“Art is unnecessary, and that’s what makes it cool when it works.” -unknown
My mind often turns to a class I had in college when I think of moving from journalism and expanding my photographic work to more commercial and artistic endeavors; in an art appreciation class my professor posed the question of what “art” is. The class came up with many definitions and they were all kind of right according to her. She then asked us if photography, and to a lesser extent videography, were art? We all chimed up yes of course, but she said that in the traditional sense of the definition it was not. She argued that as a photographer we were not actually creating anything. As a videographer you aren’t making something from nothing...we are simply documentarians. I was troubled by this from time to time in my work until I heard of what is going on at the Guggenheim in New York; videos submitted to a competition on YouTube are to be displayed on the interior and exterior of one of the most iconic museums in the world during the YouTube Play biennial.
The Play jury selected the 20 or so videos yesterday, Thursday Oct. 21, 2010, from 200 videos that made it to second round attention from the more than 23,000 videos initially submitted or nominated for the inaugural event. People from all over the world took the time to create and submit some of the most fascinating and rich video poetry and it will be on display at the world’s preeminent modern and contemporary art venue in history. In New York City on the outer facade and inside in specific kiosks with the most recognized spiral design leading to the domed roof amongst other “legitimate” art will be creations once only seen at a desktop or a phone. These pieces of art and expression were created by users and shared in open source fashion with all of the world to be seen by as many people as possible, as art should be.
When I first heard about this event and got to see a little background of the concept I was conflicted. YouTube, the same forum that brought us Tron Guy and Dramatic Squirrel, is involved in an exhibition at arguably Frank Lloyd Wright’s most recognizable designs? One he didn’t even live to see open, mind you. Shocked as I was I got to see some of the submissions and heard from the judges of what they were looking for and what this new online forum meant in modern society and the tools and free access we now have for expression. I thought back to that art professor and I realized that she was wrong. Though the “any man” today may not be of a specific pedigree, class, education, or income, with today’s tools the artists out there have the ability to render the formidable and treacherous landscapes of their minds in to pixels and .mov files and share them with anyone who cares to partake.
Thursday’s events also held amazing and vibrant performances at the Guggenheim. On “stage” were the YouTube masters OK Go, who claimed mainstream fame with their treadmill video, and LXD with breathtaking choreography mixing interpretive with the likes of ballet and break dancing. The event seemed to pay homage to the venue’s history and respectability while utilizing the technology of today with 360 degree encompassing audio and video presentations and ambiance that would have delighted Solomon himself. When I watched the videos and saw the examples of the exterior video play I saw the graphic nature of almost moving the videos from a 2D screen on the fringe of non-existence to the textured and all-too-real street in New York.
When I watch videos from the list like “Seaweed,” “Scenic Jogging,” or “Garden” I am so inspired to look at the world through different eyes. At heart I am a journalist, a see it exactly as the scene dictates and communicate that aesthetically and ethically well, kinda guy. But with these videos, some minutes long while some are shorter than thirty seconds, I realized that there is a manner of envisioning and communicating the world coupled with thoughts and conveyed subtle emotion that I just don’t even possess. I mean I don’t even think I have that part of my brain hooked up; I am failing convey the lack of ability I had to wrap my head around the sound and video creations that these people came up with. This is when I became excited and energetic at the idea that a legendary art Mecca of sorts was embracing maybe not the most polished and expensive creations, but those with heart and substance bursting at the URL.
There are those videos in the competition that I don’t really know that I can get behind, in that they are simply clips and audio reconstituted for a purpose other than the original intention. I see the interesting concepts and reflections of our times in pieces like “Wonderland Mafia” and the weight behind “Post Newtonianism,” but I don’t know if it is truly created art. The audio and video in the pieces are not user created, they are simply a remix of other media. I teeter precariously on the fence of contradiction here, I know, but I don’t have the same level of appreciation for it that I do for original audio and video of a close-to-homer like “Bad News-A Media Fiction.” But it is all expression of the world around us seen through so many eyes and for that it gets my respect.
All too often I think this new media revolution is demonized and vilified as the death of journalism, or privacy, or decency (I know I do it a LOT), but that’s what they said about many new forms of expression and art as they were in their infantile stages; what if we’d just dismissed The Beatles, a loss of culture too great to fathom. These videos are no Mona Lisa or David, but this may be a sort of 21st century Renaissance we find ourselves on the brink of. There are avenues of expression Da Vinci would have killed for. Imagine if he had 3D imaging or robotics. Think what could have been done by the great artists and musicians like Beethoven with nothing more than a Photoshop suite or FruityLoops. Just as with television, YouTube can give you your ball shot videos and stupid human tricks, but it can give you so much more if you want it, and when you see every flat surface of the Guggenheim covered in digital light and sound you can’t help but wonder if this is our generation’s HD Sistine Chapel; I know Michelangelo would have loved 1080p.
Go to YouTube.com to check out all the videos on the YouTube Play Shortlist, about 200, and the official 25 selections made by the jury. The videos can always be seen from Oct 22-24 in the Annex Level 2 at the “Gug.” Wish you’d known or gotten something in? Don’t worry, you didn’t miss your last shot because this thing is a biennial...so we’ll see your best work in two years I hope...well not your BEST because I want to win since I’ll be throwing my hat in the ring.
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About the Author
Wesley Bauman, author of Doggy Paddling in the Deep End, is a writer/photojournalist originally from Oregon who makes his home in Ventura, CA. He is currently a contributor for the VCReporter and maintains an active blog (http://www.wesleybauman.wordpress.com/) where he writes on political and social satire regularly.