DC's

The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Shaye Saint John Day

‘Shaye Saint John videos are the internet’s answer to outsider art, and they’ve been flippantly relegated to just another thing in ” that weird part of YouTube.” There’s no big artist reveal, no studio-backed film adaptation, no corporate sponsorship. She posted videos on YouTube, and then one day, she stopped. Her website looks like it was plucked from 2001, because it was. The “Meet Shaye” page, peppered with GIFs and an autoplaying MIDI, declares: “LONG STORY SHORT…I AM AN ENTERTAINER, I AM A MODEL, I AM A SINGER, I AM A MAGICIAN, I AM AN ACTOR. I AM SO MANY THINGS! I AM ALSO THE WORLDS RECORD HOLDER FOR HAVING THE MOST PROBLEMS!”

‘Words are repeated and flashed across the screen, dolls are destroyed, mannequin legs tap and drag across the concrete. And there’s so much of it! But a few themes repeat in the videos: obsession with beauty/perfection, obsession with celebrity, obsession with connecting with others (but an inability to ever really do it). Shaye is a woman of excess. She’s on the internet 24/7, interacting with her fans and sharing autographs, she’s seeking miracle cures, she’s seeking riches. When you see her masked face in front of the palm trees and twinkling Hollywood horizon, and her strange figure slouching in front of the pink stucco houses, she simultaneously fits the scene and repulses the viewer. She’s a manifestation of celebrity excess and obsession—she’s an Indiana punk in LA exorcising her creator’s demons.

‘That creator was Eric Fournier, an LA-based artist who passed away on February 25, 2010, from complications related to his alcohol abuse. He was 42 years old. In this story, there are two Shaye Saint Johns. First, in myth, supermodel Shaye Saint John is disfigured in a freak accident and subjected to a series of horrific mind-control experiments by the CIA. Eric Fournier, shy and genius artist, takes her under his wing and helps her create art for a wider audience. Second, in reality, Shaye Saint John is a rubber mask and deflated costume draped over a wheelchair when not worn by Eric Fournier, shy and genius artist. Battling alcoholism and overflowing with ideas, he uses the Shaye character to create art while deflecting the spotlight away from himself.

‘Fournier grew up in Bloomington, Indiana, and in the mid 1980s he nourished the growing punk scene in bands like Blood Farmers and Skelegore. Before the interconnectivity of the online world, Fournier’s friends in Bloomington relied on him to import the new punk trends from LA. “I distinctly remember the great feeling of anticipation whenever Eric returned from LA. What new gem would he have dug up?” recalls a friend on a memorial message board posted after his death. “And he rarely failed to deliver.”

‘But despite his role as importer of hardcore culture, Fournier shied away from the spotlight. “I never had the impression he was at all comfortable being a singer in a band. It was not about ego or desire for attention,” another friend recalls. “He’d sort of keep his back to the audience, pull faces or whatever—keep a bit of ironic distance from the whole ‘singer in a band’ thing.” These posts were made five years ago on a message board started by Jim Faust, Fournier’s partner in the 14 months before his death. Faust was seeking insight into Fournier’s past.

‘Fournier arranged a showing of the Shaye Saint John short Turkey Day, which, according to Shaye’s website, premiered at the Nuart Theater in Los Angeles on Feb 1, 2002. “A lot of people were down there, a lot of lights and stuff, regular people just don’t know what to think,” Crew recalls. Lenora Claire was also in attendance: “It freaked everybody out, and it got banned from the Nuart. I was like, ‘What is this weird puppet robot woman lady?'”

‘And that’s the thing—she’s clearly not a puppet, clearly not a robot. She’s some sort of woman, who can form sentences and move about. There’s a person manipulating the costume, but the videos never reveal the creator within. “Shaye’s like a hot dog,” Claire says. “It’s awesome, but don’t ask what’s inside.”

‘Fournier’s work has inspired a few disciples, such as filmmaker Larry Wessel, currently working on the documentary ERIC AND SHAYE. His goal in creating the documentary is bringing Fournier’s Shaye Saint John work to a wider audience, with the goal of helping Fournier get recognition as a groundbreaking filmmaker. Wessel describes Fournier’s work as “maximalist” art, or, “the diametric opposite of the extreme simplicity and ultra boredom inducing pretentiousness and elitism of minimalism.” To Wessel, Fournier’s films represent a complete freedom from convention.

‘As a figure of this maximalist movement, Shaye exists outside of Fournier himself, and her role in the mythos is tantamount to the art itself.’ — Kate Davis Jones

Sink Stink

What’s Wrong With Shaye’s Legs?

