Mr. Fuzzipede

Well, I made a video. And this time I actually recorded the whole thing, instead of using other people's footage. After my last video experience, which just didn't end as I wanted it to, I was a bit nervous about this one. So I just decided not to take it too seriously, and to try to make something that was less direct. My video has a plot and it's a bit melodramatic, but in the end it's just about art. We spend so much time watching experimental films and talking about how profound art videos are, but so many of them are just completely ridiculous. I was perfectly content to make a little video commenting on the silliness of art videos while feeding into the silliness of art videos. I had fun making it, and I'm much happier with how it turned out than I was with my last attempt at a video. I hope you get a giggle or two out of it, don't think too hard.


The Descent

The Descent is a humorous take on the impact of desire. 
(It could also be about bestiality.)


"The Last Refuge of Scoundrels"

Until this week, my knowledge of Fair Use and copyright laws in art was pretty much limited to Shepard Fairey. I'm familiar with Fairey as a mediocre street artist who got a moment of fame, sold out, and turned his street art into a brand of clothing which you can now purchase in department stores. For most people, he's that guy who was accused of copyright infringement by the Associated Press after he used a photo they own for Hope, a poster of Obama. Now, thanks to this project and some literature from Stanford University Libraries I've got a little info on Fair Use and Copyright. 

It looks like I'm not going to get sued. For starters, the purpose of my video is definitely not the same as the purpose of all the videos from which I used footage. It's got a different meaning and a different aesthetic, though I didn't dramatically alter much of the footage. I added some from one video to the visuals of another, I sped some clips up, and I stuck them all into a video critiquing their original intent. Second, I don't think I took anything that was really "the heart" of another work. There's really only one clip where they could even be argued, but I'm not too worried about it. And lastly, I have no plans to ever make a cent of of this video. I will not profit financially, and I don't think I'm a significant risk for the giant corporations who made the original videos. My one minute video might be seen by tens of people, but it's not got to have a lasting financial impact on Fox News, even though I'm clearly critiquing them.  

Though it looks like I'm in the clear in terms of copyright infringement, my other readings did bring up some interesting points. Negativland things that "appropriating from this media assault represents a kind of liberation from our status as helpless sponges," and I think I agree. We are overwhelmed by media all the time, but its goal is not to help us form opinions. Instead, media is giving us opinions which we are encouraged to latch on to without thought. Appropriating from media allows us to question what we've been given and to think through it. Lawrence Lessig also talks about "remixing," and it's similarities to writing. No one would dream of writing to the estate of an author to use one sentence, but in video or sound, it's a necessity. He does discuss the important differences, the concern that people are 'copying' other work instead of creating their own, and the general culture that exists surrounding remixing. And in "Cut: Film as Found Object in Contemporary Video," which Lessig wrote for an exhibition at the Milwaukee Art Museum, he writes about the growth of media and the growth of copyright. Copyright was intended to protect certain items, it required an author to get a copyright, but now anything produced is automatically copyrighted for a hundred years. It's changed the face and purpose of copyrights, and made appropriate much more difficult because of the vast number of copyrighted things. But neither he nor I see what the big deal is. People have been appropriating for ages, it's not a new idea. There are no "new" ideas, there are only reworked ideas.

And since I'm now knowledgeable about copyrights and Final Cut Pro, I had no trouble falling into the Youtube trap. I think my video is sort of missing out on the art bit, but leans heavily on the collage of random clips bit. I'm sure there are 15 years-olds out there who wish they could make videos about their celebrity crushes that are as good as my video about stereotypes on tv. Take a look, get back to me, and I'll try again next week. 


There Is No Spoon

Let's chat about the truth. Reality is quite a tricky thing. Personally, I turn to the The Matrix for some answers (just the first movie, forget about the ten thousand sequels), because Neo really did a lot of the searching for me. And I'm happy to take advantage of other people's hard work. After all, "it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself."

Taryn Simon, on the other hand, finds reality in photography. She's a young, but well established photographer who tries to question the idea of photography as reality, or as a single reality. Simon has taken photos the CIA's private art collection in Langley, Virginia, and a deer penis confiscated by U.S. Customs at JFK airport, amongst other things. Her goal is often to show people things that they could never see otherwise, and to "confront the divide between public and privileged access and knowledge." Simon has gotten a ton of press in the past ten or so years, and she talks endlessly about the idea of the truth, of one reality. She argues that there is no single truth. Simon's all about truth in context. Her photos are all accompanied by text, sometimes large amounts of text, and she wants the viewer to see only the truth that she has molded. The text gives her photos an explanation and context so that they represent the truth. Her truth.

Transatlantic Sub-Marine Cables Reaching Land
VSNL International
Avon, New Jersey
What I'm wondering, is why I want Simon's "truth"? I've taken enough anthropology to get on board with the idea that there are multiple truths or realities. But why do I care about Simon's? Her photos are beautiful, I get that. But why take a photo of transatlantic fiber optic cables that stretch from the UK to New Jersey, write 100 words to accompany the image, and not mention that the cables are owned by an Indian conglomerate with no shortage of controversies? It would have made it, well, interesting. I'm clearly no expert, as the critics love her, and some of her photos are both interesting and gorgeous, but it seems to me that she might be taking herself a little too seriously. And by a little, I mean way too seriously.

These days there are so many artists searching for the truth or trying to display it. Ai Weiwei tweets about China while Ryan Trecartin and Kalup Linzy comment on contemporary society. Why is Taryn Simon's truth truer?



