The town I have lived in since 1998, has a or had a prevalent group of juggalos. In high school I had a few friends that were part of this subculture. Their lives had a pattern of similarities and “belonged” to the same class. Taking the identity of the Juggalo always seemed like a reaction to their respective positions and viewable horizons. In this way they appeared to have a stronger bond than most other groups.
During consecutive lockdowns in Athens, Greece, I developed this bizarre habit of infiltrating American subcultures online. I felt utterly uninspired by local social life, so I developed this fascination with scenes that were previously unknown to me. With my fellow artist Theo Triantafyllidis, and other Athenian friends, we dived into the culture of Doomsday Preppers, and went on to produce a work known as the Readiness SAGA. Randomly, a friend mentioned the juggalos. After briefing myself, I couldn’t resist this urge to reach out to the Juggalos. I opened profiles on mainstream and obscure social media introducing myself as Chloroquine Juggalo, a Greek Juggalo buying chloroquine products on the web. Donald Trump had just urged people to consider chloroquine as anti-Covid preemption as he’d “heard a lot good stories about it”. This bizarre statement resonated as a horror gimmick – it yields gore fantasies of disintegration. I’d soon discover that Juggalos love social media, which have revamped their amazing performativity and theatrics. Many juggalos have Instagram accounts, and they have colonized TikTok. Some encounters started sending in the amateur rap music they make, asking me to circulate it as much as I could. Lacking the means to do that, I decided to throw a very absurdist party at my Athenian balcony, where I exclusively played the music these guys had sent me. For the purposes of our entertainment, I crafted Exoskeleton I -my first juggalo costume- to dress myself up and feed my online image. The costume was designed as some kind of board game: my guests would follow a set of rules, hit targets, pierce balloons, cover me in green slime, and ignite fireworks. There was a sentiment of self-degradation, intensified by the horrorcore lyrics of the party’s soundtrack. A young rapper was singing “send your body to the chop shop”. I had filmed enough material to re-circulate online. Then, Juggalos started treating me as a promising interlocutor.
It was a dive into a psychedelic and dark realm filtered by the distorting lens of physical distance. My rapport with juggalos remains very partial and dislocated. I was mesmerized by an elder juggalo posting videos of him-self smoking unspecified things and coughing for hours in front of his webcam. I reenacted the scene from my bath tub, which I filled with green slime. I mistakenly interpreted that as some Covid-inspired online ritual, and entertained myself mimicking his act. The most friendly and talkative juggalo I met online was a trans person televising her daily routine on instagram. I was surprised by the communicative zest of juggalos on social media.
They are like a response to class and repression, a reaction to penury and immobility. A group as a residue of American society and ideology, the chemical run off bristling with a destructive force given to them through what is taken from them, a dialectical potentiality.
They seem to genuinely forge some bizarro version of Americana, though the particularities of their social experience of neglect, scorn, stigmatization, along with elusive memories of abuse, function as a social wound that “speaks” and produces some type of social empathy that can only be expressed indirectly, as a slang, through a certain codification that salvages the trauma. The “wicked clown love” gestures, the mmfwcl greeting that’s become a popular hashtag, the flexing of the hatchet-man necklace, and similar semantics are rituals of bonding and emancipation. I think we shouldn’t lose sight of this dimension when analyzing their attraction to fantasy violence. The exacerbated violence of chainsaw avengers and wicked ringmasters isn’t without a symbolic framework. This exacerbation operates within the hard limits of a symbolic framework of minimum social empathy – and those limits are frequently confirmed and occasionally trespassed. At the same time, their personal, social, ideological ambiguities seem to horizontally traverse the totality of American social/political life. They march against wife-beaters but they may revert to sexist imagery, they are against bigotry but they galvanize a disproportionate fright with “pedophiles” (who they tend to discover everywhere). This “anti-pedo” rhetoric preceded the influence of recent conspiracy theories such as QAnon. I was rather surprised to witness Juggalos accusing other Juggalos on TikTok of being pedophiles. Occasionally, the extremity of fantasy violence is counterbalanced with some performance of righteousness. Such ambivalences, or incoherencies, pertain to a crucial dimension of the political, we shouldn’t lightheartedly dismiss. They testify that the idea of emancipation is always “partial”, temporal, and “contingently” articulated.
