Artist Diary: Jibz Cameron’s Titanic Depression premieres at Pioneer Works

The sinking of the Titanic is a long-told narrative of class and gender inequality, with the poor, third-class passengers left to drown once the “unsinkable” ship hit an iceberg. Abundantly translated for the screen and in literature, the most notable adaptation of the story is James Cameron’s 1997 Hollywood hit. Combining animation, video, soundscapes, and improvisation, Titanic Depression by Jibz Cameron (2020 Creative Capital Grantee), aka “Dynasty Handbag,” made in collaboration with Sue Slagle (2020 Creative Capital Grantee), aka“SUE-C,”  creates a parody of the film in which the Titanic sinks regardless of the iceberg melting due to climate change. In a hilariously nonsensical live performance, Titanic Depression addresses today’s era of consumerism-driven climate change while exploring issues of class, gender roles, and the gratuitously wealthy.

Read Jibz Cameron’s take on creating this Creative Capital project in their Artist Diary, and dive into Titanic Depression at Pioneer Works co-presented by New York Live Arts part of Live Ideas 2023: Planet Justice, in Brooklyn, NY on May 20 and 21, 2023. Get tickets here.

An abstract drawing of the Titanic by Jibz Cameron

Drawing by Jibz Cameron.

My performance practice usually starts with drawing of some kind. Sometimes it’s sketching out a vision for the staging, but more often it’s a way of organizing my ideas and finding threads within concepts I am trying to connect. Here is a hyper-realistic drawing of the great luxurious Titanic — never before seen documentation!

Titanic Depression uses a lot of interactive video elements. I have never done this much video play live before, and it was exciting to think of the possibilities around that. I also have a much bigger team than I have ever worked with before. There are more animations, more soundscapes, and the writing process was more collaborative, so I think the overall result will be richer and crazier than other evening-length, play-type works I have made, which are usually just me pretty much doing everything.  

An animated green octopus and the right profile of a woman with dripping makeup above the Titanic ship helm. Words on the ship read "TITANIC DEPRESSION"

Titanic Depression poster by Jibz Cameron.

The story really started out as a rant, more or less, about climate disaster and titans of industry.   Sue and I had many generative, amazing conversations around representing the chaos we both feel rage around when it comes to environmental disaster. But as I worked on the script over the years, it became clear that I needed to place myself in the story more, because who wants to see a rant? No one, really. It’s boring, and I wouldn’t be actually telling anyone anything new, as I know my audience well. It’s always hard to arrive at that spot. It usually happens when I think I have a draft of something and then discover it is thin, lacks grounding, and doesn’t really take a personal risk. So it inevitably happens that I come back to this question: why am I making this work, but why am I, ME, making this work? Then I have to be vulnerable, and then I want to quit! But I don’t. Why? What else would I do, exactly? Suggestions welcome.

Jibz Cameron seated in front of a screen projection.

Jibz Cameron seated in front of a screen projection.

I love drawing, animation, and video. It is challenging and fun to figure out the puzzle of live performance with a big visual story that goes along with it. It’s a balance of medium and message — what should be a video? What should be a photo? What should be a drawing? What would serve the story better with a live performance moment, and if so, is it scripted?  Improvised? No wrong answers!

Monetarily, of course, Creative Capital has been huge to be able to expand collaboratively and think bigger in terms of production and generosity with my team. It also gave me a big confidence boost in going forward with raising more money. Beyond that, Creative Capital was very supportive during the pandemic, which was when I received my award. It was hard to imagine doing any work at all during that time, and the team helped me get through the weird times and pick up the project when I was ready. When we did our Creative Capital retreat presentation, Janet Wong from NYLA was in the audience, and we requested a meeting with her after and Creative Capital arranged it. About a year later, she contacted us and asked if we were still working on the show, and would we want to premier it in NYLA’s Planet Justice festival. I was having a lot of trouble getting the premiere set, for various reasons. Creative Capital was instrumental in getting us our premiere, and it’s a great fit for us. I have had many calls and emails with the folks at Creative Capital for all kinds of support. Fundraising, presenters, general artist woes. Thank you, Creative Capital! 

Jibz Cameron speaking into a black microphone that looks like an ear. To the right, another photo of Jibz Cameron speaking into a mic in front of sound equipment.

Doing some vocal weirdness with Chloe Alexandra Thompson at New York Live Arts residency in March, 2023.

We did a lot of experimenting with voice and making sound effects. For example, because the Titanic crashed into an iceberg, we recorded me chewing iceberg lettuce, which will then make it into a soundscape for when the ship runs into the great pacific garbage patch and gets stuck.

Jibz Cameron leaning back in a seat at a table in front of a theater's audience seating.

This is probably a shot of us creating some innovative new artistic landscape that will blow everyone’s mind. Or it could be a budget meeting that is boring everyone to death. We shall never know. Both are critical to the process and both can be satisfying and also painful.

I would say to artists going into a collaborative process to check your boundaries, have a good attitude, and have other people outside of the project to talk to about the stresses. Stay in a solution-minded brain instead of a swamp of goo.  Say what you mean but don’t say it mean. Ask for what you need, but don’t expect to get it all the time.

Keep moving forward one thing at a time and try to let go of work being perfect. It’s very easy to get caught up in thinking you must have something important to say right now, which makes work stressful and very un-fun. Trust your instincts around your story and try not to question too much. Just getting something done right now is enough! If possible, have a good time and be grateful you get to make art.  

A green octopus puppet.

Octopus hat/puppet in progress by Miguel Alaya.

I hope that the audience will see things they have never seen before. I want the experience to be immersive and bizarre, to take people into a world that is colorful and joyous and fun for one hour. Or for people to have a good nap if they are bored. I want people to laugh, perhaps connected in some way — to feel related to. To give people something beautiful to be in, and for it to linger. I would hope that it would stay with people after the show and into their daily lives in a fun way.  

Dive into Titanic Depression at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, NY on May 20 and 21, 2023. Get tickets here.