For most people, EDL is the acronym of the English Defense League, a far-right group that regularly and vehemently protests in the street against what it considers to be a spread of Islamism and Sharia in the United Kingdom. Over the past two years however, a number of UK residents have started to associate EDL with another movement: the English Disco Lovers. The story started as a joke when art student Chris Alton decided to reclaim the acronym and google bomb EDL so that English Disco Lovers would appear on top of the results for the search 'EDL' and the three letters would, over time, be associated with tolerance, multiculturalism and equality. Another key strategy of English Disco Lovers consists in participating to counter-English Defence League demonstrations across the UK, wearing garish shirts, dancing to disco music and singing "Go! Walk out the door! Turn around now 'cause you're not welcome anymore!" to the members of the islamophobic group.
Photo: English Disco Lovers
The English Disco Lovers manifesto
As the popularity of its online and offline presence demonstrates, English Disco Lovers has grown into a socially-engaged project that is far more powerful than what its initiators had initially envisioned. I talked online with Chris Alton about the EDL adventures, the wrath of the original EDL, the positive changes a humorous campaign can yield and how English Disco Lovers fits into the history of disco music.
Hi Chris! Who's Alex Jones? i keep finding his name rather than yours in all EDL interviews. he seems to have had a Quaker upbringing as well.
Alex Jones is my pseudonym. At first it was a safety precaution, as the English Disco Lovers email account had been receiving death threats from EDLers who were none to pleased about my cheeky acronym-pinching antics. I didn't fancy a bunch of heavies turning up on my doorstep, so I did the sensible thing and used a fake name. If you look at my TEDxYouth@Hackney talk I'm even wearing a mirrorball mask. The name and mask ultimately became a license to 'perform' Alex Jones. I see him as an idealised aspect of myself, given form and amplification.
A new meaning for disco beats: Alex Jones at TEDxYouth@Hackney
When i first read about your EDL project, i assumed it was just great fun and pleasant anti-racism but then i read in an interview that some of you actually attempt to discuss with members of the English Defense League? Do you manage to achieve something by engaging in conversations with them? Because they look pretty scary and some might be very annoyed by your own take on the acronym...
Yeah, through running the project that dialogue opened up. I'd get the odd message from an English Defence League member, one said, "hate the idea, but love the badge". He was referring to our logo, so I offered to send him a badge with it on. Those messages would become inroads, which allowed me to speak to them on a one-to-one basis about why I was doing what I was doing and why they were doing what they were doing. On mass they're a pretty scary bunch, but over social media there's (unsurprisingly) less to fear. In some cases the discussions led nowhere, but in others I found that the English Defence League members opened up to the possibility that their EDL could be causing an increase in the radicalisation of young Muslims, a few even left the organisation (or so they told me).
You wrote me that one of your sources of inspiration was your Quaker upbringing. What has the Quaker education taught you that helped you set up and run the EDL?
Since a young age I've been around people who are more actively engaged in changing the world than most. Quakerism exposed me to countless individuals and groups campaigning in various ways for numerous causes. At the age of 14 I met a woman who'd canoed out to the Trident Submarines in Faslane, planted potatoes onboard, then tried to make her getaway before being surrounded by vessels far superior to her tiny canoe. She was in her 60s at the time and at 17, I was present at the British Yearly Meeting where Quakers made the decision to allow same sex marriages and to lobby the government to legalise them.
Those are two examples among many, both of which exemplify the commitment of Quakers to peace, equality, simplicity and truth (the Quaker testimonies), despite the approaches being so different.
I think it's clear that some of the testimonies mentioned above manifest themselves in English Disco Lovers. It's a peaceful alternative to the English Defence League, which supports equality and togetherness over the divisions the other EDL capitalise upon and exacerbate.
Photo: English Disco Lovers
You've been working on EDL for two years now. What have been the most surprising moments in the life of EDL?