Yeah I think this is a big part of the draw to that life. A sense of disenfranchisement and the weight and impossibility of upward movement. So I think the response of viewing the world through horror is a sort of psychological stage of renewing oneself, through a process of destruction which then leaves a space in which one can attempt to rebuild. They have a strong cohesion though that many groups don’t have, which is needed for actual revolution.
There is a dark zone of ideology, I guess specific to the American Rust Belt and extending to the deep suburbia, and to the redneck culture - a rhizomatic radicalization which is almost impossible to properly chart. While contacting people as Chloroquine Juggalo, I came across some really puzzling phenomena. I discovered some cases of right-wing juggalos, trumpists and white-suprematists, who circulated offensive, racist, and misogynist memes while often posting “Southern pride” insignia. I actually dox one in the main video of the show. He is very open about it anyway. And then I also discovered a beautiful disjunction: the Redneck Revolt organization which supported the 2017 Juggalo March, and strives to bring the “red” back in Redneck. RR is a pro-gun organization, engaging in tactical training, self-identifying as socialist, anti-racist, and anti-fascist. On TikTok, I dueted a popular “Marching against the Alt-Right” video by a member of Redneck Revolt that was frequently mocked by Trump supporters. I hope I incidentally contributed to the re-circulation of the video, enabling new adaptations. My TikTok activity as Chloroquine Juggalo plays on a tablet adjusted on a sculpture with guns and a green skull, that I named “Redneck Revolt: New Horror”. It’s difficult, and perhaps inappropriate, to critically analyze such puzzling characteristics through universalizing abstractions. In parallel, we should take into account the gradual shift of Juggalo culture towards a more intersectional restructuring. The social body that participated in 2017 Juggalo March testifies for that. Take a look at the Struggalo coalition and the work of artist Rachel Paul and the feminist juggalo group Lette’s Respect. Greek artist Elias Kafouros, who visited the show at Keiv, drew my attention to the Heyoka, the Native American Sioux legacy of a clan of sacred clowns that would periodically interrupt the life of community, destabilizing embedded hierarchies through provocative satire, doing things differently. A quick search shows that a good number of Juggalos online are aware of this cultural overlapping, and mention it, calling Shaggy 2 Dope’s Native American descent into mind. Of course, this is also the cross-cultural topos personified by the mythical figure of Momus, the God of satire, mockery, and unfair criticism. In a text about to be published by the Athens Biennale, I coined the term “mometics” to designate both a field of research into the dialectics between Momus and the Mime, and an artistic legacy that demands rethinking.
Becoming a Juggalo requires a certain and particular relationship with one’s individuality and their identity, as one inscribes the face with the white and black paint it acts as a spell dissolving the self into the unit, into the unified group identity, with all its strings, tethers, and bonds. Within this project anonymity and unregulated expression is possible, as the the painted mask or uniforms of the dark-carnival and hatchman signs act as erasures of the individual and allows them for a recrystallization of the self, a process that results in the multiplication of the self into a crowd, into a whole. The juggalo is not one but many. They in this way have the potential to transform into a generator of the event. (See the struggalo clash with alt-right ).
The group is often a very unstable element nearing combustion at all times. Internal divisions and schism acting on behalf of the state. Minor differences and ideologies can dissolve the group before its potential is announced or takes form, therefore nullifying its movement. The juggalos and juggalettes operate under an umbrella that allows for a more malleable group relation, less hierarchized, and in this way more open to internal pockets and fluid movement. Perhaps, this particular dynamic that creates a unique proximity to a possible event, and coupled with the horrification of ideology and american society, allowed the juggalos and the power of the dark to be targeted as a gang. They pose a threat to standing power relations in particular class relations, they are transformed into the monster of the crowd, a fear etched into the dreams of the “bourgeoisie”, an extension of the poor masses throughout history.
