Army of YouTube

Faced with the awe-inspiring popularity of web-monoliths like YouTube, contemporary art risks becoming nothing more than a quaint relic of the 20th century.

It’s probably not fair to compare contemporary art practice with YouTube; yet there is evidence to suggest that somewhere in the ulterior of its collective brain, the art world does just this, and finds itself lacking. How else to understand the ongoing assurances given in art exhibition press releases and catalogue essays about the important role the viewer plays in the construction of meaning – and the intention to facilitate it with this very exhibition?

If artists once played a leading – avant garde – role in providing a complex and forward-looking framework for reflection on the contemporary world, it now seems most comfortable bringing up the rear, providing explanations for developments already intuitively understood and widely enjoyed by the culture at large.

20 thoughts on “Army of YouTube

  1. October 12, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    This is a topic close to my heart at the moment, currently i am working on some research which leads to two exhibitions/shows/events around the position of the artist individual and the group, as well as
    the questions around exhibiting art as an individual. I mean, when you are invited to participate in an exhibition, be it a solo or group
    show, there is an initial act of faith between artist and exhibitor, then some kind of coalescence, and then a realisation that the situation does not really any longer belong to either artist or
    exhibitor. I was thinking about the novel The Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton, about a poet/anarchist who is met by an undercover
    policeman and invited to have a drink, subsequently finding himself as one of an anarchist cell, and finally finding it was all an elaborate game dreamt up by the police chief/uber anarchist.

    This all came about through working with the french art collective France Fiction, who set themselves up according to an elaborate game of marbles.

    Plus at the moment i have an ant colony taking over the kitchen and bathroom!

  2. October 13, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    Last spring Rodney Graham was putting together a piece for a group show that I think he said was somewhere in Greece.

    Artists were invited to put together/curate a list/program of videos off youtube. I can’t remember any details about the show but Rodney’s list is available on youtube and it is pretty great. It is funny too because it starts with that fucking awesome Bar-Kays at Wattstax that you have in your piece.


  3. October 14, 2009 at 7:35 am

    Well I certainly feel that much “contemporary art” would function much better outside of the museum, outside the context of art. It is embarrassing that certain practitioners rely on the justification of the art system when their “art” is so much more important in other ways. Nonetheless, there is still a category called art, a discipline. Something this category can give us is an experience that is not like the rest of culture. With YouTube the content varies, but the experience is always the same. Art will give an experience of reality.

  4. October 14, 2009 at 7:38 am

    Great article. I touched on a similar subject (You Tube with reference to 70s video art) in a brief text I wrote for the Communism of Forms exhibition early this year. In my case, I made analogy between Cable TV as a means for dissemination of video in the 70s and You Tube as a current means. I also referenced Rosalind Krauss’ seminal article, “Video Art and Narcissism” in light of how single shot/non-edited postings on You Tube deal with the same kind of body and narcissism issues that 70s video artists did but, as with the work you note, without necessary having a knowledge of video art.

    I would be interested in any other articles/writers dealing with this issue.

  5. October 16, 2009 at 1:21 am

    go make some art rosemary
    tell me the feeling of pulling off a painting or collaging images or coloured paper with scissors and glue or hanging your photographs on a wall and sitting back adjusting lights, turning out the lights in a room , spotlighting a sculpture or object that you make with your hands or that a friend made. or a drawing made by a child or by yourself with a mere pencil. tell me that got anything to do with watching a plugged in computer screen with its nauseating sameness and monotonal emotional levels. tell me thats got anything to do with looking at art with a friend or visiting an artists studio and the feeling of tactile wholeness and connectedness to the future and this bygone past that youtube and its few seconds of engagement provides. becaus it doesnt. and it never has. and those of us that make art and still make art despite the masses meeeting in cyberspace over the glowing electric pixels know that nothing even the promise of more people and more immediacy will bump us out of our intimate closeness with the material world which extends outwards from our bodies.
    the body rosemary doesnt exist in cyberspace

  6. October 16, 2009 at 1:23 am

    thats just my first thoughts about it.if youtube challenges anything its not arrt. it might be television and passivity. but its not art.

  7. October 16, 2009 at 1:32 am

    sorry but the bygone era is not so bygone as i would sit and watch an el greco painting or a jackson pollock for indefinite time as it renews itself endlessly. there is contemporary art which does the same thing. it acts and changes endlessly and provides a bridge to itself and to its maker which is unlike any experience. it is an experience which is closer to listening to a person speak or sharing a interesting view of a thing an event. it is like listeneing to glenn gould play a piano recorded or live or anytime. no not everybody can play a piano and thats not a problem for me. there are things we can all do and which make us different from eachother enough to appear as eccentric or as communal on youtube but thats its own bag. its not like someone who can make a painting in such a way or sing in such a way whose uniqueness and attention to its being has the resonance of being here, either on video or live or anywhere and youtube is nothing more than a new bulletin board or meeting place for people and it comes with so many limitations dont get me started. actually i dont cae because youtube is fine with me.