As you can imagine there have been many! Getting it off the ground was certainly a surprise. When I made the Facebook page I never imagined the idea would move beyond my friendship group. However, after less than 6 months of using social media to generate interest in the idea, I got an email from Dorian Lynskey, a writer at The Guardian. He asked me a few questions via email and wrote a piece on English Disco Lovers, which was featured in The Guardian's G2 in February 2013.
Then in April 2013 I went down to Brighton for a counter-English Defence League demo. I was surprised to find a mass English Disco Lovers presence opposing the EDL march, bedecked in disco gear (I'm talking wigs, sequinned shirts, flares, the lot) and singing along to disco classics like Chic's "I Want Your Love". When they launched into Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" and told the English Defence League to, "Go! Walk out the door! Turn around now 'cause you're not welcome anymore!" the surrounding protesters joined in and danced along. I surprised that people felt so strongly about an idea that I'd brought into the world, and that they were willing to spend their afternoons embodying it!
Clips of the English Disco Lovers (EDL) at the counter-MfE demonstration on 21/04/2013
Chic, I Want Your Love
Why did you chose disco rather than any other type of music?
The choice of disco is fundamental to the ideology of English Disco Lovers, not only because of the genre's positive sound, but due to the history of disco. In the 1970s discotheques were havens for minorities, they brought together people of every colour and sexuality to listen to music that celebrated unity and self-expression. In 1979 there was an anti-disco rally called Disco Demolition Night, which involved the destruction of disco records. It has been said that the event had racist and homophobic undertones and that it played a significant role in the decline of disco's popularity.
It's also significant that, the word discotheque comes from Nazi occupied France, where jazz music was banned, as it was seen as a potential music of revolution. As live performances were deemed to be too obvious, citizens began to opt for underground bars where they could listen to recordings. These places became known as record libraries, which translates into French as 'discotheque'.
I wanted to redeploy this history in opposition to contemporary intolerance and the recent rise of right-wing extremism in the UK. The English Disco Lovers' motto is "Unus Mundas, Una Gens, Unus Disco", so it's also worth mentioning that, in Latin, disco could be understood to mean 'I learn', 'I learn to know', 'I become acquainted with'.
Photo: English Disco Lovers
Apart from google bombing the far-right group, what do you hope to achieve with EDL?
Well, English Disco Lovers has already achieved many things beyond google bombing the English Defence League. For example we've been holding disco nights for about a year and a half, where the profits are donated to charities that tackle issues such as racism, HIV and hate-crime. We've held nights in London, Brighton, Bristol and Manchester, so I hope that these nights continue to grow in popularity and that we can continue spreading the "Don't Hate! Gyrate!" message.
What is next for EDL? any upcoming performance or meeting?
Well I'm heading down to Brighton in early January to meet with two stalwart English Disco Lovers about this very question, what next? I intend to step away from the project for a while and focus on new work, so the future of English Disco Lovers is a little uncertain at the moment. We have a few DJ sets booked in the coming months, which will be posted up on our website and social media, but in terms of big plans and aims, we'll all have to wait and see.
English Disco Lovers is part of an exhibition at the Collyer Bristow Gallery in London. The show remains open until Jan 28th, 2014.
I want to read all the audio coming from my computer through the speakers (or selected output) live. Any leads on how to do so?
Project: Essentially, i am wanting to make a RGD LED strip react to the audio from my computer (for all audio such as games and movies and other). Processing will be outputting to the arduino. The RGB LED elements will be PWM controlled depending on the different frequency levels. Can i also do a "fast fourier transform" to break down the audio into 3 different ranges (high, medium, low) and average amplitudes? That would control each PWM duty level.
