Sunday, September 26, 2010

SCREENING & DISCUSSION: Oil and Water Remixes

Critical Writing by Desiree D'Alessandro & Diran Lyons

VENUE: Oil + Water: The Case of Santa Barbara and Southern California Conference
Interdisciplinary Humanities Center, University of California, Santa Barbara.
April 8 – 10, 2010
McCune Conference Room, 6020 HSSB

DesireƩ D'Alessandro: Hi everyone! How are you? (Audience responds). Good! My name is Desiree D'Alessandro. I am a Fine Art Masters student here at UCSB, and this is my colleague, Diran Lyons. He is also a former UCSB Art Department graduate, as you can see... (D'Alessandro gestures toward Lyons, who is sporting UCSB apparel). Apparently proud of it! (Audience laughs). We're very excited to be here today and gathered with professionals of such a prestigious stature; all of which are well-informed and very skilled. We're excited to engage in this discussion about oil and water through a historical and a contemporary lens that spans local, national, and global networks. Working within the realm of digital media, Lyons and I have curated a small selection of works that we have generated and wish to share with you today. We are also going to be screening a work by Jonathan McIntosh, who is also a major proponent in the realm of Political Remix Video. A certain aspect that we really wish to emphasize today is PRV's accessibility. Anyone with Internet access can view these works and hopefully engage in the commentary and public discourse that is generated through the viral and public platform of YouTube. Without further adieu, I invite Lyons to present us with the context that surrounds these works and how they relate to activism. He will also share with us how his works have recently received acclaim on Thank you.

Diran Lyons: Thank you, Desiree. To put things tersely, Political Remix Video does have an activist tendency---to follow the keynote address that we just heard---in that it is primarily interested in directing the viewer's imagination toward topical politics and current critical issues like oil. For example, I'm going to very briefly screen a video by Jonathan McIntosh---it's about a minute long. By tweaking a handful of subtle moments within a Chevron commercial that aired a few years ago, McIntosh is able to cast a critical shadow upon the oil company and reframe the entire message of said commercial. He does this by replacing certain clips with other existing footage from different contexts, thereby allowing the viewer to see some of the irresponsible behavior Chevron has committed as a result of its global meandering and reckless pursuit of capital. By swapping in the new clips, McIntosh creates a visual narrative that corrects the claims of the commercial's narrator. After this remix, I will move on to some of the atrocities Chevron has committed specifically in Ecuador over the past thirty years, as they should assume responsibility for these when their purchase of Texaco took place in 2001. So, I would like to now screen the following works that focus on Chevron: The Power of Chevron's Human Energy from 2008, by Jonathan McIntosh, and Chevron's 8 Steps (Ricardo Reis Veiga Remix), a remix that I made this year.

Lyons: Again, the first video was by Jonathan McIntosh, and as you can see, it was obviously very critical of Chevron. In this case, Political Remix is valuable not in its capability to embody a rigor as comprehensive as some of the presentations we've seen today, but in terms of its ability to rapidly disseminate information into the public discourse. It can direct our attention toward some of the more comprehensive literature and those types of arguments, all in a quick, audiovisual format. Before handing things back to Desiree, I'll screen my work Jake Gyllenhaal Challenges the Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and after the screening I'll briefly offer some reflection on it. Here, I think PRV is extremely valuable because it is able to grab, for example, household names like Jake Gyllenhaal and reinsert these into the political discussion. Both of the films that are remixed in the following video--Donnie Darko and Jarhead--have absolutely nothing to do with the new point of view that the remixed video espouses. But recontextualizing these films by integrating them with other video materials allows me to say something completely different than the original sources, and the final result is a video critical of both the source material and the President's foreign policies. That is the critique. That is the interest.

Lyons: That was Jake Gyllenhaal Challenges the Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and like most Political Remix Video, it is very reliant on what Friedrich Nietzsche might call the Creative Lie. It's an artistic strategy which uses illusion and deception intentionally, but in such a way that the viewer is not really duped by it. Through this artistic gesture, we're able to suggest deeper deductions on specific issues. In this case, the video imagines--as Nietzsche might say--a "people of the future" who would readily assert fortified postures against ideological positions that they find disagreeable, confidently challenging power structures with passion and without fear. Remix forcefully fosters this sort of attitude and environment. And finally, I think it is really good for exposure to place such works not only on places like YouTube, but also to screen them in competitive public festivals, that way they have a broader reach and can get on places like Internet Movie Database. And, for example, can go up thirteen thousand percent in popularity (using a laser pointer, Lyons circles a screen shot of the popularity gauge that reveals the remix work up by over 13,000%). I don't understand this number, but I was very happy when I saw it! (Audience laughs). The film reached #1 on for five weeks, and as a result it generated further interest in this type of work.

D'Alessandro: To continue with the final screening of our presentation, notice there is a shift in tone between the remix that you just saw, and the remix in which we are about to present. Additionally, there's also a shift in political topic and subject, where the former remix addresses issues on oil, this one is going to address issues on water conservation and sustainability. The remix also continues to develop this conversation of reconfiguring source material to present an alternative truth, or as Nietzsche would assert, a Creative Lie. The juxtaposition of humor and criticality in the following work potentially amplifies its accessibility to viewers who can engage in the agenda behind the message and also enjoy the mash-up for what it is. This remix is one that I have made recently, and is titled World Water Shortage vs. Golf Course Consumption.

D'Alessandro: So I decided to address issues on water and hyrdopolitics when I encountered a national fact that California is one of the leading golf course-congested states in the US. I began to speculate on what this means in terms of water commoditization in the face of the proliferation of such a spectacle. Through remix, I felt that this investigation merited the utilization of a wider array of source footage to recontextualize and create an environmental message to boost the accessibility of the work---to juxtapose the difference in the way the topic is handled in the news vs. mainstream media commercials, and treat each cut as a continuous conceptual stream across a variety of media dissemination platforms. The resulting critical yet humorous narrative ultimately promotes the utilization of water in a more judicious sense and advocates my disapproval of maneuvers to convert this critical world resource into a profitable commodity. All the works we have screened today are grounded in progressive postures that challenge power structures through innovative audiovisual material, addressing political institutions, corporations, and environment crises that directly correspond with this year's IHC theme: Oil and Water.

Lyons: This concludes our presentation, and we thank you for viewing our selection of works.

D'Alessandro: Yes, we look forward to your questions in the panel discussion. Thank you!


  1. If you'd like to read more about Chevron's toxic mess in Ecuador after seeing those videos, visit my blog: