Artist Profile: David Kraftsow

David Kraftsow's Vlog Artifacts, is featured this month on The Download.

Screenshot of At My Funeral, 2011

Much of your work involves recontextualizing a lot of YouTube and Twitter content. Through this rearranging and reorganizing you compose and assign new meaning to the often banal, unwittingly revealing always-growing archive of user-uploaded videos and status updates. User content here surpasses individual critique and instead is aesthetically reframed and sometimes even gamified under your curation.  What does it mean for you to work with the uploads of others? What can you say about the role of the curator in this process?

I'm not really sure if "curation" is the right word to describe my YouTube projects. While I do, on occasion, go out and hand-pick specific content for display (like for my fun cat video blog or Violet Flame supercut), most of the rest of my YouTube work is either the result of an autonomous script, or a user-initiated generator.

For example, I have a cron (autonomously executing process) running for my At My Funeral project that specifies search criteria for YouTube videos with comments that contain the phrase "at my funeral". The script has generated a database of (to date) 21,000+ videos that people want to have played in their honor after they die. 

Does this kind of algorithmic selection count as curation? The result can be really interesting and even kind of comedic. There is something hilarious to me about mechanically collecting every single "better than Bieber" YouTube comment ever written. But, beyond the initial specification of the program that does the collecting, it doesn't involve any of my creative/curatorial input at all. The content is selected and displayed automatically. 

If curation can simply involve the design and execution of such an algorithm, then the role of the curator in this case seems to be very similar to that of a data miner. Both are interested in creating programs that mechanically extract hidden patterns to reveal new meanings from a large dataset.

In a 2009 Rhizome interview it’s mentioned you received a cease and desist letter from Google for your platform YooouuuTuuube. After briefly explaining Google’s argument, you hoped that they would continue to stand behind their ‘don’t be evil’ brand.  Slowly today, with revealing videos like Workers Leaving the Googleplex and corporations increasingly pressured into transparency, do you still feel their motto is applicable to themselves today? Could you walk through the legal processes of your own Google interaction and explain its current legal status?

I think the Google motto is interesting just in the fact that a corporation apparently felt that it wasn't enough to leave an ethical no-brainer like "Don't Be Evil" an unstated, common sense assumption. Instead they went and codified it into an actual corporate motto. This may have started originally as a kind of joke within the company about corporate culture or something. But as Google becomes bigger and bigger, and wields more and more influence in our lives, it seems they are under an obligation to take the motto very seriously. In some instances, they apparently don't do this.

Having said that, I don't think Google is currently, by-and-large, an evil company, but they could still change my mind! I did watch that Workers Leaving the Googleplex video when it first came out, and I remember thinking it was pretty overblown overall. I wasn't very convinced of any Great Google Atrocities in watching it.

And regarding the whole YooouuuTuuube thing: basically, what happened was their lawyers sent me a C&D stating that their main concern was the name of the project being too close to the YouTube trademark name, and that my use of their favicon was also an infringement of their copyright. In a fit of teen-rebellion, I changed the favicon to the CopyLeft symbol, and ignored the request to take the site down. Eventually they sent me another one, and I wrote back with a long letter emphasizing the project's status as an art piece with no competitive intention, and offered to move the project to a new domain but also to publicize the reason for the move. At this point the site had millions of visitors, and I guess they didn't really want to bother with it anymore since they never wrote me back after that.  

So, I can't actually say what the current status of the project is exactly. My best guess is "legal grey area".

A fun footnote on the topic of evil corporations: last year when I went to submit a mobile version of YooouuuTuuube to the iOS App Store, Apple rejected it immediately because the name was too close to "YouTube". It wasn't even their own trademark, but they still saw it as a reason for rejection. So I ended up being forced to change the name of the mobile version to (super lame) "MultiTube" because of this. Ironically, on the Google-controlled Android market, the original name was never an issue. Food for thought!

You work exclusively on the Internet and I’m curious if you’ve ever considered translating any of your works offline? Perhaps, First-Person Tetris is the closest to maybe revealing some of these desires, but do you ever feel the need to work offline? Or is the web the most flexible and fluid environment for you? How do you think browser based works can be restrictive or limiting?

