Artist’s Notebook:
Jennifer Chan

January 20, 2014 | Marina Galperina

ANIMAL’s feature Artist’s Notebook asks artists to show us their original “idea sketch” next to a finished piece. This week, Chicago-based new media artist Jennifer Chan talks about the Yaoi roots of her video piece P.A.U.L.

This is my Downloads folder. I collect digital things compulsively. I feel a strange attachment to digital files–or the way they should stay online for everyone to see. If i see a youtube video that I like that might get banned or taken down I save it using keepvid.com or OffLiberty.

I also hoard a lot of music on Soundcloud. I have a playlist for everything from cooking to grading.
My videos are usually personal commentary on love and sex online, but P.A.U.L. (2013) actually started as a birthday present for a friend. I made it after interpreting his ideas of a perfect date.I enjoy anime because it’s accessible, and profoundly cute form of comic, but it’s considered by the by the general public to be a lowbrow form of entertainment. Yaoi (“boys love”) is a genre of gay anime that’s predominantly female-authored and female-oriented in interests. It often features young male friendships, struggles with queer identities and homosexual romances. I’ve watched Cantonese-dubbed anime throughout my childhood in Hong Kong, but I became aware of Yaoi through fan culture on DeviantArt. While I looked at fan art related to AFI (A Fire Inside) when I was sixteen, I noticed certain fans were drawing their favorite band members as gay couples in a sincere way.

A sample of Yaoi-fied AFI fan work from DeviantArt. “Javey” is the term fans of “Davey Havok” and Jade Puget from AFI formed to describe the fictional romance between the members of post-hardcore/post-punk band

It’s quite goofy to see my “straight” teen dream icons made into caricatures of gay romance, but also endearing because sex and affection in Yaoi is about love and care. In pop music videos, sex is often separated from love and intimacy, and raunch is purportedly empowerment. It’s also worth noting some scenes in Yaoi can be gender-transgressive and progressive, but there are episodes where the pursuing character seems to act rather rapey.

I ripped and watched a few episodes of Yaoi that were most popular on YouTube, and recut it to (an equally kitsch) Blood on the Dancefloor electropop music video to create a melodramatic narrative. The first time I saw “Bewitched” I watched it three times; I wish I had made it because the lyrics were unbelievably cliche and literal, and but the production values and animation were impressive. The two Yaoi episodes featured in P.A.U.L. are Angel’s Feather and Koisuru Boukun. The soundtrack is from Hood Internet’s mashup of Drake and Grum, and DJ Reachout’s remix of Titanic movie soundtrack, “My Heart Will Go On”.

Fan gif of Jayy von Monroe from Blood on the Dancefloor’s “Bewitched” (2012)

Then I included a clip of an “intimate interview” with YouTube singing sensation Joey Diamond, whom I had followed for about two years because I was both entranced and revolted by the way he worked the camera.

Our understanding of relationships (romantic, sexual, or platonic) are vaguely influenced by pop culture and turns-of-phrases in the English language. The way to create a critical response is to intensify and recut these narratives and cliches to critique their prominence–to “talk back to pop culture” as Elisa Kreisinger says. What’s considered bad taste is often embarrassing, and so are vulnerable romantic feelings. Invoking that shame is my way of getting people to think about the differences between mediated ideas of romance and real interpersonal relationships–the real life that doesn’t really deliver. Remix is that gift that keeps giving. Everything Is A Remix.

If you want to make videos like mine, here’s a tutorial.

To find/watch other anime music videos (yes it’s an internet thing; I didn’t invent them!) please visit animemusicvideos.org, this YouTube channel, this “Five Star Anime Music Video” playlist.


Previous Artist’s Notebook selects:

Artist’s Notebook: Brenna Murphy
Artist’s Notebook: Jonathan Monaghan
Artist’s Notebook: Andrea Crespo
Artist’s Notebook: Genevieve Belleveau
Artist’s Notebook: Saoirse Wall
Artist’s Notebook: Jesse Darling
Artist’s Notebook: LaTurbo Avedon
Artist’s Notebook: Emilie Gervais
Artist’s Notebook: Lorna Mills