Also known as Amy Lam and Jon McCurley, the AGO’s new artists-in-residence use their unconventional wit and work to poke fun at art-world conventions. We met them before their ongoing retrospective launched to discuss the meaning of Craphead, the movie catalogue of Tom Cruise, and the best place to be depressed in Toronto.
Not to ask the obvious, but Life of a Craphead—is the name supposed to be funny? Or subversive? Or making fun of artists who try to be subversive?
Amy: We started as a comedy act. Our routine was called “Life of a Craphead” and then it stuck, so that’s the name we chose for ourselves.
Jon: It seemed appropriate. It kind of didn’t make any sense.
A: We were trying to do comedy that didn’t include a lot of things that stand-up comedians usually do on stage. We pulled a black square on a string across the stage one way and it was called “stairs” and then we pulled it across the other way and it was called “elevator.”
Did the audience understand? Did you get laughs or were people just confused?
A: I think both. We thought it was funny. We’ve been interested in the difference between performance and comedy and the mixing of the genres from the beginning.
According to the AGO press release, “Amy and Jon investigate the artistic authority of art institutions.” Can you explain what that means?
J: That means that most of our projects are about the art world.
What about it?
A: Well, a lot of our new show is inspired in part by being the artists-in-residence at the AGO. It’s this place where you go and see these huge shows, so we decided to do a 50-year retrospective—except that we don’t have 50 years of work, but we’re saying that we do. And we don’t deserve a retrospective, but we’re going to have one. We’re using the context of the AGO as an institution.
J: It’s kind of a satire of blockbuster exhibitions like the Frida [Kahlo] and Diego [Rivera] show and how that work was presented with ideas and values that are easy for people to understand: [As the artistic reflection of] two people who are in love.
A: We’re creating those kind of stories for our retrospective, like the question you asked, “Why are we called Life of a Craphead?” We’re creating that story in the exhibit.
So you’re building your own mythology?
A: Right. And the other thing that’s satirical is that it provides people who come to see it with a way to understand it. Most people understand what a retrospective is. They understand that framework.
Okay, just to recap—you are imagining the work you might create over the next several decades and then creating it in the present so that it exists now. Is it supposed to be such a mind-fuck?
J: It’s work that we’d like to do, but we can’t because it’s too dangerous or too expensive.
But aren’t you creating it?
J: That’s the mind-fuck.
A: We’re only creating the work to the extent that there’s a photo of it, so there’s kind of a gap. The whole exhibit is photographs.
Do you guys make each other laugh all the time? Amy—what has Jon done to make you laugh today?
A: Well, he’s been drinking that soup out of the carton.
Why do you think this partnership has been so enduring?
J: We think in a similar way, but we’re good at different things. Like with the movie that we’ve been working on—neither of us had ever made a film before and, as it developed, Amy became the producer and I assumed the role of the director. We never talked about it. It was just natural.
What do you guys like to do when you’re not working?
A: We have a movie-watching society.
On Facebook, you were talking about your favourite Tom Cruise movies. Any standouts?
J: Risky Business is pretty nuts. The last 10 minutes is a sex scene on a train. We were trying to talk through Cocktail, but it’s pretty bleak.
Well, the best friend kills himself.
J: Right, and then [Tom Cruise’s character] ends up running a shitty restaurant.
A: It’s like they’re making fun of him the whole time.
J: Top Gun is incredible. It’s such a crazy movie. So fake. It’s like a dream movie. Tom Cruise is in his underwear most or the time, or he’s playing volleyball.
I like when he shows up to his date’s house and then he says he has to take a shower. Who does that?
J: Ha. I know.
I saw something online where you guys ranked the top places to be depressed in Toronto. Number one was in the McDonald’s parking lot at Bathurst and Dundas, facing the fence.
J: I love that place. It’s real. If you ever feel depressed, you should go there. The only people who are there are there to get McDonald’s, so they’re not going to look at you and you can just be by yourself. It’s great. I want to go there. I wish I were more depressed right now.
J: The Simpsons.
A: The Simpsons.
Soup or salad?
J: My birthday.
A: Leap year.
A: Sheraton Toronto, indoor/outdoor pool.
Life of a Craphead Retrospective is on at the AGO, 317 Dundas St. W., until May 2.