This past Saturday, Are.na partnered with curator Vere van Gool and Het Nieuwe Instituut, the Dutch museum for design and culture, to launch a multi-site exhibition called Screen Spaces, a geography of moving image. On view across 10 downtown spaces through December 7, the show presents new and historical works of video art and meditates on the evolution of video culture into a partly virtual, partly physical public space with a global presence.
As part of Screen Spaces, we asked Are.na members Ha Duong, Julia Panek, and Lucy Chinen to gather media from across the platform and collect their own research on different forms of video culture today. We also invited Callil Capuozzo (the creator of print are.na) to print out their research, as well as notes from the day's talks and screenings, in the form of takeaway zines. Visitors stopped by our Canal Street office on Saturday to print their own personal publications from Are.na using the interface Callil designed.
Below are three reflections written by the participants and included in every zine we printed this weekend. You can also explore their research here.
Like many today, I grew up in the early days of MySpace, gaming sims, and anonymous Internet forums. These interactive platforms served as some of the first widespread online spaces for anyone to channel different aspects of their identity online, mediated and hidden by the surface of their computer screens. But rather than being a one-to-one projection, these spaces revealed how any digital platform creates moving images that — like all language — exist independently from their creators. As these digital avatars began to impact the physical bodies, spaces, and relationships (think proxy drone warfare, cloud storage facilities, cyber bullying, online dating, Facebook-broadcasted suicides, mobs of YouTuber fans, predatory men posing as young girls online, etc.) of the offline world, the utopian fantasy of spaces mediated by screens has slowly withered away. The networked, digital screen's history as an invention necessitated by the computing needs of militarization becomes apparent, and makes the separation between material and digital, offline and online, reality and fiction impossible.
Still, if the screen mediates and so deeply impacts the world we live in, artists, technologists, designers, and users of the web can use the same digital tools to create communities, networks, and alternative screen spaces that interrogate and make visible the spatial and material dimensions of video culture.
Opening the TikTok app for the first time led me down a path filled with joy, laughter and beauty. In case you haven’t heard, TikTok, a social media app for creating and sharing short-form video, is BIG with teens all over the world right now, and absorbing all my attention.
Remember Vine? The six second looping video app that generated unforgettable vernacular such as “EYEBROWS ON FLEEK” and “WHAT ARE THOOOSE?” In its later versions, Vine gave users a feature that allowed them to record a new video using audio previously recorded in another user’s vine. This audio feature ignited a video making trend that allowed content to blossom iteratively. Video makers would use audio as a template to create an iteration of another user’s video, adding their own personal touch.
TikTok has crystalized this process by challenge-ifying video creation. Participants will compose a video based on a challenge template using the same composition and editing. My favorite is the “Phone Drop Challenge” where users will press record on their phone, throw it high into the air, and catch it, resulting in an alluring selfie video. They’ll edit the result in slow motion and add the song “I Like It“ by Cardi B on top.
The best results of these challenges will be stitched together and archived on Youtube, where we can watch this striking body of collaborative work for all eternity. I’ve started to collect my favorite TikTok challenges along with earlier examples of iterative video making. User generated video has a lo-fi artistry that attracts me, and this hyper generative and slightly unhinged video app is satisfying my thirst… for the moment.
I started to realize that the best way for me to use Are.na was to sketch out an idea of something, a category that didn't quite exist yet but some connection I found between facts, ideas, and images. I've changed the names of my channels quite a few times because by adding things, I get a better sense of what it is I’m trying to describe. I'm interested in animal communication and organization so I started with the channel 'nonhuman techne' but then moved to a channel that is now called 'drugs for everybody,' which is pharmacologically inclusive. The greatest example is the moth and lamp meme, since lamps are like ecstasy rave time for moths. Another channel I started was ‘agonistic environmentalism,’ which I imagine to be a type of environmentalism that is not centered on aesthetics. Instead of coming back to nature Instagram or conscious consumerism, it’s a more realistic look at what systems are sustainable, even if they may be antithetical to a pro-nature motivated style choice.