Adaptation YouTube Challenge!

Henry Open House last Friday drew over 1000 visitors – who were among the first to view the exhibition Adaptation – and the monumental work on view in this exhibition (by artists Guy Ben-Ner, Arturo Herrera, Catherine Sullivan, and Eve Sussman and the Rufus Corporation) are the stunning results from their own video adaptations from various source material- literature and film, ballet and music, email, and classical painting.

YouTube, the vast repository of online videos which focuses on the user-generated experience, is quickly becoming the place where anything, and everything, is up for interpretation. Founded in 2005, YouTube allows the viewer (You!) to make your own TV, to see what you want–when you want, and in many cases (for less than 10 minutes at a time) allows for you to be the star.

YouTube asks you to ‘Broadcast Yourself’ – which can be realized in many formats: Make a photo montage set to ‘Love Don’t Cost a Thing’ as an online vigil to Jennifer Lopez (Did you make this, Gabriel?), make a playlist with your favorite short films and animations, record your own music video, film yourself reviewing the book “Eat. Pray. Love”. Yes, it’s out there. I didn’t just make that one up. There are lots of reviews of “Eat. Pray. Love”. Lots.

Henry Associate Curator Sara Krajewski conceived and organized the Henry Art Gallery Adaptation YouTube Challenge, inviting Henry staff members to curate a short playlist of videos – with the theme of adaptation. Each playlist is featured on the Henry Website with a brief curator’s statement, and an opportunity for all visitors to select an Adaptation YouTube Challenge Viewer’s Choice playlist. It’s also featured on the Henry Art Gallery YouTube (with a link on this blog!)

In a previous attempt at curating YouTube at the Kitchen in a program called “Artists Using YouTube”, four artists presented their favorite YouTube videos in which some may provide “indirect fodder” for the artist.

Though a lot of fun to put together, and indeed a new way of seeing and approaching the exhibition Adaptation, I was immediately sucked into YouTube. In my own research for my YouTube Challenge – which changed shape from video interpretations of the story of Scheherazade (ranging from video game music to Olympic figure skating programs) to Kids in the Hall-esque video (the liam show’s infamous ‘text message breakup‘ and ‘Shoes’ video) – I quickly discovered the many issues that the exhibition Adaptation addresses, specifically, in terms of fidelity and control.

As Stephanie Smith (Director of Collections and Exhibtions, Curator of Contemporary Art, Smart Museum of Art) notes in her essay High Fidelity: “more recently, a number of contemporary artists have used illustration, homage, re-creation, appropriation, remake, and reenactment as ways to engage deeply with earlier art or with historical events…[some] resulting in work that “oscillate between source and response: much of the punch and meaning of the work is generated by the artists’ and audience’s capacity to consider the complex interrelationships between a thing (or event) made then and there, and a related but distinct thing made here and now.”

This process of sourcing material and producing a response -in the case of YouTube there are explicit directions to make video responses to existing videos – presents an opportunity to examine what we know next to what we see, to glean new interpretations, new possibilities, and stimulate an open dialogue (perhaps by adding a comment, making a playlist, or posting a video response).

For instance, My YouTube submission includes Kate Moss dances Stravinsky that sources two pieces: video for the White Stripes’ “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself” (the song itself re-created and re-interpreted by numerous recording artists such as Dusty Springfield, Dionne Warwick, Elvis Costello, among others) and the music of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. The video itself could be seen as hip, sleek, casual pop culture nonsense set to a droning version of the slow-tempo, antiquated song about unrequited love. Kate Moss, though seductively dancing, looks bored, vacant, hollow. But as set to Stravinsky’s music, the movements change into something different, something more. The existing stark lighting and the added edits bring a remarkable tension to Stravinsky’s music that is clearly expressive of the original story of The Rite of Spring, in which a young girl dances herself to death at a pagan ritual. Suddenly, Kate Moss comes to life. Whether or not this video is a faithful adaptation of The Rite of Spring is debatable, it is with the use of the musical score, a pretty close interepretation.

This mixing of video and audio, so popular to YouTube posters with any kind of elementary computer knowledge, suddenly proposes issues of control, authorship, and intellectual property…as evidenced by my futile attempts to embed this video of Jennifer Lopez’s “I’m Glad.” Each video for “I’m Glad” that exists on YouTube was marked with “Disabled by request”. In this case, the record company and/or the artist has explicit copyright protection of its property. Or does the poster presume control now? Who owns this video anyway? Can anyone own an idea? Once it’s posted on YouTube (or the internet, at large) is everything fair game? What happens if these ideas continue to be reproduced, and at what point does the initial idea becomes lost and new ideas take shape? And who owns that?

As each video is posted onto YouTube, as in Adaptation, the source material is no longer the thing, it becomes as Smith suggests, the “point of entry” or the “point of departure” for the artist (YouTube poster)- which is eloquently supported by Ben-Ner’s position that his allegiance is not to his source but to the needs of his own work.

The Adaptation YouTube Challenge adds another layer to this complex web of videos, in which the curators respond by carefully selecting the videos on the playlist and thrusting their own interpretations and aesthetic sensibilities onto the collection. YouTube has changed the way that we see and approach video work: taking video and making it accessible to all, makers and viewers alike. I started to think about my own work, how what I see and hear influences the work I make, and how the collection of images and sounds constantly shift and change the way I see the world. Essentially, my brain becomes YouTube.

Check out the playlists, make your own, enjoy the videos. There will be about a million more made tomorrow.

One thought on “Adaptation YouTube Challenge!

  1. Pingback: Adaptation | Art21 Blog

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