  8. October 16, 2009 at 2:15 am

    and something else which should have bene th most obvious thing to me. some of us were born gifted with abilites for drawing pictures. we need to draw. its natural for us. its natural to paint or dance or play piano and we have a natural aptitude or ‘gift’ for it. people enjoy watching listening or looking at our performances or products and it give them a sense of what human beings are capable of they are inspired and moved or bored by our art. youtube can try compete but we have already been expresing ourselves all these years and to put it bluntly ican make art with mud and stick if i should happen to need tools.

  9. October 16, 2009 at 5:39 am

    and by the way i have never tried to nor have i ever wanted my work to function as a flash mob event does. the idea that what i or my friends art would function in this way is a ludicrous idea.

  10. October 22, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    I agree with a lot of your analysis; I’m the last person to defend the extant art system, as you well know. I like your conclusion: “but it also has the effect of relegating much of the activity that currently takes place within the art context proper to the status of mere mannered relics of a bygone age.”

    But wasn’t that true even before the rise of YouTube? I think one could make a more Marxist analysis blaming the irrelevance of art as an avant-garde or even subversive practice on its total capitulation to corporate interests and its slavish devotion to the capricious practices of unregulated free market capitalism.

    YouTube aside, the art system had already become a Ponzi scheme in and of itself, effectively diminishing its production of meaning in favour of commodity fetish. But then of course you could argue, as you do, that YouTube is the great new populist art form that subverts all these superstructures and capitalist machinations. Unfortunately, populism for me hasn’t really worked since the forties, before the mass market became infected by supply side economics, when the average income populous was given access to quality goods and more sophisticated pop cultural entertainment.

    The other thing that makes me skeptical of your adulation of YouTube is the temptation to mistake America’s Funniest Home Videos (or most Nuit Blanche products, probably) for “art”. True, a lot of it is better than most gallery art, but I still don’t think what is being produced is necessarily revolutionary, or even avant-garde. (I’m only partly sympathetic to the Michael Jackson flash-mob stuff, for example. It’s kind of cool, but also pretty much lacking in any kind of analysis or true subversive energy: it might just have well been staged by Pepsi or the Jackson Family Reunion Tour.) Also, I think we may just be in a transitional stage with YouTube.

    Not to be a Debbie Downer, but it will become much more regulated and commercialized in the near future. Finally, I still can’t post most of my movies on YouTube as it censors its more extreme content without, as I’m sure you know, any explanation or possibility of appeal. That’s still not so good. But then again, maybe pornography is also a mere mannered relic of a bygone age. Although I guess I could post them on X-Tube, but it’s not quite the same, is it? Xxx Blab

    p.s. Oh, the art thing. Really? I mean, that’s how Japan operates, supposedly, or on the Marxist side, the former Soviet Union. Do you suppose we’re man enough to give up our bourgeois, selfish, ego-driven identities in favour of the big pop culture factory? Perhaps state art is the future after all?

  11. October 22, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    hi blab

    thanks for this nice thoughtful response. i like
    what you said about populism in the 40s. thats very interesting. something i would like to know more about.

    i am really really fascinated by the way youtube has been picked up as a tool and a communication medium. the basic impression i get is that significant cultural energy has left the art world – which at the
    moment is a bloated monstrosity mostly interested in a) creating value for its investors b) fulfilling its institutional imperatives, as dictated from above. most work being made now seems like ‘placeholder art’ while we wait for something to happen. the basis of my observation is really quite simple: youtube (and facebook and twitter,
    etc.) has a vitality that the artworld lacks. so, what to make of this?

    also another reason i wrote that text is because i am fascinated by the way people experience history – or not (and maybe im more interested in the ‘not’ as that seems to be more common). so i am just
    wondering how transformed is the world going to be by the digital revolution. i think the ‘america’s funniest home videos’ crack is fair enough, but im not sure that the question about whether its art or not is the right one. art could just become a “quaint relic” – as you’ve in the past said it kind of already is obselete.

    i always like to remind myself: hippie parents couldn’t recognize their punk offspring. i think that’s what’s happening now: things are
    changing, thats obvious. but why cant we recognize it? probably only because institutions are heavily invested in what’s already known. they are by definition, a bit behind the curve. in that sense, i am aware what i am saying is somewhat unfair to artists. there is lots of good art being made. so there you go, its a critique that throws the
    baby out with the bathwater. i admit to being guilty of that.

    one other thing, you say you can’t put your work on youtube – but why would you want to? wasnt your intention to make art that couldnt be
    absorbed by the mainstream? think my point was that art tries to be mainstream at its own peril, but nonetheless it suffers from a touch of popularity envy. so that points to a confusion about what its role is supposed to be. a long time ago i remember talking with you about the concept of ’selling out’. to your credit, you certainly have not
    done this, but changes in the culture as a whole mean that maybe the concept itself has lost its bearing points.

    also, the point about ‘ants’ is maybe too cynical, but its meant to point out the kind of robotic, colourless quality a lot of work being made today has. i really really do not want to be nostalgic for the 20th century. so im just looking around and trying to see what our actual options are: and its hitting me over the head, even though it might appear to be ’silly or trivial’ or ‘not real or producing anything’ – as other people have taken pains to point out to me when i have had similar conversations with them.

    anyway. i dont know. nice to have this conversation with you.