Publisher Princeton Architectural Press writes: The past twenty years have seen a new generation of artists working together in small groups and large collectives to explore new avenues of art, design, performance, and commerce. In Come Together, author and visual artist Francesco Spampinato assembles an international roster of forty of today's most exciting and influential collectives, from design studios like Project Projects and political performance artists The Yes Men to flash mob provocateurs Improv Everywhere and the multimedia artists Assume Vivid Astro Focus. Alongside visual portfolios of their best work are in-depth interviews addressing each group's unique motivations, processes, and objectives. What emerges is a shared desire to turn viewers into producers and to use commercial mass-media strategies to challenge prevailing social, political, and cultural power structures. Come Together is an essential resource and inspiration for students, art lovers, and anyone interested in the cutting edge of visual culture.
ruangrupa, Poster for the OK. International Video Festival
PSJM, Capitalismo 1712-2010, R.I.P
Come Together offers a collection of interviews with dozens of art collectives that work with society, rather than as mere observers of society. The groups selected use graphic design, fashion, performances or publications to question economic structures, brands, mass media, the police and other state institutions. Their strategies and objectives might differ but what brings many of them together is the way they leave a space for the public to take an active role in their actions.
Each collective is given its own chapter in the book. They are introduced by a brief data sheet that includes key words summing up their activities, a list of the members (when known) and a reference to a publication that focuses on their work. But the main content is an interview with the collective. Each of these groups are asked the same questions. They range from "why work collaboratively?" to "Does your engagement with one another translates into an engagement with the public? How so?"
Since i love discovering artists with a political agenda, i'm pretty happy with my copy of Come Together and i can only applaud the fact that the author has looked beyond the usual U.S. and the European Union and included groups from Jakarta, Tokyo, Buenos Aires in his selection. I did however wonder whether an artistic duo that works mostly in a gallery context has indeed its place in the book (i won't give names, unless you ask politely.)
The Space Hijackers comment on the absurdity of the legalese of the Olympics (image via buzzfeed)
The brilliant Space Hijackers define themselves as "an international band of anarchitects who battle to save our streets, towns and cities from the evils of urban planners, architects, multinationals and other hoodlums".
The group's many activities aims to underline and fight peacefully the destructive influence that corporations have in society. Some of their interventions have included being anointed the "Official Protesters Of The London 2012 Olympic Games", rolling out a guerrilla benching operation (restoring public benches that had been removed and bolting them to the ground), and inviting coffee drinkers and others to use games in order to protest against Starbucks, this "neo liberal global capitalist thug".
SH made billboard-sized versions of the bustcard flyers they were already handing out at demonstrations, to inform protestors of their legal rights, in the event that should they be arrested or stopped and searched.
Superflex makes 'Tools', proposals that invite people to participate in and communicate the development of experimental models that alter the economic production conditions. These tools are developed for people to use, replicate and modify.
Their Copyshop worked as both a shop that sold products challenging intellectual property and as an information forum that investigate the phenomena of copying. The goods on sale were modified originals, improved copies, political anti-brands - or a Supercopy as the new original.
Center for Tactical Magic, The Tactical Ice Cream Unit, 2005
The Center for Tactical Magic is another favourite of mine. The group aims to engage communities into political thinking and acts of positive social transformation.
Their Tactical Ice Cream Unit is designed to operate and look like a police force's mobile command center. On board are high-tech devices (including a video surveillance system, acoustic amplifiers, GPS, satellite internet, emergency gas masks, and a media transmission studio capable of disseminating live audio/video) and ice cream. It not only monitors police action at a demonstration but can also offer protection to protesters.The TICU operators also hand out free cones along with receive printed information developed by local progressive groups.
Friends With You Parade, Art Basel, 2006. Photo: Joel Mangrum
Friends With You Parade, Art Basel, 2006 (photo via flavorwire)
And now for something completely different...
FriendsWithYou make plush and wood toys, immersive (and often inflatable) art installations, sculpture and painting, playgrounds, and performance pieces that entertain the public.
FriendsWithYou opened the 2006 edition of Art Basel Miami with a Skywalkers parade staring balloons, ranging from 5 to 60 feet, to celebrate the solar system's "formal acceptance into the universe."
Improv Everywhere is at the origin of numerous pranks. The most famous of them is probably the No Pants Subway Ride. The first one took place on the NYc subway in 2002 with seven participants. The movement has since spread to countries around the world and is now a cultural phenomenon.
