How This 71-Year-Old Video Art Pioneer Became a TikTok Star (Published 2019) (2023)


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Notes on the Culture

Cecelia Condit’s unsettling 1983 work “Possibly in Michigan” has found a home among Generation Z.

How This 71-Year-Old Video Art Pioneer Became a TikTok Star (Published 2019) (1)

By John Chiaverina

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ONE RECENT WEEKDAY, I was sitting with the video artist and retired professor Cecelia Condit in the dining room of her fairly nondescript apartment in the upper-middle-class Milwaukee suburb of Shorewood, Wis. The space also doubles as Condit’s studio, but other than a laptop and a few hard drives, scant evidence of a working artist could be found. Over grapes and pudding, we watched my iPhone, which was spitting out audio from “Possibly in Michigan,” Condit’s brutal, surreal and darkly funny 1983 art musical that is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. Shot using then nascent video technology and set to an eerily chipper Casio-fueled soundtrack provided by Karen Skladany, who also acted in the film, the 12-minute “Possibly in Michigan” follows a masked cannibal named Arthur — played by, at different points, Condit and the actors Bill Blume and Stephen Vogel — as he stalks Jill Sands (playing a character named Sharon) and Skladany (as Sharon’s friend Janice) through a nondescript Middle American shopping mall. (Despite its name, the video was filmed in Cleveland, where Condit was living at the time.) The cannibal follows the women home, at which point he’s murdered and then eaten himself. The film ends with the body being disposed in a couple of trash bags and picked up by a local garbage collector.

As we listened to the audio, a variety of direct-to-camera performances played on the phone’s screen. We were on the social media app TikTok, which is best known for user-generated short-form (typically 15-second) performance and lip-sync videos, whose vast majority of its estimated 100 million users worldwide are under the age of 30. In the past year, TikTok has been a viral incubator for a number of internet success stories, like the 16-year-old Missouri grammarian (@kelsiesatt) whose 45-second video about the Oxford comma has 3 million views, or the 14-year-old Amish girl (@amishbek) from Pennsylvania who explains to her followers the proper pronunciation of “Lancaster.” The platform has also made this 71-year-old artist into an unlikely Generation Z cult hero — and pointed to a possible new way for art to find a place in popular culture.

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“Wasn’t that good, though?” Condit asked me as we watched the TikTok user @jumpingspider theatrically gesticulate to audio from “Possibly in Michigan.” (The video has nearly 160,000 likes.) “Because of its innocence,” Condit continued. In conversation, Condit can vacillate from folksy to deadpan and back again. Many of Condit’s unnerving, fairy-tale-like videos feature the artist’s own narration, and her real-life voice mirrors that of her voice-over work, a kind of singsong, deliberately unplaceable lilt.









A Clip From Cecelia Condit’s ‘Possibly in Michigan’ (1983)

The brutal, surreal and darkly funny 1983 art musical has, somehow, become TikTok fodder.

(Video) Broadway star Lillias White

[MUSIC PLAYING] Sharon attracted violent men. Strangely, she had a way of making the violence seem like it was their idea. Her friend Janis was cut from the same mold. They even liked the same perfume. Arthur, who had been following them closely, was similarly disposed. The three of them had two things in common. Violence and perfume. [HUMMING] This one here smells great. Which one? Mmm. Smells like mother’s crazy sister Kate. Oh, you think so? Yeah, I do. It smells so good. She couldn’t have been that crazy. I don’t think so. Oh, you don’t think so, huh? No. Well, she put her poodle one time in a microwave oven. To eat it? Yeah. To eat it? Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, silly. To dry it. But it exploded. And they were both found dead. She must have been— Out of her head.

(Video) Rewatching My Old TikTok's | (CRINGE)

How This 71-Year-Old Video Art Pioneer Became a TikTok Star (Published 2019) (2)

For over three decades, Condit served as the professor and director of graduate studies in the Department of Film, Video, Animation and New Genres at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She has been a practicing and respected video artist since 1981 and has worked steadily on the margins of both contemporary art and avant-garde cinema for over 40 years, though her grim subject matter has kept her from the mainstream. Her first video, 1981’s “Beneath the Skin,” serves as an account of an ex-partner of Condit’s who murdered another woman he was romantically involved with at the same time as the artist. He then hid her mummified body in a bedroom closet.