Flipping through magazines at the Watching opening
We had a little art shindig today. To be more precise, we exhibited our photographs in the Mudd Gallery. We spent much of the afternoon framing and hanging and adjusting lighting so that our awkward little gallery would be perfect for our opening. Lots of people came and looked at our photos on the wall and our magazines. It was interesting to look at my photos on a wall, as opposed to on the computer or in a magazine. They're larger and clearer, but it's also way more obvious if there are flaws. And exhibiting only two photos on the wall really changes the viewer's perceptions of the work. My book of 32 images creates one feeling, and the photos on the wall create another. I found when choosing which photos to frame, that different photos provided different amounts of humor or sincerity or creepiness.

Our exhibition sparked an interesting discussion about our magazines. It was proposed that we keep gloves available for people to look at our magazines, to prevent fingerprints and smudges. This was an interesting idea to me, because I think one of the great things about the book format is that it encourages, even requires, viewer interaction. We frame photos behind plexiglass, and put them on the wall. That is a clear "don't touch" statement, but the book is out in the open on a pedestal. It's meant to be flipped through, to be touched, and to ask the viewer to wear gloves takes away from that in my mind. Then they can only see the glossy pages, but can't feel them.

Speaking of the physical exhibition of our digital work, Mary Ann Doane has some serious opinions about digital media. I have no idea what her opinions are, but she has them. I found her piece "Indexicality and the Concept of Medium Specificity" to be pretty convoluted. I understood a few of her references to Walter Benjamin, because like any good art student I'm relatively familiar with him, but I really concluded that she was either writing for a different audience, or assuming no one would read her article (probably the former, she's kind of famous). I went ahead and looked her up, and found that she's a specialist in media (shocker!), film theory, and semiotics. It made a lot of sense to me that she is knowledgeable about semiotics, because she wrote about indices over and over, and I learned a bit about semiotics and indices during my brief encounter with linguistics, a close relative of semiotics. It'd probably be fair to say that if I were well read then I might have gotten something else out of her writing. Maybe once I finish reading the dictionary I'll go back to her.


So Books Aren't Dying?

I'm a little surprised, given my normal trepidation for all things modern and technological, but I'm sort of interested in this whole book thing. Lately I've been making tons of handmade paper and I've learned to bind my own books, so I'm a bit intrigued by this commercially printed book that I've made on the internet through MagCloud. The idea that I can take some photos, put them on Flickr, and have a book in a few weeks (or sooner if I'm willing to pay for shipping) is the complete opposite of slowly grinding fibers to make pulp, pulling sheets of paper, and sewing them into a hand-crafted, somewhat fragile, unique book.
Previewing a book in MagCloud
I'm also a very tactile person, so I'm definitely excited to feel the stiffness of the pages and the gloss of the paper, and to get to touch the photos. Staring at a computer screen just doesn't allow for that physical connection with an item. But the book form really does encourage the involvement of the viewer. Whether they're commercially printed or handmade, books can be picked up, turned over, and flipped through.

Speaking of involvement, I certainly hope that my book holds the viewer's attention. In reading some of Sarah Greenough's writing on Robert Frank's The Americans, I really noticed that he gave such thought and consideration to engaging his viewers and to giving purpose to the organization of his photographs. The book is split into sections by American flags, and each section contains both people looking and the subjects they were looking at. I tried to organize my book in a way that seemed visually appealing, but to be honest I really don't know if there's a better way. I reorganized it several times, in search of the perfect layout, but eventually concluded that what I think is best or logical may not make any sense to anyone else. But it's my book. So, for the time being at least, I get to be right.


Surveillance is Creepy

I'm a huge fan of Hitchcock's film Rear Window. I saw it years ago and have always loved the movie. The premise is great, I love the actors, and I can relate to watching other people. I used to sit in Central Park for hours watching the tourists. I like to eat in crowded places so that I can observe other diners while they eat. Everything is fascinating, from how they hold their forks, to their body language, and even their conversations. My eavesdropping skills are great. So with my love of creeping, I just figured I would enjoy taking photos of unknowing subjects.

But I didn't. In reality, I felt horrible about capturing people's small moments on camera. I guess it's one thing to watch a personal moment and another to keep it for eternity. To me it seemed like I was stealing their moment, and I felt even worse about it because I knew it would be posted on the internet. I hope my unknowing subjects don't mind.

Some poor soul working out. And being photographed.

I think you can call my process surveillance. Though Philip E. Agre probably wouldn't. I didn't have any "consciously planned-out malevolent aims of a specifically political nature," though maybe that's something I'll work on for the future. I was watching people, and most didn't know I was watching. I didn't disrupt their days, sometimes I was high above my subject or just off in a corner, but I was generally not obvious to them. And I think I got some interesting photos. Maybe my skills need a little refining, but it's a work in progress. I did get a lot of reactions once people saw me. Some people saw the camera and smiled or posed, but plenty of others scowled, turned around, or just looked questioningly toward me. I wasn't shocked about the surprised looks, but it was interesting to me. Richard Woodward, in his article "Dare to be Famous: Self-Exploitation and the Camera" seems to think that photography of everything is just a normal part of life that we've adjusted to. I'd say that's probably true, but he definitely focuses on self-surveillance, and it left me wondering if I would have gotten surprised looks if I knew the people I was photographing or if I was using a camera phone instead. At this point, and with my audience of college students, camera phones are significantly more common than actual cameras. So was it the photography or was it the strange device I was using to take photos?

I'll think about it, and plan out my malevolent political goals, and get back to you.