Paper Rad, P-UNIT-1 !!PART ONE!!
Beginning of the Paper Rad - Trash Talking DVD
Paper Rad makes comics, zines, video art, net art, MIDI files, paintings, installations, and music. Its style is called "Dogman 99", a direct reference to Danish filmmaking movement Dogme 95. Paper Rad's rules are: "No Wacom tablet, no scanning, pure RGB colors only, only fake tweening, and as many alpha tricks as possible".
Paper Rad often recycles or appropriates sounds and images from all kinds of sources: old cartoons, commercials, late-night television, video games, etc.
Made in L.A. 2012- Welcome to Slanguage Studio
Custom Sneaker and Shoe Workshop, 2009
Founded by Karla Diaz and Mario Ybarra, Jr. in 2002, Slanguage uses art education and exhibition to discuss meaning and value of contemporary art in the community of in Wilmington, a harbor area of Los Angeles where they both grew up. Before it closed, Slanguage Studio had grown into a gallery, a site for workshops and events open to the local community, as well as an artist residency.
Zulf (brunette), 2014. Courtesy Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin
Slavs and Tatars has the best name ever and explores a shared sphere of influence between Slavs, Caucasians and Central Asians.
This week (or rather semester since i so seldom do proper interview nowadays), I'm talking with Svenja Kratz , an interdisciplinary artist who combines art practice with cell and tissue cultures to investigate the creative and critical dimensions of biotechnologies as well as their impacts on concepts of identity, life, and death.
So far, the artist has worked with media as diverse as fetal calf cells, human blood, maggots, multi-component 3D Human Skin Equivalent (HSE) models or taxidermied insects. She is currently participating to Experimenta Recharge biennial of media art with an ever-changing face mask that uses DNA from Saos-2, a cell line that originally came from the bone cancer lesion of an 11 year old girl who most likely died in 1973 due to the aggressive nature of the cancer. The cells of the little Alice can now be found in science laboratories around the world. Their presence in an art installation highlights the transformative capabilities of Alice's cells but also the oddity of using living fragments of a human body that died 40 years ago.
The work is called The Contamination of Alice: Instance #8 and since i can't travel to Melbourne to see it, I thought the next best thing would be to write Svenja and interview her via email:
Hi Svenja! Your work Afterlife "looks at the ethical ambiguities and challenges that accompany the use and manipulation of organisms, in particular the use of Fetal Bovine Serum (FBS) in cell and tissue culture." What are those ethical ambiguities and challenges? And how does the work addresses them?
The work Afterlife was a starting point for the development of The Immortalisation of Kira and Rama, a project researched and developed during a three month residency at SymbioticA in 2010. The work developed from my engagement with cells and tissues and particularly the materials that are used in biotechnology such as FBS - a protein rich nutrient supplement used in the media to sustain cells in culture. The serum is derived from the blood of fetal cows. While the idea of draining unborn calves of their blood may sound horrifying, the calves are essentially a bi-product of meat production and while their blood is harvested to produce serum, their bodies are discarded, deemed unfit for consumption.
This work does not aim to demonise the meat industry or the use of FBS, but rather comments that there are victims at every level of consumption, and that the boundaries between good and bad are always blurred. For example, the common practice of slaughtering pregnant cows, and subsequent availability of fetal calf blood, has enabled great advancements in cell and tissue culture and contributed to the development of new medical technologies and treatments for humans and other organisms. This is the same for many cell lines, such the HeLa cell line, isolated from Henrietta Lacks in 1951. Establishment of this, the first human cell line, was a medical breakthrough, contributing significantly to the development of vaccines and scientific research. However, the HeLa line also caused significant distress to the donor family, as the cells were used without the knowledge or consent of Mrs Lacks.
My work aims to draw attention to the often unseen donors or victims of processes of consumption and advancement, but also the shifting boundaries between how we understand life and death. I feel we need to understand that that there are always positives and negatives, and that our technologies and attitudes often reflect current cultural values.