Though she has never had formal New York City gallery representation, her videos have been a consistent presence on film-screening circuits for decades. In 2008, the video and installation artist Mary Lucier curated a solo exhibition of work by the artist at the nonprofit Cue Art Foundation in Manhattan. “People used to go through the halls singing the songs from her videos,” said the lecturer Carl Bogner, who was a longtime colleague of Condit’s at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

The artist’s unlikely social media resurrection began in 2015, when a YouTube excerpt from “Possibly in Michigan” started getting passed around on the news aggregation and discussion website Reddit, where the video found a home on select subgroups of the page, known as subreddits. Forums including r/Creepy and r/NotTimAndEric — the latter of which refers to work that recalls the comedy duo of the same name — started sharing “Possibly in Michigan,” which led to the video being featured in a number of YouTube compilations. It was on one of these supercuts that the piece caught the eye of the 17-year-old TikTok user @vrisrezi, who uploaded select audio from “Possibly in Michigan” onto the platform. After that, the video gained popularity among many of the surreal makeup and costume-play subcommunities that populate the app. At the time of writing, the #PossiblyInMichigan hashtag on TikTok had over 12 million views. The video’s YouTube upload had over 750,000 views, while another recently deleted excerpt had around 875,000. “This is a wild time in my life — you couldn’t predict it,” Condit said. “It’s funny, I don’t have a gallery, I don’t have those things, but the internet has been,”— and here she interrupted herself — “I get so many hits,” she concluded.

THIS ISN’T THE FIRST time “Possibly in Michigan” has popped up on the fringes of popular culture: In 1985, it was broadcast on the Christian program “The 700 Club.” As the final images of the video play — a garbage truck crushing bags of human remains — the phrase “Funded by Grants From: The National Endowment for the Arts & the Ohio Arts Council” appears onscreen. This was at the height of a moral panic around provocative art and culture, and Condit’s video — like the work of Andres Serrano and Robert Mapplethorpe — was a prime example of the apparent amorality of art being made with the assistance of government funds.


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Condit had not expected to see herself at the center of the Reagan-era culture wars, and she is equally surprised to find herself a viral influencer nearly four decades later. “I think of all the murder stories in the world, and all the crazy songs and all the brilliant songs that are out there on the internet, and I go: ‘Possibly in Michigan’?” Condit said. Yet it’s easy to understand the work’s current popularity — its combination of disturbing and cute predicted certain sensibilities that would come to define absurdist American humor decades later. The opening narration is a perfect balance of violence and irony: “Sharon attracted violent men,” Condit begins, in the affectless voice of an infomercial announcer. “Strangely, she had a way of making the violence seem like it was their idea! Her friend Janice was cut from the same mold. They even liked the same perfume!”

The visual language, too, of “Possibly in Michigan” is not foreign for a generation weaned on humor like that of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, whose television show “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!,” which ran on Adult Swim from 2007 to 2017, was known for combining the lo-fi outsider aesthetics of cable access TV with a sinister, almost Lynchian edge. (David Lynch, as it happens, was in one of Condit’s classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia in the late 1960s.) Condit seemed to foretell a contemporary moment in which fear, comedy, farce, romance and death existed on a level playing field. Her work’s balance of violence and humor, of suburban innocence and an unspoken terror lurking beneath, recalls not only Lynch but the disjointed chaos of the video artist Ryan Trecartin, and Cindy Sherman at her most unsettling.

There have been other visual artists who’ve found nontraditional routes to fame — before he ever showed in a gallery, Trecartin first became popular by posting videos on the pre-Facebook social-networking site Friendster in the early 2000s — but Condit’s remarkable generational crossover reveals a new platform for galleries and artists alike to avail themselves. Condit has never been concerned with her place in the art world, but she is relishing the more populist acclaim afforded to her by the internet. She told me that she “would not recognize the geographical hierarchy” imposed by the art world and doesn’t look down at people on the internet as if they are lower than someone living in Manhattan, “less human” than artists or writers or curators. She mentioned an email from a young person in Cleveland who had driven all around the city with her friends looking for the exact spot where Arthur is killed and eaten in “Possibly in Michigan.” “And finally,” she said, “they just wrote saying, ‘Can you just give us the address? We’re going to have a picnic outside.’” There’s also an online Beer and Fear horror movie club, which meets virtually on Reddit and that Condit told me watches “Possibly in Michigan” at the end of every meeting. She, however, has never participated — she has no interest in horror films.