Inherent fantasy violence and misogyny depicted in the Dark Carnival can be often thought of as a black hole in which the individual is in a state of permanent perversion and regression. However, this black hole is more so a result of the erosion, abstraction and perversion of the self within the space of the vector, and the implantation of capitalist ideology that is total and mutative, leaving a memetic agent in its waste. Capital forces humans into inhuman positions and horizons, in this way it degrades language and eludes the logic of pedestrian description. To grasp the inescapable violence required in order for the system to continue in its path of absolution, a horrorification of reality can offer both an ability to stand outside of and to unify the victims in their rage and alienation. Use of the supernatural, the paranormal is often a form of folk-knowledge, a transcription of the corporeal, and metaphysical,:degradations, pycholgizations, anxieties, and hauntings, that invade, entomb and flatten out the individual (dividual). As David Mcnally elucidates in his book Monsters of the Marketplace: Zombies, Vampires, and Global Capitalism, Marx’s Capital can be read as a mystery story uncovering the invisible and hidden mechanism of economy, the monsters that dismember and kill women and children in factories, that suck the blood of the poor, the horrific life that products take on in animation of dead labor, the qualities and requirements of this hellscape in their fatal simulacrum are apprehended and given as natural. The normalization, naturalization and apotheosising of capitalism and its superstructure renders the unrealized and capable out of reach and thickly opaque. Marx’s descent into the underworld as a heuristic to make the invisible visible to be able to learn how to see in the dark.
Juggalos will often wear contact lenses rendering their eyes into slick black orbs, symbolizing the entirety of the organ as technology of pure reception, like the pupils of a nocturnal animal, open wide and ready to receive light in the dark.
Mcnally confirms for the worker labor is not seen as part of their life, life only begins once the work day ends, sites of labor are dead zone, arenas of anti-life in which the forces, heat, time, movement, blood, and spirit of the worker are forcefully coerced and stolen. An arena like that of the dark carnival The tartarusistic landscape of American poverty is a space denoted with its own system and practices of dehumanization, exploitation and alienation. From the zombication of pharmaceutical spells to the wage labor designed to sustain the individual at the the surface of survival one foot in the void, industrial work with its deformations, a shortened life expectancy, the sewage filling the garden a nest of hookworm, the deft destruction of familial relations, the underworld of justice systems, exiled without money exiled without transport, the erosion of the spirit. A system of enclosure that attempts to keep its sources of energy held within their cells. To keep them poor and imprisoned. To compound this horizon or net, it’s conditions and requirements are made natural and expected . it can be thought that Theories job is to make visible the invisible, to define and locate the monsters lurking in the system that are hidden in sight and given as necessary. In transforming the “natural” into the supernatural, into the paranormal, the individual is given a chance to understand their position and the machinery that keeps them there, and allows them to create a gap between the imposed “reason” of the market-state black hole, and in this space an upheaval is possible.
Reading and taking a critical view of folk tales and myths has been a well known and useful practice for some time. To ignore and write off a story for its assumed inconsistencies with contemporary meaning and morality, would be an attempt to whitewash the history of the present.
Holistically speaking the ideology and themes within the Dark Carnival are not that different from those of Christianity, but approaches these virtues in a non-theist, self fulfilling belief. These themes and ideas are not static and have evolved over time. Ideas of inclusion, anti-racism and utopia appear to be continually present. Humor is often paired with the grotesque.
The hatchman as a symbol could be read as the antithesis of the congealed mass of human flesh, labor and time that is the Frankenstein monster of capitalism. The hatchman bares his weapon, a hatch to strike and break apart the seams of the stitched in and smooth.
