Cecelia Condit’s Video Art is Going Viral On TikTok
How a video about cannibalism became a viral sensation.
Photo via TikTok.
Oh no, no no no no no no no silly. To dry it! But, then it exploded! And they were both found dead.
These lyrics are part of the twisted opera that is Cecelia Condit’s 1983 video “Possibly in Michigan.” The lyrics, composed by Karen Skladany, were inspired by a newspaper headline that Condit read. “Microwave ovens just came out and there was something on the front page of the paper that said that a woman put her poodle in a microwave oven to dry it and it exploded and they were both found dead,” Condit told GARAGE in a phone interview. “I thought, well that's it! But if I said it, it would be too silly or wouldn’t advance the narrative. So Karen put this remarkable song to music,” she continued.
Condit is an American video artist whose work is included in collections at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and now, TikTok. A 15-second snippet of audio, taken from Condit’s “Possibly in Michigan,” video, has gained meme-status on the video-sharing platform; there are currently more than 22,000 iterations, a number which is steadily climbing.
The original uploading of the audio from “Possibly in Michigan” onto TikTok can be traced back to Vris Dillard, age 16. “I was watching a top 15...creepy videos on Youtube, and I saw “Possibly in Michigan,” and I was STRUCK with how cool it was! I love creepy cute things so I fell in love with it,” Dillard told GARAGE over email. Dillard uploaded a couple of cosplay videos set to the hauntingly upbeat music, the cheerful tune at odds with the dark nature of the narrative, and it was an instant hit on the platform. “I didn't really think much of it at first, but I did realize that after I uploaded the audios TONS of people started using them. Within a month all my mutuals were posting audios and their love for “Possibly in Michigan,”” they continued.
Two girls, their makeup smeared, lip-sync to the repetitive dissents. Their heads fall together in mock-death right at the end of the clip, re-enacting the song’s lyrics. People cosplay in intricate make-up (creepy clowns are a running theme). A text over another video reads: Is homophobia cool? The TikTok’s uploader shakes their head: Oh no, no no no no no no no. In the comments, people eagerly share that the source of the video is “Possibly in Michigan,” discussing the plot and urging others to go watch (last year, after Condit realized it’s popularity, she uploaded the entire video onto Youtube. “I lean towards generosity in my work because of the internet being such a remarkable tool,” Condit said.)
The meaning of the lyrics is severed from its original intent and re-purposed as comical, spooky, and even as music to show off choreographed dance moves. The top video on TikTok that uses the “Possibly In Michigan,” soundtrack? It has 219,000 views. “Some people have thousands of hits on those 20-second videos. I think of the art world...It's like having the show at MOMA,” said Condit.
Condit’s work has potentially now been seen by more people than a physical exhibition could accommodate, the proximity to her work grows exponentially with each new meme. In many ways, Condit has proven to be an artist of the internet generation. Her videos hit on a core truth of being a young person, the non-linear narratives allow room to project, and the upbeat music are earworms. Even the sun-damaged filter that many TikTok users place over their videos seem to replicate the 80s aesthetic of Condit’s videos.
“Possibly in Michigan” tracks two women, Shannon and Janice, as they are stalked by a man with his mouth agape who wears various animal masks throughout the video. The two women eventually turn the tables and kill and consume the man. The absurdist horror is akin to a feminist David Lynch movie. The inspiration for the film is dark, a collage of real-life encounters, including a brutal sexual assault of a friend. “I made it for revenge. I made it because I was angry...There's a couple of stories that are woven into the whole piece,” said Condit. It’s perhaps this that draws people to the video, subconsciously relating to the grief and trauma that lays under the absurd narrative like a bruise. There’s an agency in the video that is re-enacted with each new TikTok video—the possibility to become like Sharon and Janice and refuse to be hunted.
“Sharon and Janice are honestly some of the coolest characters I've come across,” said Dillard. “Part of me also loves the fact that its two women killing their stalker and eating him because I love narratives where two girls go against a man who is hurting them in some way,” they continued. Condit’s revenge-fantasy isn’t unlike the narratives of Kill Bill or The Love Witch, but there’s something memorable about the audio and how eerily-composed main characters are that encourages reinterpretation.
Condit has been getting more and more emails since the video reached the top page of Reddit in 2015. Most of the emails come late at night and are from young people articulating how much “Possibly in Michigan” means to them. “They say that my work gives them hope, even as tough as it is,” said Condit,“ I think people who have had hard times often identify with it,” she continued.
I asked Dillard if she had any questions for Condit. They asked whether Condit had any tips to creating art, “because it’s always been a dream of mine to create short films, but I never know where to start or what to do.” Condit and I went back and forth on this question. Condit had the typical response of being compelled to create her work, the practical advice of shooting on cheap cameras (a cellphone is fine). But then we realized: Dillard and her TikTok counterparts are already creating short films. They upload thousands of videos online of them acting out choreographed skits. Within the confines of a few seconds, they’re able to convey humor or horror. It seems like all that’s needed are the users to declare that the TiktToks themselves are video art.
The videos of “Possibly in Michigan” on TikTok certainly have Condit's seal of approval. “I thought [the TikToks] were just captivating. So smart. Beyond smart, some of them. It's taking mine and Karen's song and making something totally brilliant of it. I think it’s remarkable."