VIVA LA JUICY
Written by laura schilli
Edited by Marina may
When we met up with Brandon in his studio at the Millitzer Studio & Gallery, we discussed his latest project, Teenage Witch, his Riso printed zine.
Rooted in brightly colored aesthetics, an appreciation of early 2000s pop culture, and the internet’s propagation and subsequent mass-appropriation of subcultural trends, Teenage Witch investigates the complexities of the “curated Instagram persona” performed by primarily adolescent white females.
Bandy culls images from Instagram in addition to various other digital and analog sources [including, but not limited to: Sabrina: The Animated Series, Juicy Couture, In-N-Out Burger packaging, and Thrasher] and reproduces them using a Riso Printer. By translating images normally seen online to a print format, he slows the process of consumption and forces the viewer to question the validity and at times absurdity of the content they consume on a regular basis. Bandy refrains from directly critiquing his subject matter, rather he collects information and forms an anthropological case study into the nuances of a “Millennial Girl”.
“The reason why I focused on [the Instagram Girl] is because I think [she’s] such a perfect container for everything that is happening today,” says Bandy. “I think more often than not, women just tend to participate in pop culture in a more fluid way. So it’s really more of an appreciation than, like, I don’t really think it’s critical at all.”
The initial access point into a discussion of his work was a singular photograph Bandy took in 2017. The image, also titled Teenage Witch, depicts a young blonde female standing in the middle of a golden-lit field wearing a Thrasher T-Shirt, jeans, a jean jacket and white cowgirl boots. The young woman in the image is named Darcy. “[She] has such an Instagram presence and the whole idea is that Instagram has allowed us to take part in subcultural appropriation so we can pick and choose things from different subcultures. And I thought Darcy was someone who fluidly would transition from look to look or subculture to subculture. It just seemed like an obvious thing to ask her to do,” says Bandy.
The image calls into question several co-occurring phenomena. The proliferation of subcultural appropriation, in this case Thrasher, but also an attention to the way in which various cultural signifiers can be employed by one person as an expression of cultural literacy. Essentially the way in which a multifaceted identity can be manufactured on Instagram. A brand can go from being a “cult classic” to “mainstream” almost instantaneously.
“I guess three years ago when [Thrasher T-Shirts] started getting really popular is when it caught my attention. Being friends with a good amount of skateboarders it was a funny thing. I’ve never heard anyone talk about it and the fact it’s becoming mainstream now, I just thought it was really fascinating that it quickly became an icon.”
Bandy draws inspiration from the “Instagram Girl” or “Instagram Girl Aesthetic” heavily in his work. The overarching color palette of the zine, pleasing pastels seeming sugary sweet, coupled with the inherently seductive subject matter is undeniably and unapologetically feminine.
“I was never really able to participate in the kind of feminine things I was interested in,” he says. “We are in a place now where things are a lot more fluid and anyone can kind of do anything that they want. I think that’s a big reason why I started becoming more interested in it. It’s just always felt like the interest has been there so I’m finally letting myself give into it and overindulge in a way.”
Appropriation, in art, is technically the use of found imagery that has been recycled and reproduced by the artist as simulacrums. This style of making, especially in the case of Bandy’s work, typically tends to highlight a particular phenomenon using images as evidence. At times, Bandy expresses frustration in creating something that “feels new.”
“I think whenever you are dealing with pop art or art that has to do with Instagram or anything that’s very much a cliche in some ways, it’s really hard to try and work with that material and do something that feels new or valuable,” he says. “I think that is one of the reasons the work ends up being so...kind of simple. I know the odds are kind of stacked against me and I just kind of go with it.”
Bandy’s point of departure for this line of work came from tracking the lifecycle of a particular image from, arguably the most iconic 2000’s brand, Juicy Couture.
“I saw an Instagram ad from them that was three girls in velour tracksuits sitting at In-N-Out Burger. In-N-Out Burger has been in my work for a while and I was just like ‘Holy Shit!’ This is everything I’ve been thinking about in one photograph!”
His excitement grew as he described this revelation.
“The image of the girls in In-N-Out that wore velour tracksuits was shot by this girl who was 19 years old (Krissy Saleh) and it was just some girl that took photos on Instagram and Juicy hired her to photograph their stuff. So it’s like this weird thing where everything has come full circle. This Instagram girl photographer photographing these campaigns for this company who is just playing on nostalgia. I don’t even know how to put it into words. I’m watching her story and she posted this screenshot -- you know how on Google, whenever you search something that’s common, it has a little box on the side that gives you a brief definition that symbolizes it --somehow, one of her images of these girls in Juicy tracksuits at In-N-Out is the image for if you look up 2000s. But it was probably taken no more than two years ago the very latest. So I had already thought it came full circle and then it really came full circle.”
