Web Presence, 2011
LD: In Web Presence, you password-hack your father’s [deceased] gmail account and display it in the gallery on a computer, logged-in, as an ‘available to chat’, contact. The work is a loose ontological study of sorts, referring to both life during and after existence in the form of an always preserved online presence. How do you confront or deal with the permanence of identity online?
JH: It’s definitely more than sentiment for me because it’s about sentiment. I was actually hesitant to make the piece initially because I didn’t want it to be perceived as a strictly cathartic exercise. For me, it’s about a few things. It’s about these records of ourselves that exist online. It’s about the way time is represented online. And it’s about attempting to do something that can’t be done. We can’t communicate with people who’ve died. They’re not actually there on the other end of the gmail chat. But by password-hacking my father’s gmail account, I was able to reproduce his presence in my life. I didn’t live with him and didn’t live in the same city or state. So, his web-presence was his most common presence in my life. By logging him in on a dedicated computer, I’d recreated that presence and at times even managed to surprise myself for a split-second upon logging into my own account. It was always a pleasant surprise to see him “available to chat”.
Yes, there is personal sentiment. But it’s also simply about finding emotional or spiritual uses for technology. I’ve built a couple of machines that were also meant to provide some conduit for communication with the deceased; an automated ouija board, which spoke aloud to the gallery using the text-to-speech software of an old hacked power-pc and an automated theremin which was played by a servo controlled arm whenever an EMF meter measured a ghostly reading.
I’m currently not thrilled with the semi-permanence of online identity. My old URL was recently purchased and is now home to a blog about weight loss programs and online poker tournaments. It wouldn’t be a huge deal if the blog entries were signed using the name of the URL. Instead the entries are signed “COPYRIGHT © 2012 · JESSE HULCHER”. I find that fairly annoying. I also love it when I get an email from an ex-girlfriend and gmail decides that this is the right moment to provide us with links on “how to get back together”. The internet knows our histories.
LD: In 1971, when Abbie Hoffman wrote, Steal This Book, bookstores ceased from carrying it due to a large number of readers physically stealing the book. Today, with the Internet, ‘stealing’ is more ubiquitous, and largely contestable in its justification and implications. With, 40 Gigs to Freedom –or— Hot Shit, you begin to address these ideas of dissidence and counterculture by ‘consensually’ stealing music, movies, and books that actually condone stealing. But what happens when this allegedly ‘free’ content ends up on the Best Seller’s List or can eventually only be purchased—severing itself from the author’s ideology? Could you speak more about the digital shift within pirated content? Where do you position yourself in it all?
JH: Yeah, it’s about the intentions of the artists and the publishers who’re creating these works. When you’re releasing a piece of media through a commercial publisher you and your publisher attempting to make a profit. It’s debatable as to where these artists lie in the spectrum of earnest intentions. But the publisher certainly has no interest in having these products stolen, aside from the brief amount of press that would arise.
My guess is that the phrase is used today, more often than not, to evoke some false pretense of counter-culture idealism. I’d be much more inclined to believe that Abbie Hoffman had a sincere interest in seeing readers steal his book. The band “System of a Down”, on the other hand, isn’t quite as convincing. I think that they were actually quoted as being upset that the record had been “leaked” (stolen) before its commercial release. If that’s not a philosophical conflict, I don’t know what is.
So, on one hand, the piece is probably meant to call some potential bluffs. But it’s also about following directions. I’ve been asked by these artists and their publishers to steal this media. So, this is what I’ve done. I’m also considering changing the title of the piece to “Empy Gestures -or- Come at Me, Bro”.
MIB, MIB II, MIB, MIB signed, MIB wardrobe, 2010
LD: Playing with authenticity, cult of celebrity, and exchange value, you auction off mint-in-box copies of Men In Black and Men in Black II, both signed by comedian Michael Ian Black on Ebay. By legitimizing or attempting to inflate the value of a highly acclaimed, popular film, like Men in Black with the signature of a D-list celebrity you create a conflict that attempts to resolve itself when placed in auction. Can you elaborate more on your strategy here?