I work mostly on the web because it reaches the most people. I grew up with it, and still love the idea of the web being this fluid, free, and open place. This has, sadly, started to change in the last decade with the rise of mobile platforms, walled-off social networks and other services. But as long as I can still make fun things that reach a lot of people, I'll continue to make web-based stuff. That said, I'm starting to get more into making mobile apps and also desktop things, and I'll probably be moving more in that direction in the future.

Similar to the authorship conflicts of Relational Aesthetics, Internet-based artwork that incorporates the outsourcing of creative labor or the mining of user content faces contention when perpetuated within the art economy where autonomous authorship is valorized above all.  As society and labor become more specialized where do you draw the line when acknowledging or attributing authorship? Are these notions merely misunderstood notions of democratic constituencies?

Is it a cliché to invoke the "everything is a remix" mantra? When YooouuuTuuube first started getting attention, I found myself thinking a lot about questions of authorship, especially with regards to the most popular configuration, a mashup-style remix of Disney's Alice In Wonderland. It's a fun example to go through and try to count the number of contributing authors: there's Lewis Caroll for writing the original narrative, then Disney's team of artists for animating a version of that narrative, then Pogo, the Australian musician who remixed that animation and put it on YouTube, then there's me for writing the YooouuuTuuube effect generator, and finally the person (as far as I can tell a Reddit user) who first decided to run Pogo's video through it. So that's five major points of authorship, but still ignoring the thousands of other people involved in making the work technically possible at all: YouTube employees, server managers, programmers who made the tools we use, etc.

I don't see how any one entity can claim total creative authorship, although I'm sure Disney's lawyers might see it differently. I don't, however, think that this kind of case renders the notion obsolete. Authorship, at least in a very abstract sense, is actually pretty straightforward: you are simply the author of the part of the work that originated with you. Yes, you are always going to be indebted to a logistical and cultural background, but that's the case with literally everything you do anyway. I think the idea is still a coherent one, at least insofar as it applies on an abstract level. Practical, legal authorship is another matter, which I think is hopelessly confused, and also kind of vulgar. It seems like legal authorship is really just about who has the monetary rights to a work, like in the Richard Prince or Jeff Koons lawsuits. I understand why those kinds of issues arise, and I'm actually somewhat sympathetic with the plaintiffs in those cases, but it doesn't seem like the system is at all equipped to handle them with any real nuance. Though I'm not exactly qualified to be commenting on this kind of thing. 

As the web becomes increasingly trodden down with restrictions both hidden and brazen, how do you think it will impact your own practice as well as the creative applications of others? What can we do?

The only thing I really hate about the Internet right now is the growing number of walled gardens and closed-off platforms that splinter the web into a bunch of disjointed, restricted factions. As far as my things go, I've mostly tried to just ignore this shift, or work around it, or engage with it in such a way that it forces an otherwise closed system to be open. I miss Web 1.0, but technology marches on. I don't want to be get too weighted down with pointless nostalgia, so I just try to change with the internet, but on my own terms. I will always maintain total control over my own domains, and my own hosting, for example. But some of the conveniences of the modern web, as insidious as they might end up being in the long run, are hard to pass up. Tumblr's simple blog format or Twitter's ability to use their login on your site are good examples of this. I guess the only thing we can really do is use the services that are the least restrictive and vocally oppose the ones that don't carry on in the spirit of the web's early carefree days. :)







How long have you been working creatively with technology? How did you start?

Since I was a real little kid. My first computer was a Mac Classic, and I was in love with it. It had an old copy of black & white Photoshop, and I would mess around with that for hours and hours. I also loved hacking with ResEdit and HyperCard. I once tried to make my own HyperCard version of MYST with images I had rendered in a demo version of Bryce 3D that I hacked. I was obviously a huge hit with the ladies.

Describe your experience with the tools you use. How did you start using them?

