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ange on 10/18/2012 at 02:00PM

Don't Use Music As Wallpaper: An Interview with Vicki Bennett

Vicki Bennett has been making audio and visual collage since 1991, when the internet was a fetus and you probably didn't own a computer. She creates her work with the nom de plume People Like Us. It's a moniker that speaks to the role of the collective and popular culture in her work, and a need to belong. Using collage as her medium, she creates audio recordings, films and radio shows that mix and manipulate original sources from both experimental and popular media. Her work has been shown at Tate Modern, The Barbican, Sydney Opera House, Pompidou Centre, Maxxi in Rome and Sonar, and she's hosted the WFMU radio program Do or DIY since 2003.

Plus, she's a judge for our Past Re-Imagined As the Future remix contest. In our Q&A, Bennett shares that she's hoping to see works that are engaging and transformative. As you comb through the materials in the Prelinger Archives, she reminds us that these videos aren't just about the past, but also about the present, the future, and something timeless.

What first drew you to the practice of AV collage art?

That there is a huge palette to choose from which means you can get started right away. I've been making collages since I was about 16. I found that I like working with audio and imagery with previously existing conceptual/contextual associations, because it allows me to redirect the focus of these associations into new stories, like a conductor or director. It also appeals very strongly to my surreal, subversive sense of humour - being able to turn things upside down. Collage has a very long history and made huge statements, just by taking what already exists and representing it in a new or different way - it has frequently been political or politicized. Collage is not just about putting random images together, collage is about composition, editing, and language. It exists everywhere since all languages are a collage of content that already exists.
 
How has changing technology influenced your practice?
 
The coming of broadband, file sharing platforms, and the affordability of high speed computers and editing software around 2000 changed everything for me. No longer was I reliant upon finding things locally to work with or borrowing other people's dat machines or cassette four tracks - suddenly I could multitrack and edit in the way I always wanted to. I was waiting for 10 years to do things how I really imagined.
 
When did you first encounter the Prelinger Archives? How has it played a role in your work? 
 
As soon as I got broadband in 2000. This really changed not only the way I thought about making work but also opened my mind to just how much things were going to change now that people could share, exchange and converse. This was around this time that Brewster Kahle persuaded Rick Prelinger to share some footage online for free at archive.org. Before this I was really in a difficult position sourcing well transfered moving image - dependent on vhs rips from things from video and tv. The films Rick shares are beautiful quality with wonderful images, subjects and messages. I downloaded one film from archive.org and emailed Rick and thanked him. Then I sent him a big package of CDs and we started corresponding. We were in touch for years on a daily basis exchanging ideas and so on. I made many films and two live performances entirely from Rick's films.
 
Is there a collection out there that you've been coveting? If you had a magic wand to digitize and public domain-ify collections, where would you begin?
 
I would make everything available that has ever been published! There is no reason why the future should be held hostage by the past. It is very negative to not be able to access and use the materials of your time to comment, reflect, create. Too much focus is on and around destruction and loss, using the language of fear. 
 
A lot of our contest participants are going to find themselves combing though hours and hours of footage and music online. What's your advice for picking out digital materials for a remix?
 
There's no way around that really. You have to use the search engine and your ideas and then you just have to watch. A lot. And then.. important - don't use most of it! Most of the day's work in the digital cutting room is on the conceptual floor at the end of the day and so it should be. Keep the edits concise and engaging and if you lose track of the plot/concept then so will someone else who's watching. It is not enough that the footage you source from is good, your work is to transform it with your own unique ideas and personality. Also don't use music as wallpaper to moving image, and vice versa, it gives this business a bad name!
 
In our interview with Rick Prelinger, he pointed out that there are remix cliches, like machine-gun style single-frame montages. Does the word "remix" carry certain associations these days? What do you think makes for a great remix?
 
I'd go as far as not calling it a "remix". I fear that the recent focus on archives could be(come) a fad... and people might not stay interested or feel the longterm value. There are some important messages to be shared in how we treat published material that affect more than just artists - concerning freedom, self expression and preservation, in a time when information is routinely privatized when it should be accessible by everyone.
 
You are one of the judges for our Past Re-Imagined As The Future Remix contest. Do you have any last words of advice for our contestants as they prepare their entries? What are you hoping to see?
 
To experience something engaging and transformative. These are the key aspects of creativity that make something stand the test of time. The stories we tell, the palette we use, the content found in archives, Prelinger Archives, aren't only about the past - they are beautiful reflections into the present and future. A good piece of work should ultimately stand up on it's own, outside of any time space or context.
 

 

 

This contest is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

 

 
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