  12. October 26, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    There are numerous references in this discussion about the “robotic, colorless quality a lot of work being made today.” I don’t think we can generate this type of zeitgeist about contemporary art unless we are willing to actually criticize and articulate just what it is that makes art so supposedly bland. We already know that Youtube is changing our image world. But if all we can level at contemporary art is that its objects are complicit with capitalism, well then we will have a hard time propounding Youtube any better. If the “sell outs” in contemporary art are so apparent, why aren’t we criticizing them more brutally! Why aren’t we articulating the formal and conceptual and poetical problems of this art? Arguing about who sold out and who didn’t is cheap connoisseurship. We need more meat.

  13. hey Rosemary

    great article! and there’s so much more to talk about! (I’m writing(trying to write) something tangential about 1970s video
    being a preview of youtube)

    love the inadequacy of relational aesthetics comments. It makes me feel better about myself.
    Concerning your thoughts on YouTube and emergence you may enjoy Bruno Latour’s writing on Actor Network Theory ANT

    thanks for sharing!!

  14. The memories of life without the internet are now distant enough to make it easy to take it for granted.

    Consider the music industry. In the past, if an artist wanted wider distribution of their music they were at the mercy of an empty suit behind a desk. The internet, especially youtube, has made it possible to eliminate the middlemen who exercised almost complete control over the industry.

    Youtube has the ability to bring art to those who would have never known art even existed.

    There are millions of people in the world who have few options. For the poorest people living in the most oppressive dictatorships, their only chance to communicate, if any, is via the internet.

    In the US, if you’re a kid who lives in a slum, have crack addict parents and a school that doesn’t have enough books or any computers, you know that every public library has computers with internet access. If you go to the Central Phoenix library, kids who have access wait for their turn on the limited number of computers in the online line.

    Youtube is malleable. If you reject it for what it is, you squander the opportunity to contribute to what it could be.

  15. Thanks for the link to your article. The Flash Mob tributes was great to see.

    It’s definitely a change of venue with radical networking at high speeds. Another Pop revolution. Technology always changes the world and art will always be there to respond. You really think the MOMA will crumble along with the NY Times

  16. yo rosemary, nice to see you other day,

    have you ever seen this?

    from here:

    they’re a post-middle aged couple who make videos for people(ie,. you can pay them to make a video for you for your anniversary). the hilarious part about them is that on all the blogs people are like
    “ARE THESE GUYS FOR REAL OR ARE THEY PERFORMANCE ARTISTS????” and usually it’s like “if it’s real it’s awesome, if it’s performance art it’s not so awesome” which makes me feel bad as a performance artist. but because it’s real: makes me feel good for the real world.

    The thing cory arcangel talked about that I empathized with was: he showed a video of baby crying autotuned (“real” youtube) and then he
    showed a video he made of stairway to heaven autotuned (or something like that) and it was sooo obvious the baby video was so much better
    (ie. “real” youtube wins?) and he expressed this feeling of half-shame half-amazement, like how can his art practice compare?? well, so, but that’s always what the artist faces right? pollack vs
    “the beauty of a real woman” – “How can you paint something as beautiful as a real woman” (is that pollack? I dunno)

    But ya if the art world has anything to learn from youtube its probably something about how people don’t need institutional approval to be interested in things: people are interested in all kinds of
    things, girls pooing in a cup, cats, whatever, obama, STUFF. they don’t need the Pompadour centre to tell them it’s great. they don’t need 20,000,0000$ in backing and Scotiabank. white paint bla bla bla. I guess maybe thats also why “relational” stuff feels so bad, like I
    need to go to the guggenheim to sit on bean bag chairs? fuck you!

  17. Hi Rosemary,
    Great article. as you know i “sold out” and left the security of that quaint relic of the art world long ago. i have found myself in the strange and wonderful corporate and commercial world of social media and I am happy to hear some witty critique of these two spaces. – its weird but I almost cried watching the Michael Jackson tribute. but I can cry at a good Pepsi commercial too. i guess I am just very easily manipulated that way. i am also a big fan of Beuys’ faith – human potential and a new perspective (of the many) that does not rely on the old models of personality and identity, and this comes as a big relief to me.
    Thanks for starting this conversation!

  18. Rosem

    army of youtube is a good article

    gives me many points to ruminate on

    especially true for us here in vancouver where the sheer scale of
    economy around olympics and how it is sweeping up everything in its

    i am optimistic though

    the more youtube we have the more crap we need to consume this i am sure of

    there is hope for us yet


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