I make nouveau art video on YouTube: Mommy’s Marriage

November 11, 2009

I have been criticizing YouTube for a few years now. Easy enough to do given its perplexing gaps in capability—all the things it won’t let you do: find things, surround them with meaningful stuff and people—not to mention all the crap video. Could I re-purpose the site to succeed at functions I require for video art? This is my goal with my project, Mommy’s Marriage, currently in active pre-production.

To prepare for this nouveau art video project (one of curating more than of art production), I first considered what might comprise YouTube’s strengths and unique powers for documentary: the capability to update and version; to allow the audience (or users) to participate and even for the subjects (of a traditional doc) to become producers of their own stories; and to create communities within media, including children, who can speak for themselves and to each other.

Then, I thought about what I don’t like about YouTube: how strong feelings, voices, and ideas remain siloed, individuated, unlinked, going nowhere powerfully alone. I wanted to see if I could construct, instead, a YouTube page as a collaborative, interactive, communal work, with a singular and defined set of purposes, a commitment to hard ideas, and a sense of safety and intimacy that is definitive of community and allows for the kind of video art that matters to me: personal, intellectual, political, and artistic.

Then, I returned to consider my completed old-school (video art) documentary, Dear Gabe (2003) that had told the stories of feminist family of my closest friends and myself. Whenever I screen it, people say, “You’ve got to do a 7Up: revisit these people in the future and see how they’re doing.” What they really mean and want, of course, is to investigate whether the many children in the piece made it out okay (at the time it was made they were quite young) given the non-traditional, experimental, highly ideological (feminist) homes in which they were being raised (lesbians moms, working moms, multi-racial families, adoption, divorce).

I figured, I could use YouTube to let these families, including the kids, answer for themselves rather than have me edit them, turning them into narrative and rhetorical functions of my own design. Granted, I had allowed all of my friends “final cut” on my past versions of who they are, but I really had turned them each into one strong note for a composition that worked to express my vision of feminist family in 2003.

Of course, I am also getting married in July 2010 (!), and my friend Deb has recently announced her engagement (to a Man). And Hali and Margie married in California last year while this was still legal. Why were all these feminists (and once-lesbians) engaging in such conventional acts in our feminist middle age, and how did our choices, once again, represent larger trends for our generation?

Mommy’s Marriage, my attempt at nouveau video art on YouTube, will go live in 2010 and live for about six months there, perhaps addressing or answering these questions (if my friends, their partners and children are interested). The characters (now producers or nouveau video artists themselves) will re-visit the old video, make new work of their own, and ask each other leading questions from which interactive video will be made. Viewers can also  join the conversation (with some monitoring at entry). Whereas the last piece focused upon work, gender roles, familial and personal choices and their consequences, particularly in regard to the shape of family, I imagine the new one will also include divorce as well as marriage, race, aging, and then, of course, whatever the children add to the picture, as well as our partners…

The most fundamental and difficult question that arises from this new kind of art video is about children and privacy. This continues to be a work in progress, a dialogue amongst my friends and the kids themselves. So our answers are unfolding. But, my current plan is to allow the kids to make whatever work they like, but to re-edit their video to protect their privacy and that of their friends (covering faces with other sorts of related images, for instance). While most of them (teens and pre-teens all) are already beginning to engage in a public life on-line (through their own incursions into YouTube and Facebook, for instance), their own images of themselves undoubtedly stay relatively private, found and viewed by the small number of intimates who would know these kids and care to see their mundane if personal representations of self, otherwise lost in NicheTube. However, when their work is part of my work it will most likely be seen by people all over the world who neither personally know or care about us nor necessarily support the piece’s founding commitments to anti-racism, feminism, anti-homophobia, and families of choice.

Of course the question of authorial control is also paramount. I’ve given this up to a large extent (although of course I still frame the piece by setting up its founding structure and themes as well as through some editing and curating, as well as blogging). What if my friends’ work is bad, mundane, unwatchable? What if there’s just too much stuff produced that is only of interest to us, like real home videos of yore? These are all problems that define YouTube generally. Thus, my intervention will be new: to take some control within all the uncontrolled video out there and produce structure within what is usually an undifferentiated, unvetted sea of stuff: to insure some quality, some vision, some clear goals within a space of real community and love.


One Response to “I make nouveau art video on YouTube: Mommy’s Marriage”

  1. Sarah Says:

    In response to this entry and topic, I would like to share an anecdote: I worked for Equality California for 2 days in early July. At the beginning of my first day, the branch owner introduced himself and mentioned his personal life, which included his “wife.” For the next eight hours, for some mysterious reason I couldn’t quite put my finger on—just something about the vibe of the office–I felt socially uncomfortable canvassing. At the end of my first day, the branch owner looked at my stats and said, with narrow eyes and intimidating tone, “You just barely made it, we’ll give you one more day but it’s not looking good.” On the 2nd day, in the car on the way to the canvassing site, another female trainee made comments about male-female graphic sex acts as a joke between peers, and the others, including my male site manager Zac, laughed and responded with more subtle yet obvious heterosexual entendre (I sat silently, socially uncomfortable, surely thought “weird” for reasons they must have supposed “mysterious”). Walking from the car to the site, I overheard Zac say to Monica, the other female trainee, that almost everyone on their staff was straight. At the end of my 2nd day, I was fired for not meeting the $120 quota. Combined with the intimidating verbal tactics their (almost exclusively male) managers use to increase efficiency, maybe that’s why I felt so alienated by the Equality California machine; why I couldn’t focus and meet the quota; why everyone on my team except for me made staff on the 2nd day; why I was forced to abandon my chosen life in LA and “live” in Kirkland, WA with my parents, a lifestyle that is not my choice, while they are financially free to enjoy the sunny warm weather they choose. Because the heterosexuals were able to bond with one another through the conversation in the car, which made them feel accepted (strength in numbers), which gave them the social confidence to approach people that is needed to canvass successfully. Unfortunately in terms of the political, even that is not enough.

    So maybe you see something about it that I’m not considering, in order to feel politically sound in your plans to get married, but if so I can’t wrack my brain to find it. As I see it, to get married is saying you agree that a piece of official paper is what truly proves the emotional validity of a romantic relationship in the end. But if you believe that bureaucratic paperwork has any sort of inherent validity whatsoever because it represents “the official rules,” then what does that imply about the actions of the Nazis in Germany?

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