Natalie Bookchin, My Meds, from the series Testament, 2009
This interview originally appeared Video Vortex Reader II: moving images beyond YouTube (Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam, March 2011) edited by Geert Lovink and Rachel Somers Miles. The Video Vortex Reader II launches this week in conjunction with the Video Vortex #6 conference at TrouwAmsterdam in Amsterdam on Friday March 11th and Saturday March 12th.
Natalie Bookchin and Blake Stimson first met in New York in the early 1990s when they were both affiliated with the Whitney Independent Study Program. This exchange took place over email, for the most part between their respective homes in Southern and Northern California during the summer of 2010.
Although she has a rich and varied artistic background, one theme that has regularly come to the fore in Natalie Bookchin’s work is a concern with documentary. In some of her early work, this concern seemed to emphasize the inhumanity of recording machines in the way that Andy Warhol’s, or perhaps Gerhard Richter’s, work did. In a different way, the entire ‘found object’ tradition associated with Duchampian indifference, and still so manifest in much contemporary art, also seemed to feature in Bookchin’s work. Here, we might recall an early piece for which Bookchin photographed everything she owned, object by object, down to the last paperclip; or perhaps, in a different sense, the Universal Page she created with Alexei Shulgin in 2000, which promised an algorithmically derived objective average of all web content. In one sense, her recent work of gathering videos from the internet might be said to continue in this vein—at least insofar as she is functioning as an aggregator of existing content drawn largely from YouTube, in a way similar to a service like Digg or any of the many interest or attention measuring functions of the web (not the least being Google and other search engines).
On the other hand, Bookchin’s work possesses a strong, even impassioned, activist element of the sort consistent with the reportage tradition extending back to John Heartfield and Sergei Tretiakov, or Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine before them. For example, in the interview Bookchin and Shulgin published in conjunction with the exhibition of Universal Page, Bookchin spoke of that time as one that demanded ‘superactivity’ because ‘there are vitally important things that need to be done’ to ‘resist total corporate, technological, and institutional takeovers’. In addition, her multiplayer game agoraXchange was created in collaboration with the political theorist Jackie Stevens, and called for ‘an end to the system of nation-states, the demise of rules rendering us passive objects tied to identities and locations given at birth’, and the elimination of ‘those laws requiring us to live and be seen largely as vessels for ancestral identities’. And finally, there was her very funny announcement, in 1999, of her intention for a journal titled BAD (standing for Burn the Artworld Down) that was ‘committed to the documentation of acts of terrorism and agitation against the institutional art world’. All of these works have performative dimensions to them, and as such call up a sense of tongue-in-cheek detachment from the subjects they purport to represent. Yet, to varying degrees, they also seem earnest and forceful political statements.
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