“I’m afraid of them,” she said. “They scare me to death.”

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Is possibly in Michigan based off a true story? ›

The piece is based on a real-life account of how her friend once dated a man later discovered to be a cannibalistic serial killer (he murdered women and stored their body parts in his apartment).

What is the point of possibly in Michigan? ›

Possibly in Michigan is an operatic fairy tale of cannibalism, desire and dread in Middle America, a densely collaged narrative in which Beauty meets the Beast in the surreal landscape of shopping-mall suburbia. Two women with a penchant for "violence and perfume" take revenge on their animal-masked male persecutor.

Is possibly in Michigan analog horror? ›

It could be considered the first example of true analog horror, taking full advantage of the medium to tell its story.

Where was possibly in Michigan filmed? ›

The shopping mall and department store segments were shot at Beachwood Place in Beachwood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. The short film first gained notoriety on social media in 2015, and has gained popularity among teens in generation Z.

What horror movie was made in Michigan? ›

The Pierce Brothers on the set of their movie "The Wretched," which was filmed in Northport and Omena on Michigan's Leelenau Peninsula. Growing up near 6 Mile and Grand River on Detroit's westside, the brothers were introduced to horror movies at an early age.

Was Possibly in Michigan filmed in Michigan? ›

The movie seems to have been shot at one of the fancier malls, possibly in Michigan. Judging from the look, it may have been Summerset Mall.

Why do people live in Michigan? ›

One big reason people chose Michigan was that there was a lot of cheap land. Michigan was much bigger than states on the east coast. In addition to size, the United States government took a lot of land from from Michigan's Tribal Nations during the entire Statehood Era and after.

Why is Michigan a good place to live? ›

All told, Michigan is a great place to live for those that love the outdoors, friendly locals, affordable housing and low cost of living. However, the brutal winters are not to be trifled with and can drive you up the wall. If you're prone to seasonal depression, Michigan may not be the place for you.

Why you should live in Michigan? ›

The state is also home to a number of excellent public and private schools. The cost of living. Michigan has a lower cost of living compared to many other states, making it an affordable place to live. The state also has a lower property tax rate, which can make it more affordable to own a home.

What are the hidden sounds in horror movies? ›

Infrasound, the sound that can't be heard, plays a vital role in setting an ominous tone. Infrasound is a wavelength of sound that is just out of range for human ears to hear, however this does not stop it from causing a reaction in humans.

What famous movies have been filmed in Michigan? ›

Michigan inspired as the location for classics including Somewhere in Time and Anatomy of A Murder, as well as other contemporary blockbusters.
  • Somewhere in Time.
  • Anatomy of a Murder.
  • Gran Torino.
  • Batman v. Superman Tour App.
  • The End of the Tour.
  • Real Steel.
  • West Michigan Film Tour.
  • Detroit Film Tour.

Were any Hallmark movies filmed in Michigan? ›

'Cupid's Christmas' was filmed in Holly, Michigan. HOLLY, Mich.

What movie is being filmed in Detroit? ›

Netflix is filming the Beverly Hills Cop's fourth film adaption in the Motor City, starring Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley, a Detroit cop.

What is the number one scariest haunted house in Michigan? ›

Madison Heights: Azra Haunted House Chamber of Horrors, 31401 John R Rd bldg 2, Madison Heights, MI 48071. Rated #1 Michigan Haunted House by Scare Factor, Haunt World, Fright Find!

What Christmas movie was filmed on Mackinac Island? ›

Filmed at Grand Hotel and on Mackinac Island in 1979, and released in 1980, Somewhere in Time stars Jane Seymour, Christopher Reeve, and Christopher Plummer.

What is the deadliest state in horror movies? ›

It turns out that Pennsylvania came out as the deadliest state, with a total of 615 kills throughout six horror films.

