Mark Amerika - Interview


Immobilité - Big Screen Remix

Tell me a bit about your art/video practice leading to this point in your career, and how this artistic journey has led to your new book "remixthebook"?

It all starts with my experiments in writing and reading and an early side interest in drawing, music, philosophy and TV - and I mean mainstream TV, especially comedy. In my late teens and early twenties I wrote a few short stories and novellas and, meanwhile, as an undergraduate in Florida I studied with the French film artist Alain Robbe-Grillet. He co-wrote Last Year at Marienbad which is a classic experimental film, but he also directed films like The Immortal One, The Man Who Told Lies, and Successive Slides Into Pleasure, films that investigate the relationship between reality, imagination and the way we construct our memories, especially through the lens of the erotic. 

After studying with Robbe-Grillet, I was accepted into UCLA and started attending their film school where I began working in film and video as well continued my creative writing practice. But that time in L.A. was short-lived. The main issue for me was that I could not really afford to produce the kinds of feature length films I wanted to create, and I did not want to compromise my practice, so I opted to leave L.A. and instead moved back East to further develop my experimental creative writing practice. It took almost eight years and a move to Colorado but eventually I was publishing what have since been referred to as my cult novels (The Kafka Chronicles (1993) and Sexual Blood (1995)), but something unexpected was also happening at this time: while living in Boulder, I was in a band called Dogma Hum whose members were software engineers and who were actively engaged with something called the Internet, and so I drifted on to the net in 1992 and never looked back. If you look at my main net art trilogy - GRAMMATRON (1997), PHON:E:ME (1999), and FILMTEXT (2001-2002), you'll see a move toward experimental forms of multimedia narrative for net-distributed environments. Not really film/video per se, but not cult novels either.

These net art works, and especially the last one in the series, FILMTEXT, attracted a lot of attention and in 2001, I was invited to perform FILMTEXT in a live context. The event was in Lucerne, a beautiful town surrounded by the Alps, and was titled "Surf-Sample-Manipulate" (S-S-M). This theme, S-S-M, was actually one I had invented in 1996 in a column I was writing for the German magazine Telepolis. At the time, I was hoping to theorize new methods of practice for the emerging net art scene. S-S-M was net art practice meets remix practice. So to perform at an event built around a theme modeled on my theories presented a challenge. Eventually, what we did, was mash-up live writing with what we would now call VJing and sound art conducted by my collaborator Chad Mossholder. Really, it was more like Web-spinning since the net was the live source material we were bringing into the mix. Little did I know it at the time, but that was the start of the VJ Persona tour that would finds it way around the world over the next five years.

Skip ahead a bit and that brings us to right now where I am investigating the creative potential of experimental narrative in relation to networked and mobile media technologies, transmedia distribution formats, and expanded forms of live A/V performance. What stands out for me as I look back to the early work, even in my late teens, is that through the different media genres (novels, hypertexts, net art, VJing, large-scale installation, and now the feature-length "foreign films") I have been practicing a kind of ‘hyperimprovisational remixology’ all throughout my trajectory. remixthebook is another experimental performance that theorizes and narrativises these scenes I have been lucky enough to pass through and jam with. I think of it as a well-edited, hybrid publication that is part print book (University of Minnesota Press) and part digital performance / intersubjective jam session (remixthebook.com).

A long answer, I know, but you asked :)


Immobilité - Bucharest

Tell me about Mobile Phone Video Art Classics and Immobilité, and what inspired you to make your work using mobile video?

A few things triggered MPVAC. First, I am a practice-based researcher and professor who has been running a new media art lab at The University of Colorado. So I am always interested in seeing what new developments are happening in digital creativity. In remixthebook I write about what it means to tap into ones unconscious readiness potential while working with and against the new media apparatuses that we have access to. For example, in early 2006 a first-generation Nokia phone that comes with shitty video recording technology piques my interest. I am into low-tech glitch aesthetics and this presents me with a fantastic opening to start playing with the source material and the various contexts the source material is delivered in and accessed. I knew I was one of the first, if you will, meta-media artists who, who would have a chance to video capture film and video artworks on his phone. I immediately wanted to investigate the subjects of art history and art tourism. What I had to figure out was how to go to museums and get away with filming classic works of moving image art. Since I am always on tour and often get invited around the world to speak and present my work, I am lucky in that I see all kinds of classic artworks wherever it is that I am (and underground works as well -- but MPVAC was focused on the ‘classics’). 

For MPVAC, I wanted to playfully focus on this idea of classics. Obviously, there can be no mobile phone video art classics because mobile phone video art does not exist in 2006-2007. So what I end up doing is using my mobile phone to video record a lot of exhibited works from Warhol, Nauman, Paik, Brakhage, etc. The Warhol exhibition I went to was a gold mine in that it had rare Screen Tests of Susan Sontag, Baby Jane Holzer, and many others. The security guards were not familiar with video recording on phones, only photos, so I could find ways to capture it under their noses without compromising their positions either. 

I also started experimenting with playful hand held techniques while mobile phone video recording images on the Web. I have a bunch of these, but the one that made it into the final cut was the section titled "Battles of the Sexes: The Marilyn Manson Madonna Remix" where I basically use still images off the web and a kind of masturbatory handheld gesture to create this simple yet funny genderfuck moment.

These experimental hand held gestures become much more sophisticated as does the mobile phone video recording technology by the time I start work on Immobilité. Immobilité is another story altogether. A much more complex, expansive, and mind-altering story that just happened to be captured on mobile phone while I was literally living it as a remixolgically generated or autohallucinatory fiction, which is what life is anyway, right?

