October 25, 2011
On Friday we spent a fruitful day discussing some of the ideas raised by, work made for, and communities engaged within PerpiTube. The day’s structure moved us from a panel about curating on/about YouTube, to artists talks about making work for this show (and its varied gallery and YouTube iterations), to small group discussions that looked closely at a few of the (many) videos in the show, to a closing conversation about the lived and practical effects of moving voice via YouTube to communities (like former prisoners and recovering drug addicts, and others deemed marginal or unauthorized) who were once outside media discourse but always part of this show, and now can (more) easily access these tools and their audiences.
Given that they day was so packed with intelligent, complex, and competing dialogue, this post does not serve as a recap, but rather a highlight of four concepts that stuck with me.
- Quality and authorization: How does the white box of the art gallery bestow authority, and how does YouTube erase it? How are the qualities we might want from “art video” seen in a gallery related to what we need from YouTube videos watched at home? In this, the comments at the symposium from some of the female participants from Prototypes seem quite critical: the stature of Pitzer, and the assumed prominence of PerpiTube, contributed to a perception of quality or authority, validity, and purpose connected to their participation that would have otherwise been deemed inconsequential (perhaps to themselves and certainly to perceived outsiders). In other words, if many of our participants had been able to speak on YouTube on their own already, outside the frame of the show, would anyone have listened or cared or does the connection to Pitzer and PerpiTube’s other artists raise the value (if not the quality) of the work?
- Reception and production: In what ways are the consumption of YouTube videos productive or purposeful? In what ways are making videos unproductive? What happens in a room, with an audience, within a rarified discourse that can not happen when watching work alone on YouTube? How does private contemplation, close viewing, and individual control better and build our perception? Ineffectual and unstudied making (like most of what we see on YouTube) is not in itself a higher form of media interaction than careful reception, but how does one build a studied and purposeful reception?
- Montage and re-contextualization: Is a YouTube practice best-suited by self-referentiality and appropriation? What is lost as we move media objects willy-nilly? Is the (best) work of a YouTube artist to provide context and meaning (or purpose) to other YouTube video through the act of montage or through the practices of curation, discussion, or framing?
- YouTube literacy: Given that our show is about and now on YouTube (and no longer in a gallery), and questions YouTube’s possible uses for expression and interaction, how much sophistication do we demand of our viewers about YouTube’s architecture? Our show is viewed through playlists (the only way to organize things on YouTube unless one has larger institutional privileges), but many of our viewers are not familiar with playlists (or channels) given that their only experience with YouTube is to watch one video at a time, often found somewhere else. Furthermore, YouTube literacy improves the quality of work and reception, and the possibility for connection. What does it mean to smack a traditional “art video” into the YouTube space, and what makes a work best-suited for YouTube (humor, summary, self-reflexivity, montage, etc)?
Soon, the videos that recorded this day will be added to the unruly chaos that is already the YouTube show. If you’re interested, I hope you’ll take some time on your own to watch the conversation as it unfolded, and decide how you can purposefully engage as Dr. Strangelove did here, through a video:
October 19, 2011
My talk at Concordia stirred a lot of feelings in the community: an intended effect of my “mixed reality experience” produced through the experiences of real bodies, watching digital materials, in real rooms. I didn’t expect the anger, however. Here’s a review by Jacob Roberts, from The Link, that gets to some of those complex responses.
October 18, 2011
October 13, 2011
I’m in Montreal, getting ready to give a talk “Remembering AIDS Online: Networking, Viruses, Virality, and Arteries” as part of Concordia University’s eighteen year old, multi-disciplinary, year-long undergraduate course and lecture series: HIV/AIDS Project. As my host and Project founder, Tom Waugh explains, the Project links students to internships, the community, and AIDS scholars and activists. I’m honored to be a part of it.
I’ll be sharing my most recent work that is attempting to theorize the distinctions and through-lines of the online documentary by looking at how my earlier activist AIDS video project (and those of many of my peers), as well as our associated projects of memorialization, have moved from linear video (and other materials) to new digital platforms and uses. I make wacky use of power point to create a “mixed reality experience” (this term comes from Anne Balsamo’s Quilty project, which I discuss, a digital interface that she is building that allows the AIDS Quilt to be viewed on a hand-held, table-like device). Their attempt to repurpose and repopulate an old memorial material becomes the quilt metaphor (and practice) that I will point to and attempt to embody in a room with others during my talk tonight.