What movies were filmed in Jackson Michigan? ›

Filming Location Matching "Jackson, Michigan, USA" (Sorted by Popularity Ascending)
  • Beverly Hills Cop (1984) R | 105 min | Action, Comedy, Crime. ...
  • The Old Man & the Gun (2018) ...
  • Conviction (II) (2010) ...
  • Chasing Sleep (2000) ...
  • The Demon Lover (1976) ...
  • Super Sucker (2002) ...
  • Surviving Nugent (2003–2004) ...
  • Jacktown (1962)

What movie was filmed at MSU? ›

"Don't Look Up" was filmed in the Boston area, with local locations standing in for Michigan State's campus and DiCaprio's character's Lansing home. The film's large ensemble cast also includes Tyler Perry, Cate Blanchett, Timothée Chalamet, Ariana Grande, Ron Perlman, Rob Morgan and Mark Rylance.

What movie was filmed in Monroe Michigan? ›

1. Jinn (2014) A man turns to a mysterious pair and a shackled mental patient for help in combating an ancient family curse.

Why do people move away from Michigan? ›

Just over 30% said they moved out of Michigan due to their job, and nearly 26% said they left for retirement. A smaller percentage of people, 14.51%, said they left Michigan primarily due to their lifestyle. Even fewer people said they left because of health or cost reasons.

Is Michigan a cheap state to live in? ›

The cost of living in Michigan is 3% lower than the national average. Housing is 14% lower than the national average, while utilities are 2% lower. When it comes to basic necessities such as food and clothing, groceries are around 1% higher than in the rest of the country, while clothing costs 1% higher.

Where do the most people live in Michigan? ›

The largest municipality by population in Michigan is Detroit with 639,111 residents; the smallest municipality by population is Pointe Aux Barques Township with 10 residents.

Where is the safest place to live in Michigan? ›

Grosse Ile Township

The safest place to live in Michigan is Grose Ile Township. This city is located near Detroit in Wayne County and has a population of 10,000. The overall crime rate is very low, with 390 crimes per 100,000 people, making this city 88% safer than the US average.

Is Michigan good to retire? ›

Michigan ranks 2nd best state in nation. Michigan has been ranked as one of the top states for retirement. Research done by Bank Locations reviewed the 50 states under 18 metrics which contributed to three major categories: cost of retirement living, quality of life, and access to healthcare.

How much money do you need to live comfortably in Michigan? ›

The living wage in Michigan is about $16.36 an hour, which is the primary wage needed to pay for all of the essentials such as housing, food, and necessities for an individual adult. On the other hand, if you have two kids, you would need about $27.46 an hour to live comfortably in this state.

What is Michigan most popular for? ›

Michigan is known for the home of the automobile industry, beautiful Great Lakes shorelines, and a bustling college town atmosphere. The state is also known for its agriculture, with cherries, apples, and blueberries being some of the most popular crops.

What is the culture like in Michigan? ›

Michigan Culture

Michigan is overwhelmingly Christian, with the bulk of religious residents identifying themselves as Roman Catholic. Large Protestant groups of Presbyterian and Lutheran residents exist as well. There is also a small but growing group of Muslims, along with other minority religions.

What is the #1 scariest horror movie in the world? ›

1. The Exorcist (1973)

Who is the weakest horror? ›

Who is the weakest horror villain?
  • Rothman (Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation) ...
  • Goblins (Troll 2) ...
  • Ahmanet (The Mummy) ...
  • Clowns (Killer Klowns From Outer Space) ...
  • The Leprechaun (Leprechaun) ...
  • Critters (Critters) ...
  • The Gingerdead Man (The Gingerbread Man) ...
  • Jack (Jack Frost)

What is the biggest horror? ›

Highest-grossing horror films
RankFilmWorldwide gross
2The Sixth Sense$672,806,292
3I Am Legend$585,349,010
4World War Z$540,007,876
45 more rows

What is the longest horror series? ›

'A Nightmare on Elm Street' 9 Movies.

What is the least scariest horror? ›

Coming out on top as the least scary movie was The Silence of the Lambs with no jumpscares..but we think that might be dependent on who you ask. Also included in the top twenty were Cannibal Holocaust (1980), The Blair Witch Project (1999) and Bone Tomahawk (2015).

What sounds scare humans? ›

Non-linear sounds, like the cry of an animal or a human scream, are scary to us because they extend beyond the normal capacity of the vocal cords. And our brains have evolved to understand the abnormality in these sounds, so we instantly know something is wrong or that there's danger close by.