Svenja Johni Kratz, Afterlife. The Immortalisation of Kira and Rama
You work with living matter. What are challenges of exhibiting your works? How do you keep them alive for the whole duration of a show for example?
One of the most demanding aspects of working across art and science, and particularly preparing living work for exhibition, are the ethics, biosafety and risk assessments that must be completed to ensure that the work follows ethical guidelines, all risks are minimised and the work is non-hazardous for viewers and installation staff.
Maintaining organisms is also a challenge and relies on careful planning including consulting with scientists, designing the support system and then testing all components to ensure the environmental parameters are appropriate to sustain the organisms for the duration of the exhibition.
You also work with fairly sophisticated technologies. How do you manage to communicate both artistic ideas and scientific innovations that are not that well-known to the public without overwhelming them with complex explanations?
In trying to communicate my ideas, I often focus on storytelling, interweaving scientific concepts with personal experiences and observation, cultural narratives and philosophical ideas. However, this is something I need to continuously work on. When I first started working across art and science, I think I was actually much better at communicating underlying scientific ideas, as my understanding was limited and I was only familiar with lay language. As my knowledge has developed, I sometimes include scientific terms without thinking. Consequently, I often ask my arts colleagues to read my work to ensure the key ideas are clear and understandable, and that I have not included too much superfluous jargon.
Working in the laboratory
Contamination of Alice #8
You are showing Contamination of Alice #8 at the Experimenta Recharge biennial of media art. For this piece you used human DNA to explore the transformative capabilities of cancer cells. Could you explain us what this involves exactly?
The Contamination of Alice, refers collectively to a series of individual works originally inspired by the experience of my Saos-2 cell (bone cancer cell line originally isolated from an 11 year old. girl, Alice) cultures becoming contaminated by a fungus when I was working in the laboratory at IHBI in 2009. While this resulted in the required disposal of the cultures, to minimise the risk of further infection - something that was initially devastating - it really got me thinking about how different organisms take advantage of environmental opportunities, as well as the difficulty of maintaining ongoing containment and control over nature. The loss of the cell cultures also encouraged me to consider the creative potential of the experience and how contamination could be perceived positively as unexpected growth and discovery, rather than something unclean or unwanted. The contamination of the cells was actually a trigger to start exploring microbiology.
The latest instance within the series which was commissioned for Experimenta forms part of this ongoing exploration and connects to Alice's cells, my lab experiences and notions of becoming, transformation and the interconnections between organism and environment. Through the inclusion of Alice's DNA (isolated from her cultured cells), the work also starts to engage with genetics and the fact that DNA is not a fixed code, but subject to environmental influence through gene switching. While all Agar faces are made of the same material, the display of the work at a new location will result in different bacterial and fungal colonies, based on the microbes in the new environment.
How did you get to work with the Tissue Repair and Regeneration Group at Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation at the Queensland University of Technology?
I started working with the TRR group as part of my PhD research which aimed to explore the creative and critical potentials of cross art-science practice. I was very fortunate in finding a scientific supervisor willing to take me on, train me and fully integrate me into her research group. The support from my supervisor and the entire TRR team enabled me to complete my own lab work and gain first-hand insight into biotechnologies, particularly cell culture and tissue engineering.
I read that in 2013 you undertook a 5-month residency at Leiden University and the Art and Genomics Centre in The Netherlands to explore mutagenesis and bioengineering for future energy production. Could you tell us about this research?
