YouTube Censors Petra Cortright, But 'VVEBCAM' Lives on in the Rhizome ArtBase

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RIP 2007-2011 – 65,403 views

On Saturday December 10th 2011, Petra Cortright received an email stating that a video of hers had been flagged by a member of the YouTube Community. The automatically generated email said that upon review it was verified that the video did indeed violate the terms of the YouTube Community Guidelines and has thus been removed. The video in question, titled "VVEBCAM" was uploaded to YouTube in 2007. It has exhibited internationally, is discussed in several new media and contemporary art texts, and is taught in academic curricula.

The video, likely known to most readers, features Cortright mundanely clicking through the stock effects of a $20 webcam, gazing bored into the screen of her computer, trance playing in the background. Far from offensive content. The violation lies in Cortright's use of keywords. The video description contained 733 keywords, ranging from "tits, vagina, sex, nude, boobs" to "san francisco, diego, jose, puto, taco bell, border patrol, mcdonalds, KFC, kentucky fried chicken, trans fat".

Cortright told us over email that she appealed the decision. She explained to YouTube that the video and its contents were part of an original artwork. She referenced interviews that have explained the importance of the use of "spam" in the video's description. Four hours later her appeal was denied, and the video now has ceased to exist on YouTube. The work is also defunct on the artists website, where the video was embedded via YouTube.

Thankfully Rhizome has recently archived VVEBCAM in the ArtBase. We worked with Cortright to create an archival representation of the work as it existed on her site. We have replaced the broken YouTube video with an HTML5 player that references local files and emulates (at least approximately) the look and feel of the original YouTube player.

 

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Artist Profile: Petra Cortright

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So Wet (2011), installation shot at Preteen Gallery


Nearly every video piece of yours seems to have the distinct aesthetic of webcam footage, from the fluttery movements to the unusual compression artifacts and use built-in filters and effects. Is there something in these particular 'defaults' that you're drawn to?

i like webcam bcause the vid files are a small size and i can make many tests because most of my outtakes are stupid. they arent filling up the harddrive and slowing down the computer. also it renders faster. and its not high def so its not a magnifying glass its a veil. also the effects on the webcam softwares are very beautiful and fun to work with. also i can see myself and i dont need any help to film the webcam video, i can see myself an what i am doing so then i can see what is failing / working.

A great deal of your video work is posted on Youtube, often practically right alongside the videos that seem to inspire some of your performances (from random vloggers to the ubiquitous home videos of people dancing and lip-syncing). Do you think it's important that your work is presented in the same environment? Do you consider the 'baggage' of youtube (aggressive commenters, a somewhat intrusive user interface) when making the work?

i just use youtube as a tool, i cant say i am like "philosophically" into it. its convenient. but i have to say though that the comments are a special gift. always a highlight to get them because they are really real. also they are very funny. theyre all over the board, its more much intersting and more reflective of the internet and what its about and its more constructive and useful. and entertaining.

In an interview ...

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