By Foteini Vergidou.
The new body of work by Kostis Stafylakis is not just a multimedia exhibition; it’s a whole mood.
‘Chloroquine Juggalo’ is presented at KEIV, an artist run space by Konstantinos Lianos in the heart of Athens. The exhibition took over the space and completely transformed it. This immersive experience feels like a deep dive into cyberspace, with a sensation of Mad Max meets TikTok under intense purple lighting. In other words, Stafylakis’ new solo show is creatively chaotic, exuberant and kinda trippy, with strong injections of humor and subcutaneous political commentary.
Stafylakis’ work combines performance, video, sound and sculptural installations to reflect on the culture of the Juggalos and address their dynamics with the Internet. His works, born from online research on the community of the Juggalos, interviews with its members and his interaction with them via social media and hashtags, were materialized in the physical space of KEIV, using found footage, direct references to their culture and bold post-internet aesthetics.
The Juggalos, a family of “scrubs”, as they call themselves, are the byproduct of the deindustrialization of Detroit and other American industrial hubs. They embrace wicked clown aesthetics, carry tattoos with the hatchet-clown and use their own slang to identify and salute one another, like ‘whoop-whoop’ and ‘mmfwcl’ (much mother-fucking wicked clown love). Juggalos share their own moral code and controversial ethical system, inspired by the Dark Carnival, jokers and class-struggling, mixed with fantasy, magic and acceptance of “wickedness”.
The artist created Chloroquine Juggalo, a persona to introduce himself and mingle with the community of the Juggalos. In the namesake video, the central piece of the exhibition, Stafylakis shows his gradual immersion to this culture, using found footage, samples of the music sent to him by amateur rappers such as BoxxaB and Twisted Psycho, and original scenes of the artist’s slow mutation to the wrestler “Puke Ninja”. The outcome is loud, eye striking and color popping.
His sculptural installations use a variety of materials, from resin, clay, polyurethane, to plaster, iron and found objects, and run at different scales, to convey the universe of the Juggalos into one seductive experience. Stafylakis is inspired and reflects on the conspiracy theories running through the members’ core ideologies and places his sculpture ‘Monument to Post-Truth’ at the very beginning of the exhibition space.
On the other side of KEIV, a sculptural video installation, the ‘Redneck Revolt: New Horror’, presents an overview of Chloroquine Juggalo’s activity on TikTok. Born and raised online, Stafylakis’ persona interacts with Juggalo members on the platform, duets, stitches and comments on their videos. The artist hops on the lip-syncing trend, using a speech by Paula White, Trump’s Evangelical spiritual adviser, while mimicking horror cosplayers.
In his fragmented videos, Stafylakis is manipulating the pre-existing material and his own footage, to reveal his intention of altering our subjectivity on this American undercurrent.
Since montage is all about rhythm, the rhythmic rotation of the scenes in both works brings to mind the tempo of Paula White’s incomprehensible sentence and the samples of the amateur rap music sent by Juggalos he met online. The result of this investigation is an extravagant mix of images, videos and sound.
Ferocious Urbanites had a quick chat with Kostis Stafylakis at Faygo Bar, the hottest spot in Chloroquine Juggalo’s den, over some Faygo-based drinks.
F.U. : How does one become Chloroquine Juggalo?
K.S. : I guess it all started with the frustration of social distancing, and with an irresistible desire to escape the repetitive apparatus of both public and private life in Greece. With a few exceptions, such as the start of a Greek #metoo movement, Greek social life during the Covid-19 crisis played out as a strenuous replay of the same: the same old identities would clash with their same old rivals, over the same old issues in order to re-occupy the same old territories of meaning. Whereas, in the US the stakes were high, pertaining to a historical turmoil that fostered uncharted playfulness, despair, rage, and risk.
I had started focusing on various American subcultures and undercurrents sooner than the Covid-19 outbreak, and nothing achieved in distracting me. It started with a fascination with the Doomsday Preppers, leading to the Readiness SAGA, an evolving body of work in collaboration with fellow artist Theo Triantafyllidis and with the participation of many friends, such as Alexis Fidetzis and American artist and author Joshua Citarella.
When I discovered the Juggalos though, I immediately felt that this chapter would call for private engagement. In sync to my immersion in Juggalo culture, Donald Trump went on to publically propose the private use of chloroquine as anti-covid preemption, since he’d “heard a lot good stories about it”.
