The Australian Video Art Festival, Channels, is held biennial and is back for the second time in Melbourne. It features contemporary video practices from local and international artists through exhibitions, screenings, talks, performances and workshops. A fitting festival in our stage of exploring remix culture as Channels showcases remixed video art that provides an understanding of the practice, its interpretations, and its rise as an influential medium.
Where in remix culture, to keep the transformations of the original away from copyright law and to keep the art online it has to be significantly evolved from its starting point, Ryan Adams has completely disregarded the novice level tactics, recording Taylor Swift’s ‘1989’ in his own style to give it a new meaning.
We can’t work or operate outside of the ‘spectacle’ – the dictation of our everyday lives by commerce and capitalism – so we have to work with it.
The ‘new aesthetic’ as it can be referenced is the visualisation of ‘glitch imagery’. It is the visual and auditory appreciation and deliberate utilisation of technology that is non-functioning to create art that reflects this description; it is “busted” in the sense that it should not be working, or is ‘glitchy’ or pixilated or simply static.
Glitch imagery, movement and sound are compelling to an audience because it wants to be questioned. Whilst the artwork itself may not require a deeper meaning or hidden narrative, the audience takes an interest in what is going on and wants to make sense of it. Andy Warhol, however, explained that the look of such artworks do not always require a deeper meaning as the audience would like to believe. It can be just the look of the surface that is important as it is the superficial level of the artwork that society is interested in after all. Everything beyond the level of superficiality is incomprehensible.
For example, the YouTube video created by Jason Salavon entitled The Late Night Triad (2003) (below) features episodes of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and Late Show with David Letterman layered upon one another to create a ghosting effect that portrays each instalment of the series’ as being presented in the same format. This is what we as an audience understand from the remix itself, but it is only at the surface level. What is beyond this is beyond comprehension.
Forming in 1957, the idea of the ‘spectacle’ world motioned by the European Situationist International organisation imposed an antagonistic view of remix culture that focuses on recuperation and détournement, and tactics of psychogeography to restore what has been lost to capitalism in its new consumerist form.
The ‘spectacle’ is the idea that everything we consume, do, say, hear, and think is taken up by the commerce and capitalist drive society we inhabit. Whilst, ‘in the ol’ days’ the culture of the Western world was exhibited between our family and friends, and the written word, the ‘spectacle’ has absorbed this behaviour and ‘mediated’ it: it has created a society of online communicators and brand-influenced identities. The Situationists formulated this concept to suggest that we now live in a culture without communication because everything we do communicate about is saturated with the influence of brands and corporations; we are the link between the two.
We, however, do not want to be owned by these brands and corporations which is where recuperation and détournement fit into the equation. Recuperation is the process in which politically radical ideas and images (the basis of remix culture) are appropriated and transformed within media culture to become interpreted with a different connotation in mainstream culture. Détournement, however, is the technique of turning expressions of the capitalist system against itself. Both recuperation and détournement are the essence of remix culture. These brands and corporations are our tools to get by everyday – from our smartphones to our shoes – and they are controlling our lives. Whilst they are remixing, they’re banning us from being apart of the conversation unless we are acting as consumers, rather than creators. This is the implication of our media.
The Situationists developed a tactic of psychogeography entitled dérive to emphasise drifting around urban environments without being a consumer to undo the ‘spectacle’ for a moment in our lives. To drop one’s usual motives for movement and action to be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters found there. The notion of brandalism, however, was another method curtailing the effects of the ‘spectacle’. Artists would remix the advertisements of brands and corporations to invest a deeper political commentary within the imagery, video and art installations.
Forming in the 1970s, Negativland has been coined as an American ‘experimental music’ band. Perhaps their being defined as ‘experimental’ is the result of Negativland’s appropriation of sounds, images, objects, and texts, and the re-arrangement of this corporately owned media with original materials “…to make them say and suggest things that they never intended to.” Negativland are a significant and influential example of remix culture, but have defined their work as “culture jamming” – a social, political and artistic commentary on mass media and mass culture.
In 1991, however, Negativland released a single entitled U2 which sampled U2’s ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ (1987) and a recording of American radio-personality Casey Kasem “losing his cool”, for lack of a better description. Island Records and Warner-Chappell Music were granted a temporary restraining order which demanded:
- Everyone who received a copy of the record – reviewers, record stores, radio stations, etc. – must be notified to return it. If they fail to comply, they may be subject to penalties “which may include imprisonment and fines”. Once returned, the records will be forwarded to Island for destruction.
- All of SST’s on-hand stock of the record – in vinyl, cassette, and CD – is to be delivered to Island, where it will be destroyed.
- All mechanical parts used to prepare and manufacture the record are to be delivered to Island, presumably also for destruction. This includes “all tapes, stampers, molds, lacquers and other parts used in the manufacturing” and “all artwork, labels, packaging, promotional, marketing, and advertising or similar material.”
- Negativland’s copyrights in the recordings themselves are assigned to Island and Warner-Chappell. Negativland no longer own what they have created.
- Negativland and SST must pay $25,000 and half the wholesale proceeds from the copies of the record that were sold and not returned. Estimated cost to Negativland is $70,000 – more than they have made in their 14 years of existence.
Arguably, this is Negativland’s track U2. I, however, doubt this is the true track as Island Records and Warner-Chappell Music’s demands were severe and ultimately led Negativland to bankruptcy. It is unlikely that YouTube would allow for the track to be played online with copyright law the way that it is.
Since being sued, Negativland has joined the fight to reform copyright legislation in America.
Negativland’s 1995 track Gimme the Mermaid (above) samples the vocals of a music industry lawyer as Disney’s Ariel (The Little Mermaid) to comment on the antagonistic notion of remix culture that anyone can create the ‘culture jamming’ content they do, but the corporations will not allow it, unless it is them doing it themselves.