Twenty4Seven Music Video

Tissue

Starchild Project: Funfetti Cake

Hand Thing

Balloon Goon

Halloween Trash

OMG OO-LALA

Playing With Matches

Washroom 2

Western Town

Shaye Saint John Youtube Channel
The Bizarre and Tragic Story Behind One of the Internet’s Original Outsider Artists
Trigger Happy: The Hallucinogenic Horror of Shaye Saint John
Behold the Hilarious, Magical Horror That is Shaye Saint John
“Cracked Actress: The Enigma of Shaye Saint John”
ON SHAYE SAINT JOHN, SUPERMODEL OF MANNEQUINS
Shaye Saint John @ Twitter

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. ** Golnoosh, Hi, Golnoosh! I’m so happy you like his poetry. My favorite of his books is an early one that unfortunately is extremely out of print: ‘Spring In This World of Poor Mutts’. I think almost all of his books are o.o.p., so probably the ‘Collected’ is the only easy way to go. I hope everything is wonderful with you! ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Yeah, he’s fantastic, and, yeah, lacks the name recognition of many of his peers for unknown reasons. ** Misanthrope, Good. That you liked his poems. Right, I just saw its back to hurricane level again. Have fun with it. It could be fun (if you like that sort of thing) by the time it gets to you. An illusion: color me not surprised, like you no doubt. Any new bites? Poor spider. He meant well. RIP. Ouch. Both you and your car. What a weekend, dude. ** JoeM, Hi. Infinity Land is great, and they’re sweeties, and their books are as beautiful, object-wise, as books get. So he’s got a very good champion in them. I don’t know if I’ve ever even read a single Booker winning novel. Maybe by the law of averages, but it’s the same with the American lit prizes. I tend to sort of rebelliously knee-jerk view those awards from on high as a bad sign. James M. seems rather confusing. He just brought some huge stake in the Art Basel enterprise and seems to be easing out of the Fox empire. Very hard to trust that lot, though. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hey, B. Ah, too bad about the doc, but I guess no real surprise. There’s def. a great doc possible with that guy. I am among those who think Zidane is basically a god, yes. That was a very nice clip, thanks. Big up to your charged dude and his/your team. They’re still knocking it out of the park, to horribly mix sports metaphors? ** cal, Hi, cal. Like I think I said yesterday, the two shorts just before ‘Pomegranates’ and the feature just after are amazing. And ‘Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors’ is very worth seeing too. Joan Crawford? Hm, you know I think I don’t have any thoughts about her acting and so on. I have seen her in stuff. Big presence, maybe a bit too hammy? I mostly know her from the notorious scuttlebutt — ‘Mommie Dearest’ and all of that. I will watch that vid of her reading her autobiography in just a bit. That seems a good way into her. Thanks, bud. Everything good re: you and yours? ** Steve Erickson, Thanks for straining your eye(s) for a moment. I’m very glad to hear it went well. Take care of it for as long as it needs, yeah? And make the most of the storm. ** h (now j), Hi! I’m pleased you like his poems. He’s kind of a poet’s poet, as they say, much admired by his peers and younger poets, but not known much at all to the poetry reading audience at large. Why, … who knows, I guess? I originally found his poetry in the great, super great anthology ‘Anthology of New York Poets’ edited by Ron Padgett and David Shapiro. That book was basically my Bible in the early 70s. It’s where I first discovered so, so many of my favorite poets from Ashbery and Schuyler to Berrigan and Brainard and beyond. I carried that book everywhere. I hope your storm is intense only in the dreamy, atmospheric way. We have another day or maybe two of loveliness here before the temperatures skyrocket into hell again for a few days. ** Okay. Do you know the insane videos of the late internet based artist/genius/weirdo Shaye Saint John? If not, you’ve got a real mindblower ahead of you today, should you so choose. See you tomorrow.


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12 Comments

  1. Hi Dennis! Oh never heard about this artist…will investigate more later this week. Looks very strange…in an interesting way.

    By the way, I have that ny poet anthology, and I, too, love that book. I’ve brought it from Buffalo and that decision means something to me. (You know I’m officially? a poetry scholar, in case you forgot…though I’ve been flirting with cinema studies too much lately claiming they are sisters/brothers.) I guess I was obsessed with only the part of that book. So I must revisit that book, yes! You’re a living archive and inspiration as always.

    We just started getting visible (and audible) rain here so I’m anxiously looking out the window. I love storms in an idealized dimension (like something from Proust’s books) but their reality traumatizes me…sometimes. I hope the upcoming heatwave in Paris will be just brief and you will be able to forget it almost instantly. I have some book reading reports, but I have urgent deadlines tomorrow night…but will be back very soon! Stay safe!

