A struggling artist friend recently e-mailed me a shocking photo. In it, she stood side by side with a not-so-struggling poet she’s never met. In one stroke, she wiped out the miles, the money, the gender privilege, the good or bad timing, the caprices of fortune that separate them. One standard-issue digital camera and an old version of Photoshop did the trick.
Such digital power may be shifting to the people, but mass art is still a money game. And the offerings at this year’s Resfest digital filmmaking exhibition underscore the continuing obstacles to subversive artists seeking popular access—rarefied vocabulary, consensus aesthetic, and that old bugbear, pricey tools. Nonetheless, it is both for and despite these reasons that Resfest 2002 is one of the most fascinating games in town this week.
Since 1996, this arty cousin of Macworld has been a concatenation of the sort of hip elites that Mac (and Perrier, and Intel, and Chris Blackwell) assumes Macworlders admire. This year’s fest, sporting two features, seven programs of themed shorts, and two long sets of visualized music, is once again an eye-popping showcase for artists who came up in the blurred worlds of fashion, marketing, and music video. The aesthetic remains rooted in dotcom boomtime largesse: the downtown-via-Tokyo haircuts, the late-’90s oversaturated colors, the crumbling “old-economy” concrete viewed from train windows and racing skateboards.
Comfort is often the incubator of great art. And sometimes it happens at Res. Spike Jonze contributes What’s Up Fatlip?, an alternately pensive and hilarious interview he shot while making the rapper’s video, and skate-vet videographer Mike Mills puts regular joes on the spot with Hair, Shoes, Love, and Honesty. The “Cinema Electronica” music-vid program includes work as disparate as Ben Stokes’s dancing collages for DJ Shadow’s “Walkie Talkie” and LynnFox’s anemone-flytrap imagining of FC Kahuna’s “Hayling.” The full-tilt “Videos That Rock” set swings from TGB’s reckless kinder-anime bears tooling through Cube Juice’s “Head Long” to Michel Gondry’s Lego-bitmapped White Stripes in “Fell in Love With a Girl.” For Death Cab’s “Movie Script Ending” Josh Melnick and Xander Charity take the lovey-doviest bits of La Jetée on a spin through Urban Outfitters. Best image: little girl on seahorse floating over snowy city in Eun-Ha Peak’s gorgeous fable for Takako Minekawa’s “The Fancy.”
Music videos, of course, double as pissing contests for wacky ad/art collectives like Tomato, Hammer & Tongs, and Traktor. It would be tough for a shoestringer to compete with StyleWar’s Bond-like Hives “Main Offender.” Shynola’s take on UNKLE’s “Eye for an Eye” features a terrifying scenario—a Fantasia planet of peach-toned creatures with balloon heads and doughnut mouths is invaded by huge descending balls covered with nipples, which the little beings suck on before turning into a chomping, winged army. Make no mistake, advertising is hell.
I’ll take the sneaker-pimping at Res any day over the bloated self-importance of Godfrey Reggio’s new Qatsi installment. With Naqoyqatsi, Hopi for “Life as War,” Reggio set out to both embody and critique the technology that has invaded all aspects of natural life. Instead of traveling, the spiritual auteur this time reportedly imagined “image” as “destination.” And all the blue monsoons, fuzzy armies, rushing clouds, flying zeros and ones, gamboling pink antelopes, and layered stock quotes, are meant to show that yes, in fact, we did start the fire. But despite some rocking bombast by Philip Glass and reliably wicked cello saws from Yo-Yo Ma, the whole thing plays like a tired Tyco ad. Don’t expect it to rival Koyaanisqatsi in the dorm-rental category. Savvy pot-kids know this from Shynola.