This absurdity had a gore taste that capriciously clung to the horror atmosphere of Horrorcore rap, the Insane Clown Posse, and excessive anti-sociality. That’s how I decided to open up profiles on various social media and forums, to socialize with the Juggalos. And, I was Chloroquine Juggalo, a Greek Juggalo searching for chloroquine on the web, and sharing “much mother-fucking wicked clown love” with my new friends.
F.U. : Your new body of work is in dialogue with the politics, the social phenomenon and the interrelationships of the members of a subculture in America. What prompted your investigation into the Juggalo community?
K.S. : I was thrilled by the fact that I was hitherto unaware of the Juggalos.
It’s like opening up a window to a psychedelic realm stemming from real social effervescence. The Juggalos are genuine sprouts of the American Rust Belt, and their subversive influence extends to urban areas, suburbia, and redneck America. The 90s rap duet Insane Clown Posse is responsible for providing the name, the language, and the core aesthetics of this movement. They’ve crafted an entire social mythology that empowered the neglected, the dropouts of an impoverished part of America.
Almost all Juggalos have suffered poverty, social bigotry, and scorn. The Juggalos attempt to heal the social bond by structuring a sense of “family” based on the acceptance of “wickedness”, on the acknowledgement of irreparable trauma. The Dark Carnival, its jokers, its lyrics, and the wicked clowns are astute trans-valuations of structurally abusive social environments.
Of course, the image of the avenging Joker is nowadays politically unstable, and susceptible to reactionary ramifications. But the politics of Juggalos tells us that ambivalence, ambiguity, and contingency are ontological constituents of the “political”. And this community tasted this ambiguity of when, back in 2017, Juggalos were protesting their criminalization by the FBI, in Washington DC. Trump supporters had accidentally arranged a march at the same spot. The clash between the two sides started online, with the circulation of memes picturing a Juggalo Joker assassinating Pepe the Frog, or burning the confederate flag.
The online theatrics of my Chloroquine Juggalo persona paid tribute to that moment: I staged an online grotesque execution of Pepe the Frog, which I circulated through my social media outlets.
F.U. : Your video works, ‘Chloroquine Juggalo’ and ‘Redneck Revolt: New Horror’ are a combination of found online footage, interviews with Juggalo members and original filming. In terms of your process, how did you begin to collect the material for these works? How does your use of found footage inform the central message of each piece?
K.S. : The set-up at KEIV Athens includes two video pieces. Chloroquine Juggalo (The video) is a stand-alone piece that tells the story of my personal transformation through the rapport with actual Juggalos, whereas “Redneck Revolt: New Horror” is a video installed on a polyurethane sculpture with a green skull and toy guns. The latter focuses exclusively on Chloroquine Juggalo’s TikTok activity. As I gained access to a variety of Juggalo accounts, I could capture stories, posts, memes, comments, igtvs etc. Rather than grouping this material according to some boring research protocol, I decided to narrate my involvement via disjointed story-telling, following the chronological lineage of me online encounters.
In the main video, the story starts with a small party I organized at my balcony, in between the two lockdowns. The few invitees danced to the amateur rap music that my new Juggalo friends were sending in. At some point, I wore my first costume, Exoskeleton I - an interactive suit that operates as a board game. My invitees had to shoot its targets, cover me in slime, and ignite the suit’s fireworks. I felt a form of public self-subversion that empowered me to feed my social media accounts with “legit”, self-produced, Juggalo material.
Juggalos love American Wrestling, so my character evolved into a repulsive superhero, Puke Ninja, and I finally impersonated a wrestler on the arena of No Rules Gym Athens for an epic fight with my rival, Struggalo Broski.
The story of my personal transformation serves as a backdrop to the found footage, which features an insightful interview with the young Juggalo rapper Kannibal Kannabis. In contrast to this self-biographical function, the second video presents exclusive material from Chloroquine Juggalo’s TikTok. On TikTok, I’ve done duets with other Juggalos, I simulated various horror cosplayers, and participated in a queue of posts initiated by a member of Redneck Revolt, a pro-gun organization that supported the Juggalo March and identifies as socialist, anti-racist and anti-fascist.
F.U. : Final thoughts?
K.S. : The project is the germ of an arbitrary immersion that entertains the distorting lens of physical distance, while drawing on post-internet strategies of simulation and semblance.
It’s an attempt to withstand the pressing conundrum through “thinking with the Juggalos”, through embracing the horrific and the grotesque as ineradicable substrates of our political milieu. There is a transformative element in this type of self-alienation. It’s not emancipation from current oppressions, but a method to keep your political antenna actuated.