Animal Charm vs. Paper Rad
Last month, during what was intended to be a routine press check-in following his health scare, former Monkee Michael Nesmith shocked the fogey music press by copping to trawling YouTube channels like "Shitpost Wizard" for vaporwave, the net-born retro-futurist remix culture that's birthed a Zero Books theory monograph and a far-right fringe subgenre known as "Fashwave." While the scenario is a hysterical cultural ouroboros—iconic Boomer somehow stumbles into 4chan-approved musical lexicon—it's also a reminder that there is, as the saying goes, nothing new under the sun. Internet remix aesthetics like vaporwave, GI Joe PSAs, YouTube Poop, or those structural edits of Bee Movie are nodes in a long history of reflexive pop-cultural artifacts, a history that includes, among other things, Rose Hobart, Tex Avery-Daffy Duck cartoons, Hellzapoppin', Bruce Conner, and, yes, perhaps even The Monkees TV show. Respect your elders.
Tonight, Light Industry does its part in tracing remix history by presenting two sets of the culture's most crucial midwives into net ubiquity. In one corner: Chicago's Jim Fetterley and Richard Bott who, as the story goes, became friends through bonding over their mutual love of '90s early net detournement like Critical Art Ensemble's Electronic Civil Disobedience, Craig Baldwin's free-form Negativland documentary Sonic Outlaws, and John Oswald's "plunderphonics." When Fetterly gained access to then-novel non-linear editing software while working as an editing assistant for the 1994 doc Hoop Dreams, the two began staying in the studio late hours to remix found tapes—educational videos, infomercials, and other garbage—into unpredictable cadences and uncanny juxtapositions. The duo soon took their creations on the road, performing certain works live, or holding something called "video kitchens," inviting audience members to contribute their own tapes to be distorted in real time. The results became known first as Janet Anglosaxophone Jackson Junior and subsequently Animal Charm, a dual reference to a Dungeons & Dragons spell and a song by poet and perennial talk show guest Rod McKuen (whose crooning was also inspiring the likes of Thinking Fellers' Mark Davies and Sun City Girls' Eddy Detroit—more evidence of the subversive power of the middlebrow).
In the other corner: Paper Rad, comprised of core members Jacob & Jessica Ciocci and Ben Jones, who came of age on a steady diet of '80s/'90s Saturday morning cartoons and its attendant shitty merchandising. The collective got its footing first as a zine and then as an exercise in bad web design and nightmare Flash animations, posted daily on the domain name paperrad.org. Within a short seven-year period beginning in 2001 after the Cioccis' graduation from college, Paper Rad did their part in proselytizing this bold experiment in bad taste aesthetics, spreading the word on the web, through the northeast DIY circuit (the crew were regulars at Providence's Fort Thunder, and Jacob Ciocci was one-half of the '00s noise duo Extreme Animals), and through the contemporary art world (Paper Rad and Ciocci's Oberlin classmate Cory Arcangel screened their work Super Mario Movie at Deitch Projects in 2005). Tonight's selection, PjVidz #1: Color Vision, is a sort of demented ADHD variety show of early creations including a hellworld Gumby and Casio keyboards demonstrations, a prime example of the group's "Dogman 99" ethos (tenets: pure RGB colors, no tablets or scanning, and as many alpha tricks as possible).
To watch these videos now is to get hipped to a secret history of a major contemporary cultural sensibility, the so-called "aesthetic of glut" that seeps into Adult Swim, post-Internet art, and Johnny Johnny Yes Papa memes. A worthy extracurricular for the back-to-school season, and the beginning of a heady September at Light Industry that includes Robert Beavers introducing Renate Sami, Shai Heredia introducing Uday Shankar's Kalpana, and Wakefield Poole's Take One.