If the name Dynasty Handbag isn’t enough to crack you up, Jibz Cameron’s wardrobe and contorted facial expressions will. Created in 2002, performance artist Cameron’s alter ego explores personal problems on stage in metallic polyester jackets and layers upon layers of spandex.
As Dynasty Handbag, Cameron sings, acts, recreates canonical texts and comments on her own performance. The name doesn’t directly reference the 1980s sitcom, but for Cameron condenses the idea of any powerful family into a single unit — her character. “As Dynasty Handbag, I am my own legacy, my own last standing empire.”
This Friday she returns to San Francisco with an appearance at the Luggage Store as part of RADAR Production’s #QUEERFAIL Festival. I spoke with Cameron over Skype about the history of her alter ego, themes of failure and her multiple attempts to break into television.
Tell me about Dynasty Handbag. How has the character changed since you began?
Dynasty Handbag started while I was in a bad space in my life. I was married to a man, and I’m gay, so that didn’t work out. I wrote songs… [that] channeled some weird divorced lady trying to get her groove back in Miami, and that’s where the fashion came from.
Then I started doing these voices in the recordings, something like my consciousness verbally commenting on me as I performed… I started to put Dynasty Handbag into situations.
Dynasty Handbag became this character who was my insides on my outside… All of a sudden I’m able to say anything and everything and move in my body however I want.
What’s your process of writing for Dynasty Handbag like?
Without sounding too much like an A-hole, I think metaphorically. I think about representation and symbols, especially “woman” and her symbols. I think about tropes. I still focus on what’s going on for me personally.
In my performance Soggy Glasses, A Homo’s Odyssey (2014), I take Dynasty on her own version of The Odyssey… When I wrote Soggy Glasses, I had two things in mind. One was understanding my own body… Parallel to that, I was thinking about how women in film are only allowed to face their own mortality in the context of a threat: to their womanhood or to children.
The most recent show I wrote is a talk show called Good Morning Good Evening Feelings (2015), hosted by Dynasty Handbag… The theme was F.A.G.S.: Fear, Anger, Guilt, and Shame. How to deal with your F.A.G.S., how to run away from them. I left room to make stuff up on the spot.
Speaking of which, you worked to develop a TV show for years, but it fell through. You made a comic about that process with your collaborator, Hedia Maron. Are you working on a new show these days?
I became friends with Jack Black a few years ago, who supports developing artists, and, apparently, weirdos… When I showed him the comic… he was like, this is the story, this is what your TV show should be. We are developing that actual story into a story about a performance artist who moves from New York to Los Angeles to make a TV show. Then she’s got this crazy family. The shenanigans ensue.
I’m also working on a pilot for an actual Dynasty Handbag show. It will probably be the character hosting something. It might like a Mr. Rogers kind of thing, following in the blazing queer steps and faggotry of Pee-wee Herman. That will probably also be all about my feelings.
The idea of failure floats around in your work, especially after the late theorist José Esteban Muñoz wrote about your performances in the 2009 book Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. Is failure something you purposefully engage?
No, I just happen to fail all the time… I used to say, of course any marginalized peoples are going to fail, because systemically things are set for only this strange, tiny group of people to succeed. Now I kind of think we’re all failing. I don’t even know what the word “queer” means anymore. I definitely call people queer who are not. It’s for people that I feel don’t subscribe to “heteronormativity,” and for people who have a language around politics of “othering.”
I’m dying to know one last thing. Do you have the most amazing closet full of costumes?
When I have a big show… usually the wardrobe comes together at the last minute. I put a lot of faith in that. As religion, I guess it’s the religion of St. Vincent’s De Paul. All of a sudden, there’s so much cheetah-print, and I guess that’s what God is telling me I need to wear.