Five Videos: Jennifer Chan's I Like To Watch

Five Videos is an online series "hosted" by Rhizome, in collaboration with FACT, responding to the Liverpool Biennial's theme, The Unexpected Guest. Each week throughout the Liverpool Biennial, a new artist will curate five videos about hospitality. This week, Jennifer Chan considers web videos before and after the age of Youtube:

The notion of hospitality prompts me to think of radical openness— an approach that accounts for anomaly, dissent, and oddity. Openness is widely associated with participatory nature of the Web 2.0, but by nature of the longtail, not all information on the web is useful. As the use of “YouTube video” has become interchangeable with “online video”, I’m going to explore what amateur video looked like before and after YouTube’s advent in 2005.

“All Hail The Necrowizard!”

In the early 2000s, simple Flash animations like Stick Death and Return of the Necrowizard were a source of cathartic entertainment for bored youngsters on the internet. These animations could be found at game portals and entertainment websites like Newgrounds and Originally hosted on — which is no longer active — Stick Death included short animated webisodes that depicted stickmen performing antisocial gestures to themselves and each other.

StickDeath, Auto Thefts, (2002)

Return of the Necrowizard (2006) is a fan video for an acoustic Black metal band called Impaled Northern Moonforest. Promoted through their hokey website and online video, the DIY music project consisted of Josh Martin and and Seth Putnam (now deceased), who are former members of a grindcore band Anal Cunt. In this video, poorly drawn witches, frowny moons, and upturned crosses satire the androcentric sadness of Black metal.

Author Unknown, Return of the Necrowizard, 2006.

V is for Vernacular

Within an art context, “vernacular” is employed to describe something as “referential” to a certain medium. Whereas in postcolonial studies, vernacular means “culturally specific”. For example, a screenshot is vernacular to the computer screen or browser as medium for internet art.  Meanwhile, in Bollywood movies, vernacularity manifests in frontal zooms of deities’ faces, which are used to devotional affect for Indian audiences. Often made by internet users with online audiences in mind, vernacular video is video about video; it is video that speaks to a particular cultural audience, video that talks back to media culture. In 2007, Tom Sherman predicted shifts to increasing crudeness and intertextuality within video-making practices:

The use of canned music will prevail… Recombinant work will be more and more common… Digital effects will be used to glue disconnected scenes together…filters will be used to denote psychological terrain.”

Web-based video today is ridden with meta-narratives– layered references to acts, events and objects on and offline.

There might be an air of casual professionalism attached to the “pro-am” title, but according to Olia Lialina, what we largely think of as as “amateur”  has shifted since the early days of the internet. In The Vernacular Web 2, she describes two kinds of amateurism: 1) a “full-blown relationship between a new medium and its first users” who built personal homepages from scratch in the 90s and, 2) the personalization of formulaic social network profiles.The latter is self-aware and indifferent to the web as medium; the former is earnestly not. Lialina’s observations posit that there was and is a consolidated set of authentic amateurisms that died with the shutdown of Geocities in the 90s. Soon, cultural critics such as Andrew Keen would dismiss amateur content as biased and unreliable in its abundance. But how is it possible that amateur sensibility (as style and value) would ever disappear when it lives on in the vernacular videos of today? Artists learn from non-artists while non-artists make things that look like art.

Late Moves in Vidding

While the internet may extend socialization, it is also accommodates for users’ basest interests. “The pornographic images of war… are the reflux of the animal instinct that our economic and social structure has repressed,” writes Matteo Pasquinelli on the obsessive voyeurism of 9/11 imagery in the aftermath of the disaster.

Chris Korda, I Like To Watch, 2002. LINK


Likening the desire for negative news and instant infotainment to (sex) addiction, Chris Korda’s I Like To Watch (2002) juxtaposes Twin Towers attacks with porn and masturbation to critique the shock-driven mediation and reception of the 9/11 attacks.

Lady GaGa, Bad Romance, The Sims 2 HD

On a lighter note, media fandom in this play-by-play remake of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” in the Sims 2 environment is uncannily professional. Vidding, or the practice of re-cutting televisual media to found soundtrack has been popular since the 90s. These days slideshow videos, cover songs, 800% slower remixes and visualizers exist coterminously on YouTube. Within Sims vidder community, one of the aesthetic goals of media fandom is to produce near-exact remakes of music videos within the Sims environment. Meanwhile, other users seek to create their own TV shows with Sims characters as fan fiction.

Cute is a profound affect that embodies kitsch without redundancy. From cat videos to babies playing with ipads, the affect of cute is a view count pull in user-generated video.

 jubduk,  Little Seal in the Altitudes (2011)

In Little Seal in the Altitudes (2011) jubduk staggers, flips, repeats and reverses layered footage of a baby seal waddling on ice. Edited in the style of noisy repeated cuts from Passage a L’Acte, his quixotic editing deconstructs and layers the seals’ struggling until it no longer appears charming— to make anaesthetic an aesthetic experience. After all, irreverence is the best strategy for entertainment and political resistance under a quickened attention economy.
The Exotic and The Naive

Because vernacular video has thoroughly dissolved into the fabric of social web — where video art coexists with cat .gifs and breaking news— video-making is now a challenge of seduction. With 72 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, the work of artists will be competing for attention from professional vloggers, holiday filmmakers, and art students. In democratizing the ability to upload videos longer than 10 minutes, supporting subtitles and high-definition videos, YouTube is solidifying itself as a converged space for media consumption, whether it’s televisual, cinematic, or musical. Pluralism and fragmentation of aesthetics are contingent to conditions of radical openness. Users everyday life with amateur conventions; recall phonecams videos at concerts and protests, the confessional talking-head vlog, parody ads, dance videos and fan-made karaoke songs.

Cultural amnesia, or the inability to be fully aware of the Nineties internet subjectivity informs my fascination for the amateur. Something seems inherently sincere and unabashed about unsyncopated transitions and scrolling text that runs for too long. Artists might choose to work in an amateur manner not only out of convenience, but for the way it harkens to the effortlessness and naivete of early web design. Amateur aesthetics won’t be disappearing anytime soon, but artists who share their work online will try to distinguish their efforts from the rest of the internet. They will attempt to create rarity, to inject information value into their work, to alleviate the intellectual abstraction of contemporary art. Artists will create their own contexts for showing their work.

It might look like I’ve shown you a bunch of garbage from the web, and that’s what it is. In its abundance, amateur video is art that doesn’t look like art, but its co-option by artists demands us to consider it that— and I like to watch.

—Jennifer Chan