Adventures In Selling Experimental Video Art: An Interview With Undervolt & Co.

by Marina Galperina on November 25, 2014 Newswire

Single: Johnny Woods, Breakaway

About a year ago, artists Yoshi Sodeoka, Johnny Woods and Nicholas O’Brien launched Undervolt & Co., a video label like no other. They began to distribute collections of experimental video artworks created for their label, giving artists an alternative to the existing binary of models—dumping their work online for free or dreaming of that illusive, baller limited edition gallery sale. Their model offers their work to the public as low-priced downloads of well-curated, original, high-quality “albums” or video bundles, 20 to 60 minutes in length.

From a playlist of pulsating psychedelic geometry set to symphonic feedback to glitchy nightmares from Baltimore, the bodies of work represented by Undervolt & Co. are varied and fresh, each artwork’s visual and audio components intertwined.

Undervolt & Co. set out to fill a void in experimental video art representation with the help of the internet and a hope to someday grow into “a significant video archival institution.” They saw their dually experimental efforts actualized on and off line.

Art F City recently caught up with Johnny Woods and turns out they’re still not really sure what they’re doing, but it seems to be working out pretty well.

Why did you conceive Undervolt?

Originally, the idea was to create a format for longer experimental video works or collections of work. These tend not to work so well with streaming sites. We also wanted to find a way to add value to these more substantial projects, which we refer to as “albums”. They are typically 20-60 minutes in length. If this were ten years ago, we would just be releasing DVDs, but in the relative demise of that format we felt we needed something else to help disseminate these more substantive works.

How many releases have you done now that it’s been almost a year since your launch?

We currently have ten album titles available. In addition to the albums, we’ve started releasing “singles” which are shorter, individual videos that don’t necessarily fit into a larger body of work and can be a nice introduction to some of the artists we plan to do albums with in the future.

Single: Adam Ferriss, Moss Merseles’ Melodie. Working entirely with code, Adam Ferriss constructs surprisingly organic digital worlds. Building upon his webGL experiments and spectacular still images, Moss Merseles’ Melodie takes the viewer on a ride through cascading feedback.

What have you learned about digital and video art distribution through this experience?

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that nobody really knows how any of it works yet! We try different things and see if they work. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t, but we are very open to the fact that we do not know how distribution will work in our post-internet age. It’s exciting to see what people are trying, and taking little bits from different strategies to see if they work for us.

How do you curate your roster? What sort of work do you represent as far as its sensibilities, forms and unique qualities?

Our number one criteria is work that shows commitment. Part of our mission is to create an archive of work that can last, and we like to encourage our artists to take their time and make something substantive. For better or worse, the nature of the internet forces a sort of disposable way of thinking: artists feel pressured to keep their Tumblrs and Vimeos full of content. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but we are trying to find a space on the internet for another way of thinking about content. I guess the most important thing for us is that the artist has the focus and practice to create such a work.

Album (trailer): Peter Burr’s SPECIAL EFFECT explores “The Zone”, a space from Tarkovsky’s film Stalker, in which our rules of physics are suspended. This environment is traversed through a hypnotizing blend of live action and various animation styles. 

I think a lot of our artists are pretty different. We have some releases that use found footage, some that are completely abstract, some using CGI and other animation forms, some that have a narrative structure, and some that are completely free-form. We do look for a strong audio-visual connection, however.

Where have these pieces ended up offsite?

One of the biggest surprises this first year was seeing how important events and screenings could be for the label. I don’t think we were really expecting that to be as successful as it has been. Just in the last year we have done events in Croatia, Portugal, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, Portland, San Francisco, and Baltimore. In Pittsburgh, we were asked to be a part of the VIA Festival, which was especially wonderful since they were able to bring a number of our artists out to do live performances. Those artists had never met before, and it was a really amazing experience. At the end of the day, we are trying to help promote our artists and encourage their practice, so these sort of events are just wonderful to be a part of.

Album track: Sabrina Ratté, Littoral Zones. One of four videos in the collection which explore the visual and sonic relationship between modular synthesis and simulated space.

What are you planning next?

We have a couple big things coming up, but unfortunately I can’t talk about them quite yet. I can generally say that we will have probably between 7-10 album releases in 2015, a lot of events, and more releases with physical elements. [Undervolt will be screening experimental videos from their artist in the First Look 2015 film series at the Moving Image Museum.]

For Sabrina Ratté’s album [the last album Undervolt released], we had a limited edition poster option that people really enjoyed, and that was our first time doing something like that. Generally speaking, we are very content to take our time and let things evolve organically. We learned a lot in this last year, and will continue to do so as we move forward.


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