KS: Indeed, the idea of the Dark Carnival stages some type of social purgatory, a realm of collective alienation (as horrorification) that has to be acknowledged by all juggalos. If you want to be part of this struggle you must become the monster you’re destined to be, trapped inside some eerie Riddle box. There is some radical aspect to this. Usually, the “monstrous” is attributed to the other, the scapegoat, the “internal enemy”, and so on. In Juggalo culture, monstrification is constitutive of one’s own identity. The cultural specificity of the monstrous and the horrific in Juggalo culture is also significant: the ICP don’t seem to aspire to some neo-pagan worship of mythical entities. As you mentioned, the bestial and chthonic aspects of the Dark Carnival rather point to an iteration of Christian eschatology, adhering to the sentiments of the population they immediately address. References to Voodoo, magic, ninjas etc. are orientalist extravaganzas, re-appropriations of massively consumed symbols or fetishes of America’s cultural vortex. The Dark Carnival is a place where human souls face Final Judgment. As Kitty Stryker suggests in an article, this is ‘Dante’s Circles of Hell but repackaged for the masses, both warning and entertainment.’ From B-movies to the mass horror/splatter production of late 80s and 90s, juggalos celebrate pulp noir in such an unapologetic fashion that nullifies the elitist inhibitions of predominant cultural criticism. So many critics have slandered the 90s as nihilistic, cynical, and ironic to favor a “new sincerity” with its often regressive humanism. Resisting this patronizing catechism, 90s gore, and its subliminal conquest of the world, may help construe concepts of struggle that are not driven by idealistic conceptions of human goodness. To think of this in terms of another axis, you can neither classify juggalo culture as grimdark dystopia nor as hopepunk romanticism. The role of the Struggalo Circus coalition, and the 2017 Juggalo rally against their criminalization by the FBI was catalytic. I think the specific experience of a juggalo turning into a “struggalo”, and “swinging the hatchet” to protest its criminalization by the State, is the moment when grotesque aesthetics successfully meet the political. Such moments establish territories where humorous exaggeration and intersectional social struggle become inseparable. Such moments produce insistent afterimages. I feel that the susceptibility of the “struggalo” to memefication, its dank afterimage of americana, is somehow appealing and influential. I pay tribute to this almost coincidental clash between the juggalos and the alt-right in 2017 in Washington DC: for the needs of my project, I reenacted the meme with ICP’s “Carnival of Carnage” Joker assassinating Pepe the Frog, staging a live broadcast of the beheading of Pepe the Frog at my Athenian balcony. The social dynamics of 2017 precipitated, or preenacted, the grotesque “cosplay coup” of the recent Capitol invasion. The stakes invite you to fantasize the hatchetman reaping Q Shaman’s horns off at the top of the stairs. The quasi-totemic sculpture of the horned Riddlebox Joker installed at the center of my show is meant to subliminally trigger such associations. I know it is pure speculation, but what if QAnons, Boogaloo Bois, Proud Boys, and various racists were to encounter monsters they couldn’t easily classify - monsters telling them to ‘fuck their rebel flag’. American political life and social movements that fought trumpism on the streets would potentially benefit from “thinking with” the Juggalos. Violent J has admitted that America is turning into something far more terrifying than the Dark Carnival. Wickedness is certainly undergoing some existential crisis. I guess this process involves re-organizing and internationalizing. The disjointed and partial re-enactment of juggalo culture I experiment with is merely an attempt towards this de-territorialization.
My Axe by ICP:
“I love my Faygo, I love pills, Shaggy,
I love my buddies, my hatchetman but I love my axe
My axe is my buddy, I bring him when I walk,
Me and my axe will leave your head outlined in chalk,
My axe is my buddy, he always makes me laugh,
Me and my axe cut biggots spinal cords in half,
My axe is my buddy, and when I wind him back,
Me and my axe will give your forehead a buttcrack,
My axe is my buddy, I never leave without him,
Me and my axe will leave your neck a bloody fountain,
Everybody, everybody, everybody run,
Murdering, murdering, murdering fun, (everybody dies)
Swing swing swing, chop chop chop, (everybody dies)
Swing swing swing, chop chop chop,
Everybody, everybody, everybody run,
Murdering, murdering, murdering fun, (everybody dies)
IB:The dehumanization of the working class and poor is prevalent throughout American history. As the juggalo is often from the work-class or working-poor, they are often individuals who have felt the tactics of dehumanization in forms of social and private. Through detournement the Juggalos transgress the abstraction and disposal of their spirit under the pressures of capital, they take upon themselves the skinned carcass of the beast and become the monster. In a way the juggalos could be seen as a project that has in it many possible lines of flight, an environment with potential of creating space in which a free association of relationships not based around a hierarchy could exist, therefore bypassing the tethers and corrosion of the state both external and internal. Freedom and friendship are not only etymologically interwoven, the concepts and praxis cannot exist one without the other. Perhaps in an effort of emancipation “we” should all become juggalos?