I read your written accompanying piece "Immobilité: The Postproduction Of Presence: A Director's Notebook" and thought it very philosophical and poetic––was it intended to be a post production interpretation or textual manifestation of the piece or an abstract journal of your conceptual process, as "Director's Notebook" implies? Can you discuss this a bit? as I felt the connection between the written and what little I've seen of the finished (the trailer online), was quite hard to see, perhaps seeing the whole work I would see it more, but can you walk me through it briefly?

As you can tell, "briefly" is difficult for me. But your question is spot on and this would be a good entry point into how Immobilité came to be. I was fortunate that a group of artists and theorists in Falmouth were interested in having me spend some time in Cornwall as an artist in residence. Kate Southworth, the sorceress behind the iRES lab at the University College Falmouth, Ana Carvahlo, and Brendan Byrne, were initially responsible for me being invited there. And many others were there too, including Magda Tyzlik-Carver who in addition to being a network theorist herself also appeared in the work, and Nancy Roth who was translating some important media theory books by Vilém Flusser, a writer who was very much on my mind those days. In fact, those Flusser books she was translating just got published by University of Minnesota who also published remixthebook.

The Falmouth crew asked me what I would want to do if I came out for an extended visit, and I said I wanted to improvise a feature-length "foreign film" shot entirely on mobile phone with no script and that we would go with whatever the best phone was at the time of my arrival. That ended up being the Nokia N95. They were totally supportive of that idea, for which I am eternally grateful. 

Still, even with all of these loose parameters in place, there was this enormous challenge ahead of me. I was excited by it because I already had a strong background working in experimental narrative in book form, hypertext, net art, and what we sometimes call live cinema or VJing. Now, even though the work would be created without a traditional script, there is and always will be writing. As we were saying at the beginning of our conversation, everything starts with writing. So I began taking notes and expanding on them while shooting. The creative process coincided with what I referred to earlier as my ongoing investigation into the unconscious creative or readiness potential that resides within all of us, and that must be tapped into intuitively to even begin to have a chance of seducing the right source material at the exact moment we need it to perform our best postproduction sets. So while I was producing the work, I began writing out a theory of postproduction that has very little to do with the mainstream version of that term - either how-to-edit-video books or Bourriaud's book on the subject (which has its moments and that I teach in my Remix Culture graduate seminar). My version of the concept postproduction is more philosophical and related to daily practice - to ritual remix practice.

For me, as you see in remixthebook, theory is not academic per se. It's part of the same story that you find in my novels, hypertext, net art - and yes, in these new feature-length works like Immobilité (samples from remixthebook are in Immobilité and vice-versa). This means that an e-book like ‘The Postproduction Of Presence: A Director's Notebook’ was actually composed before, during, and after shooting, and then remixed for the e-book publication. Most of the source material you see in the e-book originally appeared in different form as in-process thoughts on my Professor VJ blog while (always) in (post)production. 

I have not been able to see the piece Immobilité itself––is it only available in a gallery context or did/ will you distribute it eventually to mobile phones? or online?

Sorry the "feature-length" version has not made it to a city near you. It's had extended exhibition runs in New York, Athens, and Denver, and was on tour throughout parts of Brazil. I always find it ironic that it's never enjoyed an extended exhibition run in the UK, where it was made, but that's life in the 21st century. The premiere book launch for remixthebook was in Rio de Janeiro, so go figure.

Looking back on the distribution and availability of the work, I realise that it presents itself as an alternative form of transmedia narrative, one that intersects with and challenges the art and film markets. I have gifted most of my work to the distributed Internet community and this has been a very positive experience for me. But I have also participated in the more restrictive, possessive and overly protective museum and gallery culture selling unique or limited edition artworks. So I have often thought, why not invent something viable that can exist as a kind of hybrid of these two worlds, i.e. the gift economy of the Net and the elitist art world that has museum culture at its core but that is also supposedly interested in sharing work vis-a-vis its collection and exhibition schedules. For example, in this particular instance, why not buy a transmedia work like Immobilité, and by that I mean the Web site with all of its transmedia aspects, the iPhone app, the ephemera, etc., and of course the feature-length "foreign film" - buy it, embed the long-form version in its own media player on the museum Web site, and give it away for free as a part of your permanent collection? It seems so easy, especially since in this case the artist not only would agree to it but is making it a precondition for purchasing the work. This seems like a really smart model for preserving contemporary transmedia art. The institutional collectors are going to have to step up to the plate.

Tell me a bit more about your new book and what you hope it will say to your readers and teach a new generation of video/media artists/performers, digital natives who have grown up with mobile and social media?

The most important thing the book proposes is to use your imagination or someone else will use it for you. The "born-digital" generation is facing a huge challenge, and that is to invent themselves over and over again as they immerse themselves in this social media art practice of everyday life. There is no going back to "the way things were" so this means that to really survive in networked and mobile media culture, you have to teach yourself to be a remix artist. The practice of remix or mashup is so much more than taking two video or audio sources and creating a new work out of them that you then upload to Vimeo. It's actually more of a trance ritual transfigured in time, one that starts with dreaming and then makes it way into waking life and daydreaming and using your imagination to creatively visualize and/or hack into your reality. What makes it a social media art practice is that you have to approach it as part of a formal collaboration within your distributed network, even if your style is decidedly informal. Once you teach yourself to formally compose an on-the-fly remix that samples from the data of your experience and the experience of all of your creative co-conspirators, opportunities start opening up that enable you to invent new social media art practices that nurture your creative trajectory instead of getting stuck in the black hole of corporate-generated media consumerism. Remixing is hacking. A social media remixer is a reality hacker. It's very William Burroughs-esque. 

Is there anything else that you would like to say or add?

What's the difference between a moving image and a mobile image? 

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