Ways of Seeing (1972) has been sweded by a massive group of digital, new media and web-based artists. Debuting in New York on September 6th, Ways of Something (2014) keeps the original audio track of John Berger’s seminal BBC program, but replaces all visuals with 60-second artworks, reworking the art history doc into relevancy and insanity. “I encouraged the artists to update or contradict the material,” Ways of Something curator, artist Lorna Mills tells ANIMAL. “If we erred, I wanted to err on the side of exuberance, and if it ended up a total clusterfuck, I’d be delighted with that too.”
It is a clusterfuck, with 3D renderings, filmic remixes, videos and webcam performances subverting the tropes of art history in an entertaining and overwhelming way. In Episode 1, Ways Of Something turns a Eurocentric history of “fine art” into dynamic landscapes for critique. Episode 2 examines the female nude and, as Mills says, “It’s absolutely maddening, out of date and sadly still relevant.” Episode 3 is in progress.
The artist was originally invited to curate the project by Julia van Mourik, the director of One Minutes at Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam. “I happened to stumble upon a YouTube video of Ways of Seeing on a Facebook link and realized that it would make a great framework for the program. The original YouTube video had captions so I wanted to keep them in as a formal device.” These caption don’t always stick to the script, transformed into textual elements of the artworks themselves. “The combined work is, in effect, art about art about television about the internet.” Ways Of Something morphs, warbles, seizes and glitches. It populates classic paintings with World of Warcraft characters. It shines a fleshlight on the male gaze. And as you listen to that voice-of-God narration, that narrative ruptures with flashes of the future.
Episodes 1 and 2 of artist Lorna Mills’ Ways of Something compilation shook the art community in 2014, receiving well-deserved praise by both audiences and media outlets alike. For her digital art update of John Berger’s seminal 4-part Ways of Seeing BBC documentary series, the Toronto-based artist employed some of the most creative forces currently working on the internet to assemble a stunning video “patchwork” with surgical precision. Bringing together the best and brightest in web-based creativity, Mills gave carte blanche to a stellar, carefully curated roster of artists, allowing each of them to transfigure their signature aesthetics and mediums into one-minute loops, the results of which comprise her series of 30-minute video mashups.
3D renders, GIFs, film remixes, webcam performances, websites, and more combine for Mills’ deconstructed reappropriation of Berger’s critique of western artistic traditions and cultural aesthetics. The result is a one-of-a-kind insight into internet era art-making processes, perfectly synchronized with the 1972 series’ narration. Through this uncanny video series, Mills expounds on the evolution of the creative disciplines and the ways in which art has been perceived by both artists and audiences since the dawn of the internet.
Interview for Vice magazine:
The Creators Project: Why did you choose Ways of Seeing as a starting point? Can you describe the details that you find interesting and important to apply to your creative process?
Lorna Mills: A bit of a long story: last year I was invited by The One Minutes in Amsterdam to curate a program of one minute screening videos on any theme I chose. I originally was trying to come up with something that involved GIF artists, but animated GIFs don’t really lend themselves to a one minute time frame so all my ideas felt very arbitrary and forced. While this problem of what to do was in the back of my mind, one of my Facebook friends, Jaakko Pallasvuo, happened to post a link to a YouTube file of Ways of Seeing Episode 1, dryly remarking that it had “exactly the same premise as all those dematerialized/rematerialized image-objects in the circulated network post internet group shows that keep happening every 2 months but this is just more elegantly and clearly presented and 40 yrs earlier [sic].”
I read the book version years ago like almost every other art student, but I didn’t know that the BBC production had preceded it. I watched the first episode and had a eureka moment only because it had been closed captioned. A minute-by-minute remake without captions would have just resulted in a pile of vignettes by a bunch of different artists, and that didn’t excite me at all. Instead I saw the text captions as a way to magnify the discontinuity visually, yet also unite it all. Basically I saw the potential for some structural tension that would make the project really interesting.
Through Ways of Something you describe the “cacophonous conditions of art-making after the internet.” Can you expand on this idea a little more?
“After the internet” has become a bit of a cliché now, but it does serve as a shorthand for some current conditions that many artists are working with especially those with an on-line practice. Obviously there is a distinction to be made between the top-down delivery of the mass media that Berger was describing and the more lateral networked culture we have now, but there are still so many similarities. Or, perhaps its better to say that many of his observations are still pertinent to art making today. I can’t say that I ever intended the project to be either a tribute or a parody of the original documentary, I just thought of it as a vehicle for a small selection of contemporary digital art practices and an interesting way to present art history.
Can you describe your workflow?
The first one was the hardest. There is a lot of prep work involved on my end—the first step is downloading the YouTube version and dividing the whole episode into separate minutes, rendering a separate sound file for each minute and then transcribing the captions to text files. None of the four episodes were exactly x number of minutes so I had to find places in the source video where I could shave off several seconds before it could be divided into full minutes. I then uploaded all the sections so that the artists could view the choices.
The most work was communicating with so many artists while on a tight deadline. Once I had confirmed the exact number of artists I needed, I sent them a link to watch all the available minutes, then on a designated day and time I shared a sign-up doc and let them grab their minute on a first come, first serve basis. I should have screen captured the process because over half of the artists were reading and editing that document as soon as it was released. Once the artists chose their minutes, I sent each of them the sound file and a text file with their captions.
I tried to make it as painless as possible for them. It was important that the artists select the minute that gave them the most ideas for their approach; for me to choose for anyone would have felt too presumptuous and a little bit like an art school assignment.
Reassembling the finished minutes into a full episode involved stripping out the sound, laying them on the video tracks in order, putting in a master sound track, grabbing screen captures, and creating the credits. Unfortunately video codecs can be tricky, and some compressions will add a few frames, so there were a few adjustments that had to be made to fit everything together. The artists used a wide variety of video editing tools so sometimes Mac files wouldn’t open in my editing software on my Windows OS. My biggest fear was that I would ruin someone’s work in the final product.