I use a lot of different tools. Among them, the Adobe suite for design stuff, and a number of different Eclipse builds for coding. I mostly work with the Apache/MySQL/PHP stack on the back-end and the Flash platform client-side. I know it's extremely unfashionable at the moment, but I still love Flash. (Hi Haters!!) I got into it when I was in college, since the ActionScript 3 language was very similar to the Java I was writing for class projects. Most people who hate on Flash don't appreciate how Flash's AVM (Actionscript Virtual Machine) actually fulfilled Java's original promise on the web: write once, run anywhere. But where Java was cumbersome and slow to load, the Flash plugin was only a few MB and quick to initialize, which is a big reason why it's so widely adopted now. I still have a special place in my heart for virtual machines, and I don't think many people realize how good (despite its myriad of hacks and security issues) the AVM actually is. They also don't seem to know that you can write great Flash apps for free. You don't have to pay Adobe to be a developer. The majority of the platform is relatively open.

Where did you go to school? What did you study?

University of Central Florida for Computer Science

What traditional media do you use, if any? Do you think your work with traditional media relates to your work with technology?

You mean like dead bugs and animal hides and plants and stuff?

Are you involved in other creative or social activities (i.e. music, writing, activism, community organizing)?

Not presently. I used to try to play drums when I didn't live in New York, but that was awhile ago. I love music and would love to get into making music in the future, but I just haven't found the time.

What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously? Do you think this work relates to your art practice in a significant way?

Freelance advertising/digital media work. I'm sure it's had a subconscious effect on some of the things I do, but I can't think of anything where I've explicitly tried to relate it. I'm skeptical of advertising as an industry, but at the same time I know some profoundly creative people that work in it who produce really beautiful ideas despite their consumerist restrictions. These people are inspirations to me just on a general level.

Who are your key artistic influences?

This is hard to pin down, because I'm really bad at remembering names. I remember specific projects very vividly though. I know Cory Arcangel and John Michael Boling have influenced me. I was aware of the work of both those guys before I really knew their names. The first thing I saw by Cory Arcangel was Pizza Party and it kind of killed me. I didn't know who made it or that it was considered an artwork until later. I love that project. Other people like Christian Marclay, Paul Pfieiffer and that guy I think all influence me on some level. Also the entire spectrum of internet content creators in aggregate: YouTube commentors, cool tweeters, people who make vids of their cats... too many to list.

Have you collaborated with anyone in the art community on a project? With whom, and on what?

I haven't really yet, but I would like to. I have a lot of dumb video ideas, like ideas for web videos or whatever. But I don't know anything about how to film stuff or produce that kind of project. Also I have a lot of supercut ideas that may never get made because I'm too lazy. If anyone reading this wants to make videos with me, get in touch plz!

Do you actively study art history?

I wouldn't say actively. I took a class on 20th century art in school, and often get absorbed in Wikipedia & Google Art Project (and even sometimes go to museums IRL!) but I wouldn't call it an active pursuit.

Do you read art criticism, philosophy, or critical theory? If so, which authors inspire you?

I do have a kind of amateur interest in philosophy. I take continuing education classes and listen to a lot of podcasts and online lectures. I never got a chance to formally study much in the way of humanities as a CS student, so I've been slowly trying to fill the gaps in my knowledge. I just finished three John Searle courses that are available through Berkeley's online lecture offerings, and have grown to appreciate the level of clarity that comes from the ordinary language approach to solving big problems. I wouldn't say it really influences the things I make, however. And I don't really read much Theory or art criticism. On occasion, I'll stumble into some stuff online and will often feel either hopelessly lost or like I'm wasting my time parsing obscurantist trivialities. But this may just be the result of my low tolerance for what I perceive as the over-intellectualization of art, most likely due to my technical background.

Are there any issues around the production of, or the display/exhibition of new media art that you are concerned about?

Not really, but I haven't been asked to exhibit my things all that much. Though every time I see a computer in a gallery running a piece of net art or whatever, I do think it can look a little out of place. Like the internet, which anyone can access from anywhere, has been forced into this stodgy artificial context which does little to reproduce the wonderful experience of surfing around from site to site and suddenly discovering something really beautiful in the middle of your living room. But it's no big deal. Besides, if we didn't put websites in galleries then how else would we know that they've been officially canonized as cool artworks? :)