MIKE AND CLAIRE,
A CONVERSATION WITH THE ARTIST DUO

 

"We are interested in pushing the boundaries of photography, through moving image and in camera techniques. Currently, we are focused on gender and exploring all the in betweens of what we feel, can be massive separations. The work shown here, spans over the past year of what we have been up to. Something that we have stayed focused on for a while is the concept of "radical styling" and how that may be applied to the characters that we create and also about how the body can be easily changed." – Mike and Claire 

 
 

Interview by Ryma Chikhoune and Juliann McCandless
All works by Mike and Claire
Photos (to the right) by Darren Irwin; Greenpoint, BK

After meeting their first year at SVA, New York-based artists Mike Bailey-Gates and Claire Christerson – collectively known as Mike and Claire – bonded over mutual interests, began collaborating on projects, and soon found themselves living and working together. "I've never met anyone I didn't have to explain everything to," says Christerson. "When I first met Mike, I was curious about him. He was a mystery." He feels the same, he says, recalling their first day of classes: "I remember seeing Claire in a cheetah print coat and this grandma shirt. She had super, long blond hair, and then the next day, she came in with a pixie cut. I was like, 'What the fuck? Did she cut off all her hair the second day of art school?'" 

Using new media platforms, their unified visions show no bounds. Constructed within the world they've created for themselves, their collection of works, from photography and performance art via videos and gifs to costume and production design, reveal a distinctive touch that's all their own. It's only the beginning for these two, as they continue to attract clients (the likes of Nicola Formichetti), all while completing their last year of school. – R.C.

You've known each other for two years?

Claire: It feels like a lifetime. 

What's it like working and living together?

Mike: We see each other a lot. Working from home is nice, convenient. When we started off, it was just something fun we did all the time. 

Claire: In the beginning, we never intended on becoming a team. 

Mike: Now that we've been working more and more, getting a lot more jobs in the past year, our home has become not just a place to live in, but a place to work. Right now, the thing that we struggle with is keeping a separation between home and work. It gets a little hectic sometimes.

Claire: I don’t know if I’ll be able to have a studio, separate from my house. For me, that would be very difficult. I would just end up living in my studio. 

Mike: Definitely. It’s just nice to go to bed right after you make work. But I definitely do crave having separate rooms to work in.

Claire: My bedroom is the editing room. We'll be working for a while, and at some point I'll look around and see that my room is a disaster.

Mike: We'll do a lot of Skype calls with clients and stuff –

Claire: I'll throw a blanket over the mess! "Don't Look!"

The beauty of Skype. You can just turn to some white wall, and be like, "Hey, I'm at my office."

Mike: Exactly.

In the past year you've been working a lot, while still at school. That's so rare. What's it like relating to other classmates at SVA?

Mike: I think a lot of the time we don’t make work for the assignments, we just like making work. There's a huge separation of people at schools. Going to school, because your parents have told you this is where you have to go to college, and going because it's what you want to do for the rest of your life. As the years progress, that becomes more apparent. 

Claire: Getting closer to graduation, we aren’t at school as often. It feels like we live in a little bubble.

Mike: Yeah. Another thing – it’s frustrating sometimes when younger students say that they don’t have the budget to do what they want. They have really great ideas, and I just always feel like telling them that they can do it. You can use trash to make art.

Is school still bringing you something?

Mike: Definitely. The professors are working artists... We're really good friends with them.

Claire: We're also pretty good friends with the head of our department, Stephen Frailey. He's been really supportive.

When did the change happen, from being students to working artists? 

Claire: It's a bit different for Mike, in a way.

Mike: You know how everyone goes through a photography stage, taking pictures of their feet...

Claire: When you're learning, figuring out what you like...

Mike: Everyone goes through that stage, and when I was 13, I was taking picture of sets for stuff I liked to build. I started putting them online and then worked in a photo studio in Rhode Island until I was 17. Then, I moved to New York, kept taking photos, went to SVA. I've always been in the photo industry, but when I started working with Claire, it was at a point where I was tired of still images. So, we started working on moving images, and that's what we're working on now.

Did you come to that point together when you met?

Claire: Our projects were more separate last year, but we would help each other. I was making videos, while you [Mike] were working mostly in still, which was really cool. We just started combining the two. Right now, we're focused on making videos for Internet content, but we're interested in finding a balance in camera technique and not having it be completely digital. Using really old techniques to work with something that's new media.

Mike: For my old still images, I never really used Photoshop. I'd play with perspective... When I started working with Claire, it became, "oh let's use this instead of using a computer to do it." The results look a lot more like what it is in our heads.

It must be more time consuming...

Mike: Definitely...

Claire: But more rewarding. I like it, because it allows you to really think about how every single piece of what you're making has to be, instead of thinking that it'll work itself out. It's cool to challenge yourself to see how detailed it can get.

Mike: We don't like using technology as a crutch, but use it to move forward (laughs).

How so?

Mike: Through gifs, definitely. 

Claire: I think through more interactive.

Mike: When color photography started coming out, it was something cool you could do. Then, it was shown in museums and recognized as art. With gifs, it's the same thing. It's slowly being accepted as an art medium. 

What's your perspective on this change, in terms of gifs and Internet art? 

Mike: It's so much easier to make art now, especially photography. Anyone can be a photographer, take a good picture with the newer technology. But I think now, if you have good ideas, that's what comes through. That's what separates people.

Claire: It’s definitely more about ideas and how to make it come alive, make them relatable to people. It’s what's making or breaking a lot of things at the moment. You can use really cool effects or whatever to make something, but when you strip it all down, what are you making? I think content is the biggest thing.

In terms of art via the Internet, so much of it is replicated. It's so quickly spread...

Mike: I love that.

Claire: That's Mike's favorite thing.

Mike: I was a total Flickr kid. I would come home from school at 14 and spend so much time online talking to friends who were also Flickr photographers. When I got a little older, I noticed that you could track the source of certain archetypes. Like, if Rosie Hardy posted something like, a little girl in a red dress holding a lantern, the Little Red Riding Hood archetype, you could actually track the source of it. You can make a web and see that people who favored it took a similar photo. It trickles down...you end up with a folder of girls in red dresses holding lanterns. With the Internet now, you can track trends in art. I think it's cool to see something visually happen like that.

That's so interesting. 

Claire: I grew up not really knowing Flickr or any of that. It's just interesting to see people who grew up together online.

Mike: Some of my friends from New York now are people I've met online. It's funny, the idea of building Internet personalities. 

How do you feel about Internet personas?

Mike: It’s cool meeting somebody and realizing their Internet persona is totally different, yet that other person still exists. 

Claire: I don't think I have an Internet persona. I was into MySpace, but it was more from the design perspective.

Customizing...

Claire: I was really into designing backgrounds (laughs)...

Do you think you have another, online self, Mike?

Mike: For sure. I hate when people delete stuff they posted when they were 14 or whenever...

Claire: It's like hiding the past.

Mike: I don't want to be able to hide all my high school angst.

Claire: I love reposting those.

Mike: Leigh Bowery has this quote I love: "Embarrassment is the least explored human emotion." 

What are you focused on now?

Claire: Someone we bonded over immediately was Alexander McQueen. We just really appreciate the way he would take his shows to the next level.

Mike: Yeah, we're trying to bring that back. Things have gotten boring.

Claire: I think we're interested in bringing some of our work to the real world more, to be given the chance to do the production and design of a show...

Mike: Yeah, we just want to do everything.