What is the spookiest instrument? ›

Theremin. The sounds of theremin are so creepy that it makes people quiver. Originated in Russia, Theremin is an early electronic instrument the wounds of which you can consider using this Halloween to make people quiver.

What is the famous organ sound for horror films? ›

Many folks would call Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor the ultimate piece of scary music, thanks to any number of horror movies and pop culture moments that have used its thundering organ sounds as a kind of ghoulish shorthand.

What is the most filmed street in America? ›

Hollywood Boulevard is the Most Filmed Street in the US

So, across the years, the Boulevard has offered not just convenience for location scouts but a ripening charisma. And that's to say nothing of its secret alleys.

What is the most famous street in movies? ›

The Most Famous Fictional Streets From Movies
  • 8 Evergreen Terrace.
  • 7 Elm Street.
  • 6 Diagon Alley.
  • 5 Privet Drive.
  • 4 Cobblestone Way.
  • 3 Spooner Street.
  • 2 Paper Street.
  • 1 Bourbon Street.
Feb 28, 2023

What is the most filmed street in movies? ›

1 Hollywood Boulevard: Los Angeles, CA

Finally, by far the most filmed street in the United States is Hollywood Boulevard, and it's not even close. The street is the embodiment of Hollywood and the film industry itself, with a grand total of 133 film credits for it throughout the years.

What Christmas movie was filmed in Michigan? ›

“Prancer” (1989) | Three Oaks

In 1989, this future holiday classic was released in theaters, and Michigan was where this beloved movie was filmed. Based in the village of Three Oaks in Berrien County, “Prancer” is all about the power of belief and the magic of Christmas. The movie's Michigan roots are pretty deep, too.

Is there a real Hallmark town? ›

Outside of the movie's heart-warming plotline, there's certainly cause for love at first sight in Nevada City, a hamlet outside of Sacramento that was first settled in 1849 as a mining camp and has retained much of its original charm.

What is being filmed in Maryland? ›

​BALTIMORE, MD (September 6, 2022) — Governor Larry Hogan today announced that the new Paramount+ original series Lioness will be filmed in Maryland.

What movie is being filmed in River Rouge Michigan? ›

Superman landed in River Rouge on June 17. Actor Dean Cain, who starred as Clark Kent in the 1990s TV series “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” was Downriver filming a new movie based on a different comic book character – The Mask.

Why are so many movies filmed in Michigan? ›

Filmmakers from all over the world come to Michigan because of its diverse landscapes, historical architecture, and vibrant cities. These movies helped put Michigan in the spotlight, from big-budget blockbusters to independent films.

Where does Michigan lie? ›

Michigan consists of two peninsulas surrounded primarily by four of the Great Lakes and a variety of nearby islands. The Upper Peninsula is bounded on the southwest by Wisconsin, and the Lower Peninsula is bounded on the south by Indiana and Ohio.

How long is possibly in Michigan? ›

Where can i stream possibly in Michigan? ›

Possibly in Michigan (English subtities) on Vimeo.

Is Michigan a good place to live? ›

All told, Michigan is a great place to live for those that love the outdoors, friendly locals, affordable housing and low cost of living. However, the brutal winters are not to be trifled with and can drive you up the wall. If you're prone to seasonal depression, Michigan may not be the place for you.

How deep is Lake Michigan? ›

Approximately 118 miles wide and 307 miles long, Lake Michigan has more than 1,600 miles of shoreline. Averaging 279 feet in depth, the lake reaches 925 feet at its deepest point.

Is Michigan controlled by Democrats or Republicans? ›

The Democratic Party controls the offices of governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and both chambers of the state legislature. As of June 8, 2023, there are 22 Republican trifectas, 17 Democratic trifectas, and 11 divided governments where neither party holds trifecta control.

What movie is out of her head from? ›

Out of Her Head (Skit) [From the Film Possibly in Michigan] - Korban Baxter & Korrin | Shazam.

Who directed possibly in Michigan? ›

Possibly in Michigan is a 1983 short film written and directed by Cecelia Condit.

What streaming service will get everything everywhere? ›

Everything Everywhere All at Once is now available to stream with a Paramount+ subscription. You can also watch it on Showtime either via cable or an online subscription.

Is All That streaming anywhere? ›

All That - Nickelodeon - Watch on Paramount Plus.


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