Petra Cortright’s Webcam Video

by Art Fag City on March 27, 2007 · 37 comments Events

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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.

UPDATE: Tom Moody informs me in the comments section that the icons used are probably all defaults.

Related: An array of ugly weather icons via unbeige.

  • tom moody

    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!!”

    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.”

  • tom moody

    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!!”

    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.”

  • tom moody

    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!!”

    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.”

  • Art Fag City

    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?

  • Art Fag City

    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?

  • tom moody

    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.

  • tom moody

    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.

  • Art Fag City

    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.

  • Art Fag City

    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.

  • Art Fag City

    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.

  • williamcotton

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=SQLpyNxAPmg

    What I like about this work is the questions it asks about the duality of individual broadcast, be it purposeful or not. One can easily draw a connection between the face tracking software being used in what seems like a naive manner and face tracking software used by advanced surveillance systems found throughout our city streets, airports, and train stations.

    xXdan462Xx really questions the differences between such acts as being videotaped “unknowingly” walking through a subway station and “knowingly” recording and posting your likeness on the Internet. More is known about who will view such security camera footage than can possibly be known about an audience on the Internet, raising import issues about our perceptions of their purpose.

    It is almost like xXdan462Xx is trying to make us feel like he wasn’t attempting to create a work of art at all, questioning even the purposefulness of his own act of creation. It’s a skill very few people have.

  • williamcotton

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=SQLpyNxAPmg

    What I like about this work is the questions it asks about the duality of individual broadcast, be it purposeful or not. One can easily draw a connection between the face tracking software being used in what seems like a naive manner and face tracking software used by advanced surveillance systems found throughout our city streets, airports, and train stations.

    xXdan462Xx really questions the differences between such acts as being videotaped “unknowingly” walking through a subway station and “knowingly” recording and posting your likeness on the Internet. More is known about who will view such security camera footage than can possibly be known about an audience on the Internet, raising import issues about our perceptions of their purpose.

    It is almost like xXdan462Xx is trying to make us feel like he wasn’t attempting to create a work of art at all, questioning even the purposefulness of his own act of creation. It’s a skill very few people have.

  • williamcotton

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=SQLpyNxAPmg

    What I like about this work is the questions it asks about the duality of individual broadcast, be it purposeful or not. One can easily draw a connection between the face tracking software being used in what seems like a naive manner and face tracking software used by advanced surveillance systems found throughout our city streets, airports, and train stations.

    xXdan462Xx really questions the differences between such acts as being videotaped “unknowingly” walking through a subway station and “knowingly” recording and posting your likeness on the Internet. More is known about who will view such security camera footage than can possibly be known about an audience on the Internet, raising import issues about our perceptions of their purpose.

    It is almost like xXdan462Xx is trying to make us feel like he wasn’t attempting to create a work of art at all, questioning even the purposefulness of his own act of creation. It’s a skill very few people have.

  • http://qotile.net paul

  • http://qotile.net paul

  • tom moody

    Thanks for the ad!
    I feel another 500 words coming on why the Cortright is more interesting than that…

  • tom moody

    Thanks for the ad!
    I feel another 500 words coming on why the Cortright is more interesting than that…

  • tom moody

    Thanks for the ad!
    I feel another 500 words coming on why the Cortright is more interesting than that…

  • Art Fag City

    William: I hate to use Cortright and xXdan462Xx in the same sentence. For one, I had to turn the music off in “the mii on the wii” because it’s so obnoxious. Why is creating an avatar so bad ass? Also, I’m not sold on the idea of surveillance: Is the difference between our knowledge that a guard is watching you vrs someone on the Internet really so profound? I think the connection between these two works is tenuous at best.

  • Art Fag City

    William: I hate to use Cortright and xXdan462Xx in the same sentence. For one, I had to turn the music off in “the mii on the wii” because it’s so obnoxious. Why is creating an avatar so bad ass? Also, I’m not sold on the idea of surveillance: Is the difference between our knowledge that a guard is watching you vrs someone on the Internet really so profound? I think the connection between these two works is tenuous at best.

  • Art Fag City

    William: I hate to use Cortright and xXdan462Xx in the same sentence. For one, I had to turn the music off in “the mii on the wii” because it’s so obnoxious. Why is creating an avatar so bad ass? Also, I’m not sold on the idea of surveillance: Is the difference between our knowledge that a guard is watching you vrs someone on the Internet really so profound? I think the connection between these two works is tenuous at best.

  • Art Fag City

    William: I hate to use Cortright and xXdan462Xx in the same sentence. For one, I had to turn the music off in “the mii on the wii” because it’s so obnoxious. Why is creating an avatar so bad ass? Also, I’m not sold on the idea of surveillance: Is the difference between our knowledge that a guard is watching you vrs someone on the Internet really so profound? I think the connection between these two works is tenuous at best.

  • williamcotton

    I guess I should have waited until today to post…

  • williamcotton

    I guess I should have waited until today to post…

  • williamcotton

    I guess I should have waited until today to post…

  • williamcotton

    I guess I should have waited until today to post…

  • tom moody

    Unfortunately williamcotton’s YouTube is gone and I missed it so I can’t evaluate whether his post was meant satirically and also whether it’s funny or not.

  • tom moody

    Unfortunately williamcotton’s YouTube is gone and I missed it so I can’t evaluate whether his post was meant satirically and also whether it’s funny or not.

  • tom moody

    Unfortunately williamcotton’s YouTube is gone and I missed it so I can’t evaluate whether his post was meant satirically and also whether it’s funny or not.

  • tom moody

    Unfortunately williamcotton’s YouTube is gone and I missed it so I can’t evaluate whether his post was meant satirically and also whether it’s funny or not.

  • Art Fag City

    hmmm. It never occurred to me that it might have been satirical. Am I wrong about this William?

  • Art Fag City

    hmmm. It never occurred to me that it might have been satirical. Am I wrong about this William?

  • Art Fag City

    hmmm. It never occurred to me that it might have been satirical. Am I wrong about this William?

  • http://www.ianaleksanderadams.com Ian Aleksander Adams

    I know this is old, but this new one reminded me of it:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgFQv1pypTI&feature=player_embedded#!

    I think the best about internet artists is that so many of them are not scared to play directly in the lowbrow culture they are interested in – just because they have craft and understanding doesn’t mean they see their work as above or separate. It’s chill.

  • http://www.ianaleksanderadams.com Ian Aleksander Adams

    I know this is old, but this new one reminded me of it:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgFQv1pypTI&feature=player_embedded#!

    I think the best about internet artists is that so many of them are not scared to play directly in the lowbrow culture they are interested in – just because they have craft and understanding doesn’t mean they see their work as above or separate. It’s chill.

  • http://www.ianaleksanderadams.com Ian Aleksander Adams

    I know this is old, but this new one reminded me of it:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgFQv1pypTI&feature=player_embedded#!

    I think the best about internet artists is that so many of them are not scared to play directly in the lowbrow culture they are interested in – just because they have craft and understanding doesn’t mean they see their work as above or separate. It’s chill.

  • Pingback: 7 Question Interview with Petra Cortright ‹ DINCA()

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