Over the course of 40 minutes, 37 power point slides, many quotes, and a handful of AIDS media old and new, I plan to focus upon four tangled lines of thinking about the changing shape of documentary and memorials, and how they contribute to or shape our shifting perceptions of AIDS. I will consider:
1) How AIDS documentaries change as they move from the linear form of video used by myself and others when the AIDS crisis began in the 1980s, to today’s online documentary forms.
2) How memory and memorials are dependent upon their forms and materials
3) How documentary and other memorials have and might continue to serve AIDS activism
4) How “public mixed reality experiences,” using documentary to build temporary memorials, in lived and live offline rooms, might also serve AIDS activism, and its memory.
The talk will next become a more traditional essay that I will publish in the Blackwell Companion to Contemporary Documentary Cinema that I am co-editing with fellow AIDS video activist and now documentary scholar, Alisa Lebow.
Tomorrow, I also get to work closely with a small number of students and activists from Montreal and Concordia in a hands-on multi-media workshop where I will introduce them to,and ask them to participate in, my new work on Online Feminist Spaces. It looks to be an exciting couple of days in Canada.
September 11, 2011
I made a quick trip to NY to attend the celebration for NYU’s Culture and Media Program which I participated in somewhat unofficially in its earliest years by taking the courses Ethnographic Film I and II at the tail end of my Cinema Studies doctoral course work. This participation changed my work (and life, ultimately) in a variety of ways, most critically leading me to the unparalleled Faye Ginsburg, and allowing me to reframe my dissertation on AIDS activist video through ethnographic film’s focus on representation as a lived, cross-cultural, ethical experience rather than cinema studies’ then choke-hold on the text. Faye went on to be my mentor, and it is her endless dedication that was life-changing, literally connecting me to Pitzer, where I have spent the majority of my career. Hopefully, I believe, also life changing in that I have spend these years trying to be at least half as fine a feminist mentor as was bestowed to me, following Faye’s lead.
And clearly, in this I am not alone. There was a huge turn-out for the day-plus long event, and here we could see the profound legacy of feminist mentoring, teaching, and institution-building: a room full of warm, smart, innovative, feminist anthropologists and media studies scholars, racing around the globe, mixing production, theory, and on the ground commitment in their studies and teaching. It was a profoundly moving reminder that our efforts as teachers are the most meaningful in the creative and intellectual possibilities we can enable for the lives and work of those that follow us. Thanks Faye.
August 16, 2011
- they construct dogmatically linear narratives with staccato marches forward to metronome of sun, wave, and cuckoo
- they piece their homages-to-the-day from found source material
- compilation films both, they redirect their footage to new “trans-media” screens: from YouTube to art-house, from cineplex to museum
- triumphs of the database, they impose new logics (of narrative, linearity, causality) through montage
- false devotees of duration, they foreshorten time’s stickiness with a jittery compulsion for change
- there were lotsa clock-shots in both
But here the similarities end, for
- one is built from trash, finding the artful in the prosaic; while the other builds from both competent industry product and great masterpieces alike, re-locating the art squarely to the artist’s hand and mind
- one is a sappy celebration of humanity and community and commonality; the other, a high-brow parlor game for would-be cineastes
- one finds narrative pleasure in documentary’s unexpected truth (long takes are only granted for scenes of quirky, revealing, to-the-camera soul-bearing); the other disturbs originary narrative coherence through its showy and artful cornucopia of associational documentary editing techniques (color, movement, weather, feeling)
With so many images and so little time, at last dawns the era of the editor: the wife at the editing bay, not the man with the movie camera.
August 8, 2011
The second section, Isolation/Connection, of PerpiTube, my show with Pato Hebert, has ended with an uplifting set of provocations from Jutta Treviranus, Director of the Inclusive Design Research Center:
Jutta, and Judy Drummond the day before, both ask whether we can have a “do-over” by looking back at our gross failures at human connection—rooted in fears of difference and the violence and isolation this breeds, which has been an ongoing theme of this section—and pro-actively build a better future for all humans.
“In the digital reality, things can take a form best for each individual,” explains Treviranus. While it is certainly true that experiences of Native people, and the many others oppressed by imperialist violence have occurred in the “Solid World,” Treviranus asks us to consider how the stretchiness of digital space creates the room we have always needed for inclusion and justice. The tension between what happens in and between physical and digital realities is a core interest of the show: by making it better in here, do we see ripples out there?
July 13, 2011
In the past few days, I’ve seen two powerful film screenings featuring works that historicize AIDS in the 1980s: We Were Here (“the first documentary to take a deep and reflective look back at the arrival and impact of AIDS in San Francisco”) and United in Anger: A History of ACTUP.