Thanks to the Premiere's 2012 New Media Scholarship from QAG/GOMA, I had the opportunity to complete a six-month residency at Gorlaeus Laboratories at Leiden University in The Netherlands from July to December 2013. The residency formed part of the large-scale Biosolar Cells research programme, which focuses on the potential of solar energy for long term sustainable energy production. While the programme encompasses a variety of research areas, I was integrated into the Solid State NMR group led by Professor Huub de Groot under the supervision of Professor Wim de Grip and PhD candidate Srividya Ganapathy. The project I worked on aims to increase the absorbance spectrum of light powered protein pumps, which are proteins used by Archaea (single-celled microorganisms) to convert sunlight into chemical energy. If successful, the increase in absorbance spectrum enable the proteins to use more of light spectrum to create energy with strong implications for biofuel production. During the residency, I was fortunate to take part in site-specific mutagenesis experiments in which we made highly specific changes to the DNA sequence of the protein in order to induce a shift in absorbance spectrum. I am one of the few artists that can legitimately claim: "I helped make a mutant".
Why do you think it is important for an artist to get in close contact with science like you do?
I personally have found that working closely with research scientists and engaging with new and emerging biotechnologies has enriched my practice and understanding of biology, new and emerging biotechnologies and the complex ethical issues involved in working with living organisms. Being able to work closely with research scientists has also challenged many of my own assumptions and revealed that artists and scientists, despite governed by different objectives and methodologies, rely on tacit knowledge and understand that discovery is emergent and requires an openness to the unexpected. The combination of art and science is also important as it enables the subjective to enter into scientific discourse and research arenas traditionally dominated by a search for 'objective truth'. By drawing on, and incorporating, personal experiences, speculative potentials and historical events, the work makes room for multiplicity and can help reveal the way in which knowledge is always situated, provisional, and intimately connected to personal, social, and cultural values.
Working with E.coli bacterial in the laboratory in Leiden
What's next? What are you working on right now?
At the moment I am developing a series of holographic display chambers in collaboration with micro-electronics engineer Michael Maggs, based on my 2013 residency in The Netherlands, that engage with ideas surrounding real and imaginary biotech mutants. I am also working on a series of individual works that operate as thought experiments regarding the idea of genetic legacy, and how, as single woman in my 30s, I might use biotechnologies to ensure my genetic line continues without having children. I am also interested in exploring the emerging field bio-fabrication and am hoping to secure funds to create responsive 'bio-robots' using 3D bio-printing techniques. What can I say...the future is exciting!
Experimenta Recharge, the sixth international biennial of media art, remains open until Saturday 21 February 2015. In Melbourne.
Yesterday, we surpassed our goal of $20,000 in our first Kickstarter, to save and make playable the Theresa Duncan CD-ROMs. We want to take a moment to say a sincere thank you to all those who donated, promoted on social media, and wrote about the campaign. Now, we'll get to work. We aim to have the games online, free for all to play in any browser, by April 2015. This will also be when we host a public event at the New Museum and an online exhibition celebrating Duncan's work, contextualizing it within feminist gaming history. Furthermore, we'll be commissioning articles and educational materials to deepen public awareness of these CD-ROMs and the broader history of women gamemakers.
Special shout out to the leadership-level pledge of Mark Matienzo that took us over the goal, and a significant surprise pledge from Mailchimp. But, really, we had 463 pledges at every level.These pledges came from Rhizome supporters and people we've never met, members of the gaming community and digital preservation enthusiasts, people who worked on the games and members of the Duncan family.
We'll be working to fulfill Kickstarter rewards shortly.
The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have developed a significant body of work engaged (in its process, or in the issues it raises) with technology. See the full list of Artist Profiles here.
Jennifer Chan. Tralier for the exhibition "Young Money" (Future Gallery, 2012).
I remember when I first saw the videos you were making in 2012 while you were at Syracuse, and I recall feeling as though you were imitating a "bro net art aesthetic" as a way to critique it. For example, the trailer for your exhibition "Young Money" (above) includes a shot of you holding cash, a rotating pizza, and a floating rendering of a bong. But now, ironically, that has actually become your signature style and when I see others making videos in that vein, I think they are copying you. How do you feel your video style came to be, and now that you've been immersed in it for some years, why do you use the formal elements that you do?
