morality tales. Doing the right thing but embracing contemporary sleaze at the same time.
RS: Is there a bigger morality power. Some of your animations end with a powerful external force cleansing the world (like transvestite scorpion zebras).
CP: I think it is just an easy Beckettian way to end- otherwise the stories would just go on and on and never end. The Zebras are also like Steven Seagal. So like a combo of Beckettian and Seagalian wrath cleans shit up. But I do like finality, and there is something quite comforting to me about a sudden ending: Finish and klaar.
RS: Like a premature ejaculation?
CP: Or coitus interruptus.
Pornography is a theme in Platter’s work. His recent video Black up that white ass 2 started with a 7 minute graphic animated porn scene
RS: I noticed that you love the seriality of the characters. But the similar sequels and repeated characters remind me of porn as well as crime fiction. What is your relationship to porn?
CP: I was a pornographer in a previous life. I love porn but I hate it. I think it’s such an important thing. Everyone has sex, and sex is porn. My/ our relationship to porn is way too complex for me to be able to sum it up. For me, it changes everyday. But art’s relationship to porn is a poor cousin in tatty underpants.
RS: I like how all porn has this dark side, which I think you put into your videos. Like the flip side of this eroticism is death and fear.
CP: There is definitely fear and death lurking in whatever I do. I think the dark side comes naturally- there is no conscious effort to include in my stories. It just happens. And then gets extreme.
RS: There seems to be a new common motif of giant KFC legs in your videos.
CP: It’s a reaction to the trivialized, homogenized, dumbed-down nation of franchise stores, franchise restaurants and franchise people that South Africa is fast becoming. Every brown paper bag on the street is a KFC bag. KFC is the World Food Program. And the Colonel? How much more ridiculous can you get?
RS: I know. It is scary that chicken and evil can be so closely related. Do you ever eat it? Maybe when you are hungover?
CP: Never. I’ll eat fried chicken. But only if I make it, and only if I know the provenance of the chicken.
RS: There’s an element of Afro-kitsch in your work, especially in Black Up That White Ass 2, referencing quack African herbalists and John Muafengejo.
CP: I do like the notion that my stuff isn’t from a single source. It can be about dictators, KFC, Lebowski, porn, South African politics, Metallica, penis problems, crime stories and zebras all at the same time. And it can make perfect sense. To me, at least. I don’t see it as Afro-kitsch. Maybe I’m just colour blind, can’t see the wood.
RS: You mean it’s not kitsch or not specific to Africa?
CP: I don’t go out to create something kitsch. Maybe I’d call it DirtyAfroBaroque.
RS: Maybe kitsch is the wrong word. Too much value judgment.
CP: I think it has something to do with growing up around that type of art. John Muafangejo, Tito Zungu, Cecil Skotnes, Azaria Mbatha.
Platter lives outside Durban, KwaZulu-Natal. It’s a city on the east coast of South Africa, which like many port cities is a vibrant mix of cultures and industry. It is also rapidly developing.
RS: Tell me about Durban. Has moving out there permanently been a big change?
CP: Durban’s described in chi-chi W Magazine as a gritty port city. Go figure. I live a little outside Durban. It’s the chance to focus, concentrate, and get back to the basics about why I make art/ stuff. I mean, I work in a sub-tropical forest 2kms from the warm sea. And I have a pug called Salvo.
RS: I once heard your house described as this island of jungle amongst new triple storey housing developments. True?
CP: True. And I think it gives real insight into what comes out of me.
RS: That you have your own island secret facility/lair?
CP: Amidst the KFC drive-thrus and Scarface-Tuscan mansions. Amidst golf-estates, and corrugated-iron shacks, Hindu temples, churches above auto-body shops. Sub-tropical beaches and sewer pipes.
RS: Islands have this amazing wealth kitsch. I was reading the other day about dictator kitsch, the kind of imagery that Kim Jong Il and Adolf Hitler surrounded themselves with. And how these idealistic representations of the world say something so much darker.
CP: It’s humorous, but then very quickly becomes super sad and scary. All the mirror glasses that the “villains” wear in my latest video The Old Fashion are Charles Taylor’s. It’s interesting what they reflect…