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petra webcam

Petra Cortright's vvebkm (YouTube) - An Exchange from Paddy Johnson's Blog Comments - Cindy Sherman Reference Partially Explained

Paddy Johnson (Mar. 27, 2007):

Four days ago Tom Moody posted Petra Cortright’s webcam video and since then I’ve been struggling to articulate why the aesthetics of this piece of go beyond taking a few clip images from the web and slapping them on a video. Unlike a David Shrigley piece, which uses humor so obvious its value requires no explanation, a cam featuring a still figure, dancing pizzas, and falling snow to an electronic beat may require a little more discussion.

Probably the most amusing aspect of this work lies in the fact that it’s basically a documentation of a live performance, in which you watch someone concentrate on their computer screen for the duration of a song. I realize this comment tends to incite a host of responses most of which begin something to the effect of “So why am I looking at this?”, and while there’s no response to this if you don’t find the redundancies of web surfing that so many net artists like to highlight funny, there’s also a level of virtuosity in the live arrangement of gifs etc, that needs to be called to attention. Cortright’s webcam piece succeeds because her dancing pizzas are unexpected, and the snow and lightening seem almost delicately placed. I know it sounds ridiculous, but you have to spend a lot of time with these seemingly crappy images not only to gain a sensibility for how to use them, but how to read them. It’s not that Cortright found the most exquisite buzzing bee and flower on the net, it’s that she thought to use it, and then did it so well. It’s a skill very few people have.


27 Mar 2007 at 9:16 pm1--tom:

These icons may all be defaults that come with the webcam program or host. I don’t know for sure. Cortright says in the comments “i need to put more curated imagery into this but the defaults were still pretty good!!” [Update - Make magazine editor Phillip Torrone plays with the same webcam in this YouTube in what seems more like an extended product promotion for logitech--thx paul)]

So the artistry is mostly in the timing, I think, plus the “live” nature of the performance, the choice of music (the ceephax is pleasantly spacy), and playing on our expectations of what a cam person is supposed to do. Instead of mugging, pouting, and otherwise playing directly to an imagined audience she’s concentrating on the behind-the-scenes work of manipulating the images, which are not particularly sexy. The audience is still staring at her (and one commenter is rather hitting on her with that “smile” line) but she’s only giving you her image and what she does. This relates to Marisa Olson’s videos of herself listening to music, too, I think.

My great unwritten essay (or not so great) is on how the camgirl and camboy phenomenon relates to Cindy Sherman and her “self-empowering” use of her own image to act out media tropes (she’s a millionaire and they...have lots of internet friends). Pieces like Cortright’s are even more punk than that–as if Sherman were taking photos of herself loading and unloading the camera and setting up the lights instead of being the “actress.”

27 Mar 2007 at 10:00 pm 2--paddy:

It’s true - the timing is done extremely well.

I’m not sure I’m understanding your comment on Cindy Sherman correctly. Are you saying that work like Cortright’s is more punk than Sherman’s because there’s a greater DIY element to it? If so, I suppose there’s some element of truth to that, but I suspect Sherman was just as broke when she was in her twenties and making that work, and probably didn’t have too much help past the necessities. Does the DIY aspect of it really add that much to this particular piece?

28 Mar 2007 at 12:13 am3--tom:

Punk in the sense of a guitarist keeping her back to the audience while playing rather than doing all the emotive face moves that say “I’m happy, I’m in pain, look at me, love me.” Here Cortright is looking down and “working.”

The early, classic Sherman work was DIY and done on the cheap. It’s not her fault she got canonized so early and was forced ever thereafter to work with big budgets.

My point in bringing her up (I think) was how web cammers kind of do what she did early on instinctively. It’s personal or self-centric photography, but still a series of media tropes (the “working girl,” the “ingenue,” “Marilyn” etc) Whereas Cortright isn’t going there–she’s a nerd pushing buttons to summon kitties and pizza slices and you just happen to be watching her.

28 Mar 2007 at 12:43 am4--paddy:

I really like that punk reference.

Interestingly, one of the things I was going to bring up in the post that got lost for whatever reason, was that the piece reminded me of how in the late 90’s and early 2000 people would go see DJ’s spin, and various musicians working with electronics perform, and complain that it was totally dull watching people turn a few nobs for hours on end. Like any good net artist, Cortright knows that about a minute and a half of nob turning is fascinating - do much more than that and you’ve lost your audience. It makes me feel like the piece builds something positive into a tradition of performance that often suffered from some significant problems just a short time ago.

- tom moody 4-18-2007 4:14 am [link]