Performer Lauren LoGuidice first became interested in the Yule log phenomenon while she was working from home as a freelancer.
“I was home, alone, on my computer for eight hours a day,” she said, in an email interview with Hyperallergic. “I felt so completely isolated. It was winter and the darkness made it worse. I scrolled through YouTube for something to beam on my TV and I saw a Yule log video. It was the traditional fireplace video, so I got bored quickly and moved onto the more festive ones with a full holiday display. Contrary to what I originally thought possible, these videos brought a cozy warmth to my home.”
This year, LoGuidice decided to take her interest in Yule log videos to new heights, creating “Yule Log With Friends”: a 2.5-hour video featuring a rotating cast of characters — all played by the artist — who offer their companionship to viewers, right alongside the cheerfully crackling fire. Intrigued by the notion of Yule log as a genre, I conducted an email interview with the artist about this work, which is available for viewing online, and will additionally be shown at High 5 Gallery in Philadelphia on January 5.
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Sarah Rose Sharp: How would you characterize your practice overall? Do you see yourself as an actor, performance artist, or?
Lauren LoGuidice: I’ve been scratching my head about a proper title because there isn’t one out there that quite fits. I’m an actor. I’m a comedian. But I do something with these characters I create that isn’t quite like anything out there. “Yule Log With Friends” also crosses multiple genres. The characters sitting by the yule log are sketch comedy characters. They give the viewer an emotional experience without talking, which dips into performance art. And these characters are presented via a video that you display in your home — now we’re going into video art. There are many ways people are experiencing the “Yule Log With Friends”video and I welcome that.
SRS: What inspired you to create “Yule Log With Friends”?
LL: When the first Yule log videos came out I thought, “Our civilization has sunk to new depths.” I had no idea why people wanted to have something that was so artificial playing in their homes. How can you feel cozy via a video? Fast forward and I’m working from home on a freelance marketing job. Every day when I started working I made sure I had my Yule log video playing in the background. I got really into it.
In some Yule log videos there are dogs and cats milling about and I found them to be welcome friends during my days working from home. I was shocked about how connected I felt to these beings that weren’t physically in my home. I was developing these sketch comedy characters at this time, and I thought, what if I could give people an even greater sense of company by inserting characters into a Yule log video?
SRS: Where is this setting?
LL: We used a house in a rural town outside of Philadelphia. There was a real wood-burning fireplace in the living room.
SRS: The holidays can be a lonely time for people — how can “Yule Log with Friends” address our need to feel connected? Do you feel these characters are enough to address a sense of isolation, or are they more of a goof?
LL: Feeling a sense of connection in your life often requires multiple facets — spending time with people you care about, being a part of something bigger than yourself, etc. “Yule Log With Friends” is intended to give the viewer a sense of comfort that I hope nudges them to spend time with people in person.
SRS: Can you characterize your relationship to Christmas holidays?
LL: It’s a time of conspicuous consumption. I’m sickened by the tradition, but I’m also a part of it. “Yule Log With Friends” is also a response to the drive to spend, spend, spend. It’s about the value of spending quiet moments with other people.
SRS: Where do these characters come from? Do they have names?
LL: Some of the characters I developed specifically for my online videos, and some have been with me for a long time. For example, the two Italian grandmas, Rosa and Carmella, I developed for the Victoria Party that I co-produced at Stonewall Inn way back when. Queens Marie was born on the drag stages of San Francisco. Amelia Sincere’s was based on people I met last year and developed at Upright Citizen’s Brigade (UCB). Each character in “Yule Log With Friends” has their own series of videos that’s on my YouTube channel (@laurenlogi) and you can meet each of them at laurenlogi.tv.
SRS: At first this seemed like a not-very-serious project to me, but I’ve left it running in the background for a while now, and I actually find myself wanting to see what your various people are doing. I was also expecting something more literally interactive, but I see how that could almost not help but ring as false, because we’re not actually talking. I guess it provides a sense of company in the same way that a room feels psychically warmer when you have the Yule Log video going?
LL: That’s an interesting first impression. Other people first see it and go, “WTF is this thing?” It’s outside the box in many ways.
Sometimes the most intimate moments are shared without talking. Someone dear to me got divorced and had to spend a lot of time away from his family and a lot of time being alone in his home. The thing he missed the most: just simply being in a room with other people. You get that experience in “Yule Log With Friends.”
So that I can help people regain a sense of connection I sought to bridge the gap between technology and physical planes. The space that the video technology takes up and the physical space that the viewers inhabit are ultimately the same; they’re all in the same room together. It’s a simple video, but that’s what makes it effective.