    PS. Steve, get well soon!

  2. Just in case anyone wants more Shaye, the legendary artist Kier Cooke Sandvik first suggested a Shaye Saint John Day on the old murdered blog back in the distant past. In 2009 I interviewed Kier about all things SSJ here for our art zine Yuck ‘n Yum.

    Re Marcelo Bielsa and Leeds, we totally stormed the restarted post-COVID Championship, winning it by 10 points and so will finally return next season to the Premier League! It’s been 16 years away so obvs this is really great. MB himself is a humble guy who is well paid but lives above a sweet shop in Wetherby where he probably just pores over tactical analyses all day long. I know he often gets his photo taken by fans in the local supermarket.

  3. Today is Beyond Weird and quite timely what with masks and all.

  4. Hey Dennis – Catching up on the blog. Enjoyed the Joseph Ceravolo and Sergei Parjanov posts. I didn’t know Lincoln Center was showing restored versions of three hard-to-see shorts right now. Appreciate you including that in the links on the post. Going to try and catch those. I love his main features, but never managed to track down the shorter work.

    I don’t know Shaye Saint John and his videos look bonkers. Excited to spend some time with them later today.

    Finished up the screenplay revision and sending it off to my agent in a few days. Seems like its a huge improvement and hopefully she’ll be excited. Residency in remote mountains of Georgia had an unexpected opening starting next week and going there for 2 weeks to dive back into the new novel. Excited about that but scrambling to clear the decks so I can make the most of that time away.

    Been on a bit of an XTC binge lately and starting to explore some of the less bright corners of their discography. You a fan of their albums ‘Mummer’ or ‘The Big Express’? You have particular favorites of theirs in general?

    Was glad to hear the Walser play project looks really promising. Is the plan still for you and Zac to devise a play within the play or some such to augment the existing text?

  5. I don’t know either about the Booker thing. Though shamefully these days I read little print fiction or non fiction in book form.

    James Murdoch is cute. Interesting watching the documentaries that he and Lachlan (older brother) always grew ugly beards at the same time.

  6. Hey Dennis, this is gonna give me nightmares in the best way–
    Joan is super hammy in an old Hollywood kind of way, she’s a great symbol for glamour that doesnt really go anywhere.
    I just moved out of my apartment yesterday so now im staying w family which is nice ig my bf lives in another town now tho I love Parajanovs imagery very magickall how are you?

  7. chris dankland

    August 5, 2020 at 3:39 am

    aw shit, i just realized that i posted a comment on yesterday’s post instead of today’s, lol. i’m sure u can still read it, but if not i’ll just stay mysterious for today.

    what were u like in 5th grade?

    big hugs to u !! have some dark as fuck french coffee this morning and enjoy your morning 🙂

  8. Shaye St John looks totally nuts, wow. Reminds me a little of Johanna Went?

    “Color of Pomegranates” is such an orgy of color and cryptic ritual. And that soundtrack is wonderful: all the book pages rustling in the wind, the monks chomping on apples, etc.

    The technical problems with the next phase of the Painleve project are quite tricky, I’m afraid. I might end up opting for simpler ways forward, but I’d like to stubbornly explore the more challenging path for a bit longer.

    Steve, hope you’re comfortably recovering and staying dry…

    Bill

  9. I guess my last two posts were the last two posts on those days I said something. Lol. So I send a message out too late. Shit really sucks right now. Think I am gonna be dead or homeless in two months. Or maybe tomorrow. Who knows. Love you Dennis. Take care.

  10. Hey Dennis,

    Already a week behind, but I loved the Parajanov day. So much I didn’t know about his work. Thank you.

    And it made me think how this LA metal band Seven Sisters of Sleep made a video that uses footage from The Color of Pomegranates. It’s oddly effective – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rM3QysoB78

    I’m still stuck at home, missing hugging people, and taking pictures of my neighbors.

    B

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rM3QysoB78

  11. Hey there,

    Funfetti! Shaye was deliberately genderless – the only mention of gender in the videos is a guy named Carl giving some sort of speech about how awful Shaye is, and Carl refers to Shaye as ‘her’.

    The intentionality of this was confirmed when I called the California Institute of Abnormal Arts (CIA) to order a Shaye DVD, and the person I spoke with referred to Shaye as ‘she’ and then quickly corrected it to ‘they.’

    Someday I’m going to write about the difference in communication/connection meltdowns that Shaye experiences – there are differences whether Shaye is interacting with a human, a doll, or a mannequin.

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