A production by Kostis Stafylakis and KEIV
Art direction / sculpture : Kostis Stafylakis
Art work / technical and material consulting: Konstantinos Lianos
Art work assistant : Orestis Karalis
Realized with the valuable help and participation of No Rules Gym Athens (Exarcheia - Zonara)
Featuring: Vassilis Bacalis, Marilena Batali, Mike Boukas, Katerina Exertzoglou, Lefteris Kaliarntas, Yiorgos Maniatis, Kostis Stafylakis, Savvas Tsimouris, Thano Vessi
Interview: Lilsyko303 aka KANNIBAL KANNABIS
Camera: Nysos Vasilopoulos, Alekos Bourelias, Perikles Mathielis
Editing: Mana Raver, Christos Bourelias, Perikles Mathielis, Aris Christakis
Lights: Nysos Vasilopoulos
Music samples by BoxxaB, KANNIBAL KANNABIS, TWISTED PSYCHO, TWIZTID
Photographed by: Nysos Vasilopoulos
Special thanks: NATSIS Architects
Exhibition Opening: 26 June 2021, 20:00-23:00
Duration: 26 June - 10 July and 1 - 4 September 2021
11-31 July by appointment only
Opening Times: Wednesday - Saturday 20:00-23:00
Address: Kalymnou 38
Kostis Stafylakis is a visual artist and art theorist. He graduated from the Athens School of Fine Arts. He holds an MA in Modern Art and Theory (Uni. Essex) and an MA in Continental Philosophy (Uni. Essex). He received his doctorate from the Department of Political Science and History, Panteion University (Athens). He was a post-doc researcher at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (2011-2012) and a post-doc researcher at ASFA (2017-2019). He has taught “Research-based Art”, art theory and contemporary art at the Athens School of Fine Arts and the University of Patras. He was co-curator of the 6th Athens Biennale ANTI, the 4th Athens Biennale AGORA, Weasel Dance at Goethe-Institut Athen, “Twisting C(r)ash” at the Batiment d’Art Contemporain, Geneva and more. He has curated various shows, such as “Fuyuhiko Takata”, ViZ Laboratory for Visual Culture and “A politics of lies”, Circuits & Currents (2016). Since 2019, he is Artistic Director of ViZ Laboratory for Visual Culture. He is the author of various essays on the intersection of contemporary art and the Political, in anthologies and journals. He has presented papers at various symposia across the globe. Alongside artist Vana Kostayola, he runs ΚavecS (www.kavecs.com), an artistic experiment with mimetic subversion. In 2017, KavecS presented a retrospective of their work at Neue Ravensburger Kunstverein. Some of his recent artistic participations include Toxicfest at Tick Tack Antwerpen 2021, Oblique Fields by Gossamer Fog, London 2021, Enter: New Commissions by Onassis Foundation 2020, Kultursymposium Weimar 2019, the “Festival of Democracy”, Geneva (2017), Waiting for the Barbarians, Athens Biennale (2017), “Omonoia” 5th to 6th Athens Biennial (2016), 1st NSK Biennial of Folk Art (2014), Hell as Pavillion at Palais de Tokyo (2013), Truth is Concrete by Steirischer Herbst, Graz (2012), Monodrome 3rd Athens Biennale (2011), Media Impact at the 4th Moscow Biennial (2011).