I mentioned a while ago that I’ve sunk some money into a thing I want to do. I haven’t done it, but I’ve done another thing, sort of a prototype.
Hold on, let me go check the previous entry to see if I explained the background for what I wanted to do…
…Nope, I didn’t. Here goes:
You know about Periscope? It’s a live-feed app, where any user can open up a live feed and other users can watch and post comments in real-time that all viewers can see. China has a lot a lot a lot of these apps – it’s a big market, and an immature one. There’s kind of a gold-rush feel to it, because in the Chinese apps, viewers can give virtual gifts that the live-feed host can redeem for real money through the app.
This has resulted in a race for the lowest common denominator – a scramble for the formula that gives the best returns. A sociological study in exploiting the masses; finding which things to be, places to be in, things to be doing that will make people be giving you money. And the results are in. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is the depressing formula:
Thing to be: an attractive woman (sometimes man; roughly 1/10 of the time)
Place to be: in your bedroom (the pinker the better)
Thing to be doing: flirting, winking suggestively, possibly dancing suggestively, and (this is the most important part) flatly asking the audience to “like” you, subscribe to your channel, and send you gifts.
That sounds reductive, right? Like, if what I just wrote were true, then there would be lots and lots of apps full of pretty girls just sitting there, flirting with the camera and directly asking for money. That seems a bit ridiculous, so our author (me!) must have overstated things a bit. Right?
No. No. No. I dare you. Go download any of them – Yi, Huajiao, Ingkee, etc – and look at the top 20 channels on the home screen. It will be big eyes, cutesy hair, and cleavage. And if you click on any of the identical faces (and they are identical. Even Chinese people say so. The word for it: “hostess face.” It’s a thing), you will see a girl asking you for money, and you will see other people sending her money.
I’m currently double-fisting a latte and a lager, so I think my writing style is probably slipping a bit, so I will just skip the descriptions and appeal to you directly to feel alienated and weirded out and [whatever word we use to mean “disappointed in humanity”] about this. Go ahead. I’ll give you a moment.
[Allow for the passage of time here]
Now, see, I’m a bit of a bleeding heart. When I look at this travesty, this blatant exploitation of man’s (not sexist ‘cuz I am talking specifically about men) basest instincts, I get sad, the same kind of sad I get when I see people salivating over the next Pokemon game or luxury car (and I work in luxury car marketing. I get paid to make myself sad). The sadness of seeing people do their enthusiastic best to be hamsters on the wheel, rats at the lever, joyfully exploited capitalees.
No place on Earth is as adept as hypercapitalist China at making me that kind of sad. And when I get sad, I get satirical. “If only there was a way to reach into their phones and let them see the emptiness of their endeavor,” I say. “Jolt them into awareness of the virtual nature of their connection to their object of desire, break through the illusion into which they fling their money, their time, their affection.”
Basically, the project is to take the tacit absurdity of the medium and make it overtly, inescapably, absurdly absurd. I have a plan for this. But I need some help, and I haven’t yet met the right team.
In the interim, I can at least take some pot shots at the medium itself. Engage in a bit of cheeky weirding. Do something colorful, amusing, unexpected; something that doesn’t play along with the narrative; something that flitters about, dancing the absurdist tango while whispering softly, creepily, “This is all weird and we should perhaps reconsider.”
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Magic Mask.
Guy Fawkes mask (just because I happened to have one, which in retrospect is also kind of strange) taped to a white poster board. Mini-projector playing a looping kaleidoscope video. Phone in a clamp, pointed at the mask, logged into the app, constantly broadcasting.
Put the video in Keynote (like PPT for MAC), painstakingly adjusted some white shapes (and red eyes) to make the mask pop. Had to turn it sideways because I had to put the projector on its side because video screens are longer than they are tall, while phone screens are taller than they are long.
Because you can’t zoom when you’re in the app, I had to put the phone closer to the mask than the projector. This meant I couldn’t center the phone on the mask, because then it would be in the way of the projection. I had to put it off to the side. Will correct this later with a clamp-on zoom lens.
The first broadcast went from 1:30 to 5:30 this morning, while I slept. I was a bit buzzed when I set this up, as I did it on a whim after an evening of writing (I adhere to the “write drunk, edit sober” method). As such I forgot to disable the screen saver, so everything after the first hour was just a white apple dancing around on a black screen. I would be disappointed, but then again, I can’t help but feel that it’s just as appropriate as what I meant to do.
This is just the beginning. The premise of “live feeds” involves honesty – it’s realtime video, no chance for editing or effects. I circumvented this by using projection. I’ll continue to subvert other aspects of the medium in later versions. I assume that when I do, I’ll blog about that as well.
Now, if you’re anything like I imagine you are, you’re probably thinking, “This seems like an ingenious but ultimately pointless project.” I agree. It’s the very pointlessness that makes it so refreshing.
We often judge art (yes, I pretend to the term. I can do that – have a degree in the fine arts, you know. Yes, it’s technically a BA, but… Hey, look, behind you! A psychedelic floating mask!) by the final project, but sometimes the process is just as inherent to the meaning of a work. Nobody sent any gifts or subscribed to this broadcast, but that would have been icing on the cake. I did “the thing,” and some people saw it, and it was fun. It’s the sentence we often always never see in any description of a work, no matter how whimsical: “In this piece, the artist is clearly just effing around. He would be delighted that you’re looking at it, but kind of weirded out if you took it too seriously.”