Bandy discusses this experience in detail in his essay titled “The Seven Reasons We're Obsessed With The New Juicy Couture,” which he printed in Teenage Witch.
The concept of nostalgia is the connective tissue between Bandy’s latest exploration into the realm of the “Instagram Girl” and his previous body of photographic work. He indicates that this stems from his personal experiences being raised in a rural community in Missouri. He describes his childhood home as a “defunct farm property” on the furthest reaches of the suburbs. This directly informed his early photo work, which focused heavily on the concept of nostalgia.
“Ever since I started really making work, nostalgia has been at the heart of it and kind of my own struggles with it and the problems I think it creates,” he says. “I grew up in this rural area and I watched over the course of pretty much 16 years, Wentzville and that whole area, become super suburban. I watched it rise from nothing to becoming this highly populated area. I was really interested in documenting that change and the way that landscape informs lifestyle.”
He began photographing around Midwestern suburbs, with his first body of work titled Suburban Memories.
“It was this giant, really ugly, huge, beige photo album with golden lay on the front and all of the images were 4 x6 prints of just the inside of people’s homes and subdivisions being built and I just spent a few months going around to all of my families’ friends’ houses, family member’s houses, and sometimes even knocking on random doors and being like, ‘I just want to photograph the inside of your house.’”
Isolation also became a factor in Bandy’s work. He describes how the check-out line at the grocery store became his source for pop culture. Tabloid headlines became a voyeuristic kind of chyron, with bits of information conveyed in passing.
“My family was very religious and pop culture didn’t matter, you shouldn’t care about it. I basically grew up just about as culturally uninformed as you can be,” Bandy says.
“I would stand in line at the grocery store with my mom and look at the tabloids -- and my mom wouldn’t want me to look at those -- so it was my guilty pleasure. It wasn’t until 2013 probably that I knew anything about OJ Simpson, other than tabloid headlines related to the murder. Same with Charles Manson. Manson is also a reoccurring theme in my work as well. This weird form of education in American culture came from looking at the covers and being so visually weird and fucked up and interesting.”
He started making work where he would photograph small portions of tabloid covers and compile them into zine format. This method of extracting and accumulating information still factors into his current process of sourcing imagery from both internet and print materials, and mirrors the way in which information is disseminated online. For Bandy, tabloids are analogous with sensationalist clickbait headlines and Buzzfeed articles.
One of the largest works in Bandy’s studio is a yellow banner. Made from the same material as outdoor commercial signage, it reads “Hot Housewives, Cheating Scandals, Hollywood Beauties.” Hanging near the ceiling, the work presides over the space of the studio.
“That phrase (Hot Housewives, Cheating Scandals, Hollywood Beauties) is just pulled from a tabloid cover about all the different actors of the years that played James Bond. It was basically a run down of all the scandals that had happened. Who it’s about doesn’t even matter really,” he says. “One of the things I think about a lot is when looking at tabloids ‘Who is buying this shit?’ But here I am clicking on some stupid link that's like even more sensationalist in some ways. Maybe even more based in truth, but still very sensationalist. [Tabloids have] these analog ways of getting people’s attention.”
Since graduating from Webster in 2017, Bandy has moved on to exploring printmaking with the risograph. He and his design partner, Bridget Carey, run a publishing operation called Riso Hell Press, making limited edition prints and zines with a small selection of bright, colorful inks, similar to a silkscreened image.
“The Riso was a machine that was created in the 80s to be an alternative to laser printers,” Bandy explains. “Laser printers work with toner, so it's essentially this weird plastic ink that gets fused onto the sheet of paper. It’s cool because unlike laser printing where you are dealing with CMYK, that creates your color gambit, I print with ten different ‘spot’ colors. But it was never created to make art work at all. It was created to be a photocopy machine. In 2010-2012 it started getting picked up by artists and I have been working with it for three years now.”
Brandon used Risograph printing to create Teenage Witch zine that was originally released October 2018. Teenage Witchwill be released for a second time January 2019. The process has presented significant challenges, but the effect is both visually unique and subversive in the way that it renders the electronic nature of source material impotent, while referencing the historical importance of printed commercial, commodified works.
“A lot of stuff in this zine is super photographic. I get super tempted to go and have it laser printed because whenever you are trying to register four different color layers on a machine that was never intended to print four color photographs, it’s a total pain in the ass. This process it allows me to mimic four color offset printing. I can work slightly in the same way that commercial images are being created, kind of like silkscreen and that was Warhol’s whole thing. It was a commercial process.”
Look out for Brandon Bandy’s new revised second edition of Teenage Witch January 2019. You can pre-order the zine at www.risohell.com/product/teenage_witch.