I want to defensively say "I wasn't copying art bros; they're copying me!" but I really don't think there is any originality after the internet and in some sense we subconsciously or directly retain emotional and aesthetic affects of everything we see. I wasn't thinking it was particularly "bro-ey" style that informed works like Young Money[the eponymous video work of the exhibition by that title]...Before I discovered "postinternet" art I was watching a lot of amateur YouTube videomakers like Wendy Vainity, Epic Mealtime, and random videos of boys performing pranks and dares, so there were some definite influences from vloggers and pro-am producers. I noticed that people actually enjoyed performing "bro" ironically, and I wanted to channel that parodic pleasure. It can't and won't be about youth and fantasy forever though. I'm currently working on a 15-minute video about equality that bastardizes film and documentary tropes...
Bad videomaking seemed sincere, effortless and convenient for the net. My older videos were inspired by fan culture on YouTube and could be lumped in with screen-recorded videos, unboxings, and reviews made by young videogamers. A direct aesthetic influence was my friend Daniel Waldman who made videos for fun with Windows Movie Maker and posted every one of them on YouTube without caring whether people thought it was art or not.
@mikepepi asked on twitter recently, "What is a net art bro anyways?" Since you play so much with these tropes, I wonder how you would answer him? My fear is that it is easy to hear that term and not associate yourself with it. And Mike is right, no one has really defined the term, kind of letting a lot of people off the hook to not look inwardly and correct conscious or unconscious misogynist behaviors.
//You are an art bro if you're a man or a woman who thinks the art world is equal as is, and that there are no internal politics that exclude certain artists from participating and being as visible as you are. The art bro mostly validates the voices and work of men, in the same way men quote the words of other men who quote the words of other men–patrilineage produces patriarchy. Art bros don't believe in community or solidarity.
//To be more incendiary, I will cop pickup artist terms to compare art bros to the idea of an "alpha" or a "beta" male–terms created by the male seduction communities and men's rights blogospheres ("manosphere") to push insecure men to honor traditional ideas of masculinity. That's gender, it's always a self-conscious and precarious performance anyway. ;)
The alpha art bro is shameless, confident, sociopathically opportunistic, and defensive with professional critique. The beta may be polite and eloquent but he tip-toes around being a bro; he feels entitled and competitive to the accomplishments of art bros and schmoozes with who they perceive to be art power while crying bitter tears of rejection. Omega males do their own things; they don't believe in tribal feudalism, observe and get their opportunities while the alpha and beta dudes are pissfighting. The last "type" I didn't include in the flowchart is the ~chill bro~ with a bit of Peter Pan syndrome. He might smoke too much pot or be late all the time. He's apathetic to everything except his pleasure and just cruises on, working when he feels like it.
As you mention, you're directly influenced by popular internet culture and tropes. Your work plays with and against these tropes through imitation and exaggeration, but I have also noticed a personal narrative element that subtly moves through your work, often hidden beneath layers of humor and critique. Can you talk about your use of personal narrative and performance within your works? And how and why you tie that in with your interest in pop net?
I think pop experiences and ideologies contain universalities that people instantly latch onto or reject... in that way pop culture is unexpectedly political and persuasive. There are pleasures in the escapism it offers, such as karaoke and cover songs as affinity... There's a personal suturing to a text for its aspirational or fantastical qualities or how one ideologically aligns with it, just as there is a parodic pleasure in performing things you despise but indulge in ridiculing (Recall Alanis Morissette reperforming Fergie's My Humps in a sad way or James Franco making Bound 3 in a homophobic way?). Then there is a fan affinity or even a meticulous labor in the way people supercut moments of their favorite boyband member or even make careful tutorials of how to best use a certain software. This is all fandom; I personally love observing how people digest it and spit it out and right now, it happens to be how men define themselves in dialogue with popular ideas of masculinity, sex, romance and body image. It's a shared obsession.
I was born in Canada and grew up in Hong Kong; I don't think I noticed how powerfully syndicated American media (and subsequently, cultural values) were until I moved back to Canada and noticed there were Canadian content restrictions. For me, the personal subtext is a way of dealing with mediated fantasies and ideologies that don't apply to my condition or deliver ever, in real life.
