Screenshot of At My Funeral, 2011
LD: Much of your work involves recontextualizing a lot of YouTube and Twitter content. Though this process, you compose and assign new meaning to the often banal 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?
DK: 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.
LD: 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? Could you walk through the legal processes of your own Google interaction and explain its current legal status?
DK: 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!
Screenshot of Lyrics, 2010
LD: 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?
DK: 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.
LD: Similar to the authorial 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?
DK: 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.
LD: 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?
DK: 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.
Screenshot of 4:33, 2010