Sunday, February 10, 2008

DIY Video Summit

The University of Southern California (USC) sponsored the 24/7 DIY Video Summit this weekend, February 8–10. On Saturday afternoon I was able to catch the plenary session, “Envisioning the Future of DIY [Do-It-Yourself],” moderated by Howard Rheingold. Other panelists included Henry Jenkins, Joi Ito, John Seely Brown, and Yochai Benkler.

Because I’ve studied independent video movements that emerged during earlier media revolutions, beginning in the late 1960s, I was intrigued by the focus of this conference and the questions it raised. While listening to discussions about democratizing modes of new media production, distribution, and exhibition; inventing novel discursive styles and formats; and empowering underrepresented populations by allowing them to speak for themselves and tell their own stories, I was reminded of those earlier video pioneers who in many respects paved the way for the new media makers of today. Although social contexts have changed and communications technologies have evolved, relationships do persist between media artists and activists of the late twentieth century and DIY video makers at the beginning of the twenty-first century who are introducing theories and practices of their own.

Connections between the eras became increasingly evident to me as I watched the first curated screening of DIY videos, arranged according to genre. (I wasn’t able to stay for the second show, which showcased the curators’ favorites.) Fan videos, remixes with personal and political commentary, and various first-person pieces brought to mind some of the work that artists and activists were experimenting with in the period before the advent of the Internet, especially as post-production editing facilities become accessible and affordable. The list is too long to outline here, but a few memorable videos by innovative women include Joan Braderman’s Joan Does Dynasty (1986), a form of stand-up theory combined with first-person confession intercut with appropriated footage from the TV show; Dara Birnbaum’s Technology/Transformation: Wonderwoman (1978), appropriated footage of another TV show reedited and set to music; Branda Miller’s Birth of a Candy Bar, with members of the Henry Street Settlement in New York City (1988), a collective effort to empower underrepresented youth; Ilene Segalove’s Why I Got into TV and Other Stories (1983), humorous first-person reflections on the role of TV in the socialization of boomers; Valerie Soe’s New Year (1987), childhood remembrances of the maker’s Chinese heritage told through childlike drawings; Sadie Benning’s If Every Girl Had a Diary (1990), a teenager’s first-person confessions told in a direct-address style; Linda Gibson’s Flag (1989), an African American woman’s life story conveyed through dance and performance and embellished with cultural artifacts, as well as with readings from the maker’s childhood diary; and Vanalyne Green’s Trick or Drink (1984), a one-woman performance that portrays the maker as a young girl and avid diary writer who struggles with a dysfunctional family and the American dream.

The latter two videos, Gibson’s Flag and Green’s Trick or Drink, are worth examining in particular for the ways that they use excerpts of childhood diaries the makers wrote in the mid-1960s, a time when diary writing was a private activity and young diary writers often felt alone, without confidantes, audiences, or readers. Given the prevalence of diaristic and autobiographical videos on the Web—and hence the abundance of “private” disclosures now easily disseminated in the “public” sphere—Gibson’s and Green’s videos also suggest how makers might draw on their own “raw” material for creative work in the future. For an analysis of such possibilities, see my article “Dear Diary Revisited: Transforming Personal Archives, Flag and Trick or Drink.”

I hope to publish an inventory of my own video collection in this blog. It will include single-channel videos and archival texts. Check back soon.

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