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Art in the Age of YouTube

Art in the Age of YouTube

In the Wintersession course From Avant-Garde to YouTube, filmmakers, designers and fine artists delved into the fascinating world of modern digital media.

In the Wintersession course From Avant-Garde to YouTube, filmmakers, designers and fine artists delved into the fascinating world of modern digital media. Students who took part in the course conceived of and taught by graduate student Elisa Giardina-Papa MFA 13 DM mastered cutting-edge software and video equipment to create stimulating media projects and reflective installations.

Through working studio sessions and discussions, students learned how to record video using high-definition (HD) and SLR cameras and to mix their footage using Final Cut Pro and AfterEffects – video editing software used in professional mixing booths. “The seminars and the technical workshops covered lighting, editing and post-production – important skillsets from which students can develop their works,” Giardina-Papa says.

And to give students context for their own work, the Digital + Media major offered a comprehensive overview of influential avant-garde cinema from Soviet, Dada and surrealist filmmakers. The class also viewed sensational Fluxus videos from the 1960s as well as viral YouTube remixes that have been stamped by millions of international IP addresses. In the end, students had become familiar with notable experimental artists and filmmakers such as Sergei Eisenstein, Luis Buñuel, Francis Picabia, Vito Acconci, Nam June Paik and RISD alum Ryan Trecartin 04 FAV, among many others.

“Understanding the legacies of previous art experimentations helps us to understand more about emergent formats and practices in time-based art,” Giardina-Papa contends. In addition to giving students a lens into the history of the avant-garde movement, she created the course to examine how new technologies are radically shaping the film and video art made by today's wired generation.

“Currently we find ourselves in a moment in which digital and network technology are again changing the way we produce, circulate and consume images,” she notes. “This has led to a profound change in the types of work we produce.”

And that work can be quite provocative. For instance, Aubrey Xiong 14 FAV became intrigued by IMVU, an entertainment website that enables users to socialize using self-designed avatars. With the click of a mouse, members of the site chat, play games and even shop for custom goods in the pixilated world.

“I'm interested in virtual realities,” explains Xiong. “It's like this hidden niche in society.” Shortly after entering the site, the filmmaker noticed that many of the users' interactions are romantic in nature. The female avatars wear skimpy clothing and interact in an environment designed for intimate relations. In ruminating on the psychology behind the virtual affairs, she says, “I think it's a reflection of how our generation interacts today. People seek intimacy through these Internet interfaces, but it's really a false sense of affection.”

Xiong decided to produce a video that explores this concept of faux intimacy. After finding an IMVU house called The Honeymoon Villa, she connected with an anonymous user. The encounter was recorded using screen capture software, edited down using mixing software and later posted to YouTube. “My project really showed the impossibility of reaching this ultimate realistic closeness within the IMVU interface.”

In contrast, Joseph Talese 14 FAV took a meditative approach to his final project. The filmmaker produced Duality, a captivating digital media installation rooted in religious iconography. Using the distribution platform Vimeo, he created a modern version of an early Christian diptych. “I'm definitely inspired by the symbolism of the Roman Catholic church,” he says. “The iconography is universal and can be translated into so many belief systems.”

The video projects an image of a cloaked woman standing next to a man wearing light robes. Each of the figures holds items such as a tray of cookies and a bouquet of flowers. “This is a diptych of the mother, who is the moon and the starry sky, and the father, who is the sun and the light,” Talese explains.

At first look, face-painted figures appear to be perfectly still. But as the 20-minute video plays on, spectators might notice that the backdrops swirl and the flowers appear to be blowing in a gentle wind. “I wanted the audience to become sort of hypnotized by the video,” Talese says. “Viewers can easily imagine themselves in the archetypes.” -Abigail Crocker