Now, most people weren’t AIDS activists, and fewer still are professional AIDS remembers (a role several of us seem to have been gifted in the last few years), but I am both, and in the second role, have been asked to write or speak about the remembering of AIDS in three upcoming venues: a publication on the 25 year anniversary of ACTUP with the Quarterly Journal of Speech, a talk about recent AIDS video at Visible Evidence documentary conference in August, and a lecture in October at Concordia University for their nineteen-year long community lecture series and course on AIDS, Concordia HIV/AIDS Project. Most people don’t remember AIDS: in particular how we fought, how we cared and loved, how we raged, what we won, who we lost. This non-remembering of AIDS is a kind of recollection crisis in its own right, particularly affecting younger queers (of color) who don’t somehow know that there was unimaginable death, anger, activism, community-building, and art made because of AIDS, practices that continue to be highly relevant (if absent) to AIDS, queer youth, and the dearth of activism more generally.
I find that these two video projects (and Jean Carlomusto’s Sex in an Epidemic, and my own Video Remains, and others) each approach this recent remembering project with different forms, themselves reflective of the aims of their remembering goals. In short, We Were Here emotes and United in Anger rages–these feelings evident already in their titles–but also in their documentary approaches. WWH personalizes the crisis, focusing closely on six people with a soft and warm camera, evocative music, stories of personal loss and commitment, and a camera that lingers on tears (producing the same in its audience). Meanwhile, UIA moblizes a cold, sharp video look at a large group of speakers, and an even more clinical body of activist documentation of demonstrations and meetings, allowing us to feel that these images stand in for a mass of similar voices and a compendium of events and actions, and inviting us to enter through their anger and action (just another player in a movement of individuals that can lead to change). Both approaches feed us, although in different ways. Remembering AIDS–which was itself a complex amalgam of emotion, action, living, dying, loving, politics, and representation–demands as many complimentary approaches as we can afford and can bear. While we are all not professional AIDS remembers, nor need we be, we can all learn from this history, particularly in relation to its sustaining models of personal and political action in the name of human rights, health care, and the power of people to help themselves and thereby better their community and world.
July 9, 2011
Darling of the art world, Christian Marclay’s The Clock, like so many pieces of conceptual art, was for me as giving in the reading and anticipatory thinking about it as it was in experiencing it.
Now granted, the 24-hour film had a lot of buzz surrounding it, generated first in NY and then here in LA. So, I went primed for the viewing itself to reveal exciting thoughts and feelings about time and cinema: a kind of dance between form and affect, structure and concept, that I have often enjoyed via structuralist and other avant-garde films that are committed to practices and theories of duration.
But as was true of my experience of 127 hours, this contemporary time-project also delivered, instead, a meditation on time compression, cutting so frantically and gimmicky that one couldn’t catch a breath to think or ponder, or just be alive and aware in (movie) time. While that just may be the point–in our ADD, multi-tasking, world of cut-up screens we seek to ever fly away from boredom and contemplation–I got that point in just a few minutes. So why 24 hours?
Sure, the film was impressive as an indexing project, what Lev Manovich has called database cinema. And this was especially apparent to me, given that I was watching it with my friend, Carina, an early-modern historian, frantically trying to complete the index for her codex. But the cutsey cutting–montages of running in the rain, L-cuts carrying sound from one scene into the next, shot-reverse across time (thanks Maya Deren)–are pretty much Editing 101. Which leads me to the larger (and perhaps more controversial) reflection upon the growing craze for video and cinema in the art world. While I’m glad it’s there, there has been over a hundred years of production, teaching, and criticism about this medium, needless to say, much of it amazingly remarkable and astute, that hasn’t seemed to have moved as readily into the moving image’s new and fancy palaces. Not to say that avant-garde cinema and video haven’t had a precarious place in the art world since it’s birth, but the reception of present-day meditations on and celebrations of editing would be well framed by the huge body and long history of well-thunk missives on this very topic: itself a time project worthy of deep contemplation and careful consideration.
July 7, 2011
Ciara Ennis, the curator of Pitzer College Art Galleries, interviewed Pato Hebert and I about our upcoming YouTube art show, PerpiTube. One of her questions was about the differences between our show and two recent attempts, at the Guggenheim and Irvine University Art Gallery, respectively.
Pato keeps reminding me that art galleries can and have held most anything. But there’s something critically different for me when I think of the chaotic, open, uncurated, and in large part unschooled body of work that is YouTube, and whatever ends up in a white room because someone connected to the art world put it there. Our show raises these questions, by design, by placing itself in and across both kinds of spaces, and I hope you’ll watch it unroll on YouTube!