In terms of performance and when I choose to appear, I mostly choose not to because there's no way to control the context of my image without being reduced to some "Asian chick." Like you said in a previous discussion on Mute: "When you put your body online, you're in dialogue with porn." And in Young Money, I emerge after the point-of-view ejaculation scene from behind the "hidden" camera and direct it on myself, to affirm I am the director who set up the scene up. So far, there isn't much user-generated porn made from women's perspectives and I thought it was important to pull that rug on viewers in addition to trivializing the "cumshot” trope in porn. All the way through before that it was just video collage of some dudes hanging out on skype and ordering pizza... the video might as well have been made by a dude. I guess I most often perform when other people perform for me, I feel a need to implicate myself to reveal my relationship to the performing subject or invoke pathos. Another way of thinking about this impulse is quotation, which people do when no one else has said it better. Because I think and work through "found" online media, I shoot only when a video of something I've thought up hasn't been shot already, and I perform when no one else can say something better from my perspective. This was the case in Important Objects where I was invited to make a selfie work for Museum of Internet and I made a video portrait of my nails, food and objects I find important as a way of distracting my bitter, heartbroken self. I suppose I enjoy the feel of being "present" but not being actually in front of a camera for the duration of a video.
In your piece "2011" you made for Sleek magazine, you keep the pop track but the personal narrative comes through a lot more clearly and directly than in your other work, as you narrate a story about your roommate sexually assaulting you. You do well at describing the banal reality of this act—that it can seem almost normal or expected for it to happen. You even start off by saying "Worse things could have happened to me," as though to negate the severity of the actual act and to kind of pre-emptively inform the viewer that you know it's not "that bad," to anyone who might say to you that you "let it happen." As a woman artist making work at times about your personal life or feelings, do you feel you are at liberty to express yourself the way you want to, or do you feel you have to couch your feelings/thoughts in a way to make them more digestible for an audience?
I said "not that bad" because people generally think rape is the worst thing that can happen to a woman—that it makes a rape survivor a "damaged good" or irreparably traumatized. The apathetic tone or blocking out of emotion was really how I dealt with it, I didn't get paranoid or break down afterwards... just very slowly became angry over years when I realized that my refusal to have sex was blurred and ignored by someone I had considered a friend. This article by Charlotte Shane best describes the realization and banality of living down sexual assault, and perhaps resounds more closely with date rape or assaults from exes, husbands, friends, acquaintances etc. One is way more likely to feel they are creating unnecessary (negative) attention around themselves when they call someone they know out for sexual violation, and that's how a lot of assault from people we know goes unreported.
What I learned from reflecting on all this is that it's possible for people to be regular nice people who open doors for the elderly, etc. AND also emotionally manipulate or pressure on people to have sex.
I am comfortably embarrassed with making these parts of my personal life public. I, like you, enjoy externalizing shame as a means of drawing empathy or discomfort about what people think are black-and-white social issues. I have a deep belief, like Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby, that art is for empathy and asking questions about human nature. Technology is only a means to an end of doing that.
Location: Chicago, IL.
How/when did you begin working creatively with technology?
I made Photoshop brushes and digital collages on DeviantArt in my teens. I was a goth-turned-emo kid and I remember buying a domain called "demonicseduction.tk" to show off my digital art. I made posters for local hardcore shows in Hong Kong. Here is one I scrounged up:
I didn't know about contemporary art until my second year of university, so back then this type of work was my sense of what design should be. I wanted to be a graphic designer.
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
I did a HBA in Communications, Culture, Information Technology at University of Toronto, and a MFA in Art Video at Syracuse University.
I think institutional support is really important for emerging artists but at the same time it makes them less likely to rebel against pre-existing schools of thought or market models.
What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously?
I do freelance work and part-time teaching. I've done some gallery admin and served ramen in Hong Kong before.
What does your desktop or workspace look like? (Pics or screenshots please!)