Cheung describes the process by which the video is made as being just as important, if not more so, than the final product. Although, when I suggested that this remake and mash up culture he is in conversation with had put us beyond any kind of definitive authorship, especially in relation to ideas of open source content, he was keen to point out that even though the work was made collectively it was still his work. This resonated strongly with me in relation to conversations I have been having about relational art practices for a number of years. It reminded me of the great line from Bill Arning in Ted Purves‘ book, “What we want is free” that goes something along the lines of, “Sure, everyone might be an artist, but only one artist gets to be the guy who says that everyone else is an artist” Cheung’s description of his process and the conviviality central to the work would not have been out of place talking about any number of works that were featured in SFMOMAS 2008 show, “The Art of Participation”, I am thinking here specifically of works like Tom Marioni’s FREE BEER (The Act of Drinking Beer with Friends is the Highest Form of Art).
Where I think Cheung may have the upper hand on my fellow participatory artists is that even though he claims a form of authorship over his video, conceptually he is putting forward the content in the manner of any other open source resource, to be shared and built upon. This willingness to help create something bigger than just his video extends to his giving advice to people like the woman in Jerusalem who recently contacted him, on how to join the conversation by making her own video. As we know the art market doesn’t really support the idea of open source work, charting provenance would be a headache to say the least.
Interestingly enough one of the founders of Creative Commons, (the non profit organization that is responsible for institutionalizing open source working practices), Professor Lawrence Lessig, recently showed Cheung’s video’s and that of the Brooklyn collective in a ‘Ted’ lecture entitled, “Re-examining the remix”. In which he argues that for a healthy creative economy to exist there has to be room for the free, the gifted within it. In his lecture Lessig shows a video by libertarian Julian Sanchez who has also shown Cheung’s video as an example of what he calls a new kind of social remixing. Sanchez posits that this new relational mash up is different from someone making a remix alone in his or her bedroom, in that this new ‘social’ remixing, as exemplified by Cheugn’s video, is not just about appropriating and remixing cultural signifiers to show us something about ourselves. Instead, he argues, these new social remixes offer the potential for the remixing of social interactions and relationships, as he says, “transmuted into art”.
As we drain our coffee I ask Cheung why he thinks this call and response video remixing is happening, is it something specific to his generation or the technology? To which he replies, “ My generation isn’t afraid of technology, we know there is always the undo button. We don’t worry about remixing or seemingly destroying the original, we know that we are just creating more”.
I have a friend who is fond of saying, “more is more” and in the case of Cheung’s particular construction of a social vocabulary it would seem to be so. Cheung and his friends are part of a generation that is fluent in imaging themselves, however shaped those images may be by the technologies and broadcasting sites they employ to this end, and so for them, more really is more. In my teenage years I had the wonderful John Hughes to hold up a mirror and make images that spoke to my experience. And while John had an amazingly deft touch and a crucial understanding of the alienation of growing up under Thatcher and Reagan, he was still a white man in Hollywood selling me back my angst. If Cheung is selling anything it is only the optimism that anyone can join him in this conversation. A presumption that seems to comes from the luxury of being part of the technological “haves” and not the “have not’s”. There is room for critique within these videos about who is getting to speak or construct this shared cultural vocabulary. As MDR commented on one of my previous posts, the Internet is still conspicuously a first world luxury written mostly in English. However, Cheung does not identify as a visual artist and he isn’t claiming, like so many relational artist do, that there is something inherently worthwhile or socially advantages in the convivial situation he is creating and documenting. The only real responsibility he has is to himself and his friends that in exchange for giving up a Saturday afternoon for filming, they had fun. One look at the video above and we can be left in no doubt that they did. Whether or not the woman from Jerusalem posts her remake anytime soon I will be watching intently to see if anybody else outside of the west will look at these videos, showing mostly pretty white kids dancing on rooftops and think yes, I want to talk to you. In anticipation of a continued conversation that becomes complicated with layers of misunderstanding and difference, I certainly hope that they do.