Fitting for an event exploring the transformation of existing material into new work, the RE/Mixed Media Festival last Saturday offered any number of unique experiences depending on which panel, performance, or music event you decided to sample. There was Greek theater colliding with hip hop, classical literature transfigured through comics, politics mashing with performance art, battling remix-DJs, and discussions on copyright, authorship, and appropriation. The only thing missing in the the blend was heat. Yet the festival had to be commended for going forward with its ambitious technology-centered program with only generator power (supplied by Rooftop Films) running electricity in the Brooklyn Lyceum due to damage from Hurricane Sandy.
The RE/Mixed Media Festival launched in 2010 to celebrate “collaborative art-making and creative appropriation.” I stopped by in the afternoon and caught a selection of the day-long panels and media presentations that took over the two warehouse-like floors of the former public bath. Additionally, there was a “mezzanine” of installations in a space that served as a projection room for the lower level. It felt more internet cafe than art exhibit, but was worth visiting for Mark Street‘s vivid “Lightbox Collages” that involved layers of spliced old film, slides, and photographs.
By coincidence, the night before the festival I had attended Bill Morrison and Richard Einhorn’s “The Shooting Gallery” at BAM, where audience members used laser points to trigger different video clips in four screens lining the new blackbox Fishman Space. While the installation wasn’t quite as engaging as I’d hoped, with the interaction seeming unnecessary and the pacing awkward, it did have captivating sequences of fragmented vintage film clips that evoked a strange melancholy. It also sparked my thinking on the obstacles for originality when appropriating material. However, Italian sound designer and “sonic artist” Adriano Clemente stated the truth on the “Open Session: International Remix” panel when he said that “what we call remix right now is something that was in humans from the beginning.” Adaptation upon what was previously created is of course nothing new, but what is, are the contemporary ideas of copyright and ownership, as well as the absolute proliferation of art that consciously remixes old material.
Copyright, and subsequently plagiarism, have been discussed to death, particularly with the recent outcries against writers Jonah Lehrer and Fareed Zakaria. However, RE/Mixed offered an important perspective from the position of the artist. The “International Remix” panel also included festival keynote speaker and author of Remix Theory Eduard Navas, New School media studies faculty member Nirtin Sawhney, and founder and director of MAshRome Film Fest Alessandra Lo Russa. They made some interesting comments on how remixing loses its “magic” as the form becomes profitable and, often, a way to get music label or other professional attention, rather than subverting the corporate system. Clemente also pointed out how new technology like the Shazam app can on-the-spot identify a song from its patterns — potentially making even the smallest snippets of sound or image intensely trackable to a restrictive extent.
In the same vein was the “Remix in Literature” panel, which included writer Jonathan Ames, the biggest name of the festival, alongside fellow literary figures Navas, Edward Champion, and McKenzie Wark, with moderator Mirima Aziz. Focusing on the “tradition of literary remix in literature and issues of plagiarism and authorship,” it had some valuable discussion on how appropriation is different in fiction from other art, as not every writer is going to follow T.S. Eliot in appending their work with “Wasteland”-level footnotes for each and every inspiration and source. Citing and appropriation instead relies much more on context. Ames took direct inspiration from P.G. Wodehouse for his novel Wake up, Sir!, but cleverly included dialogue between the narrator and the Wodehousian-named Jeeves that assured the reader (and the lawyers) that this Jeeves had completely different hobbies and was a character of his own, while paying tribute to an author he admired.
R. Sikoryak, another literary remixer, presented his fantastic work that turns the classics of literature into comic books, while managing to retain the spirit of both in their new form. There’s Charlie Brown as Kafka’s Gregor Samsa (a character switch from the dour child to the dour man-turned-beetle that Sikoryak said really took no effort at all), “Action Camus” handing the luminary of French absurdism over to the heroes of Action Comics, and the already haunted romance of “Wuthering Heights” given the “Tales of the Crypt” treatment in “The Crypt of Bronte.”
As the festival went from 10 am to midnight, and the temperatures in the building seemed to hover at just a few steps above frigid, it was impossible to see it all, but in the small slice I attended was Maxx Klaxon’s Kraftwerk-tinged “Authoritarian Idol” performance. It included generated presidential candidates as video game characters with remixed statements from their speeches. Although the politics was a few days late to be exactly topical (this was his final presentation of the 2012 campaign remix that he’d performed pre-election), I did enjoy his synthesizer-driven droning music accompanied by videos that seemed to be traveling out of a portal to the 1980s.
While the festival did seem to be all over the place, which gave it a lot of diversity in terms of media, it lacked a bit in focus. I did appreciate its embracing of remixing in all art, going beyond music and video to literature and visual art as well. Hopefully the RE/Mixed Media Festival with its DIY enthusiasm can continue to expand on what it’s started with these first few years, as the issues of appropriation, copyright, and how art can filter through remixing the overwhelming amount of media swarming our world can only become more relevant to contemporary creation.
The 2012 RE/Mixed Media Festival occurred November 10 at the Brooklyn Lyceum (227 4th Avenue, Park Slope, Brooklyn).