JH: This piece is about a certain level of supposed serendipity involved in this performative event. “Men In Black” and “Men In Black II” dvd’s are sold “Mint In Box” with autographs by “Michael Ian Black”, while my wardrobe for the event was provided by “Making It Big”, plus sized clothing for women. Once this explanation has been condensed to the small amount of text that is allowable in an ebay auction title it reads: “MIB, MIB II, MIB, MIB signed, MIB wardrobe”. There were some other contenders for possible MIB mentions. But they made even less than me wearing a tie-dyed maternity dress to a stand-up show.
So, there is a sense that this is somehow a perfect occurrence, or that the stars have somehow aligned for this ebay auction, so to speak. But it’s also about the reflexive nature of the performance itself. It is about D-List celebrity. It is about value.
There was a lot of planning that went into it.The most intense question, however, was, “How do I get all of this to happen without him refusing to participate because he’s uncomfortable with my behavior/appearance or uncomfortable with the items potentially being resold or uncomfortable with feeling like he’s being made fun of?” So, I made the decision that I wouldn’t speak to him at all throughout the meeting.
I took my sister to the show in DC, which is where she lived at the time. After it was over she asked him to sign the dvd’s for her and had a photo taken with him. Then she asked if she could get a photo of he and I together as well. I took off my jacket and the dress fell out. I had decided to make no expression whatsoever, if possible, because it’s the way that I’d imagined he might react, given the situation. He made the same face, the photo turned out well and some guy in Chicago bought the dvd’s. That is definitely the strangest part of it all.
LD: The Ramones were well known—amongst other things—for playing very fast and very brief sets. Most often times than not their song structure can be reduced to three-chords and most are only two minutes long. Road to Ruined repeats the already repetitive sounds of the Ramones, looping certain chord progressions and choruses all the while increasing the track length time in the process (Pinhead is 20 minutes long!). What is being investigated through these repetitive extensions?
JH: My theory is that the cultural identity of the RAMONES is that they produced loud, fast and extremely repetitive songs, which were quite often very short. Listeners who aren’t exactly familiar with their output tend to think that much of their music “sounds the same”, to the point that they might not be able to differentiate between their songs. So, I took what I considered to be their most repetitive songs and made them even more repetitive. I actually attempted to identify the most repetitive parts of the most repetitive songs. Once a riff was labeled truly repetitive, I took that section and multiplied its length by ten. So, a four bar riff was then a forty bar riff.
The structure of their music is also really interesting. Some of their songs contain several distinctly separate riffs and sometimes even multiple bridges. “Bad Brain”, for instance, is basically a loop of 5 or 6 different chord progressions and bridges. So, in a way, their music is already a bit excessive and somewhat modular. I found myself slightly obsessed with some of these songs a couple of years ago, listening to them on repeat on the subway, wishing that the tracks were actually 20 minutes long instead of 2 minutes. So, it wasn’t an exclusively conceptual piece. It’s meant to be heard. I loved listening to the album after I finished it. So, I would agree with you that there is a succinct concept and an effective realization of that concept. But the result is also meant to be experienced. Maybe the conclusion is that, yes, their music is very repetitive, and one might find that to be fairly annoying. However, if you give them a chance, you’ll find some really unique songwriting and begin to discern an almost structuralist agenda.
Maybe they themselves felt that their music was too repetitive to be played for more than 2 minutes at a time. That could have plenty to do with why many of their songs were so short. My feeling is that they almost couldn’t be long enough. I still really enjoy listening to the “Bad Brain” edit, because it’s a track that features so many different riffs and bridges and it’s the only one that I allowed myself to rearrange, to some extent. All of the other tracks begin and end as they always did. They just feature longer sections throughout. Because “Bad Brain” contains so many different sections, which just abruptly seem to come out of nowhere, one after another. I kind of wanted to be lost in the middle of that song, and to be randomly bombarded with an unexpected riff. So, for me, the piece is also experiential.
Steal This Album! by System of a Down, 2002