Video Mutants: Problem solving with Jacob Ciocci of Paper Rad

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I knew I’d reached some level of pixel heaven a few minutes after putting Paper Rad’s Trash Talking (Load) into the DVD player. Or was it into the hard drive? Either way, that pixel portal to humor epiphanies opened when an animated character stopped jive walking and started telling me – in an ornery fashion – that the disc I was watching had no menu. Since the day of that digital bitch slap, I’ve encountered other brilliant uses of DVD formatting – the remote control menu of TV Carnage’s vintage-new Ouch Television My Brain Hurts is a maze of horrors, for example – but none quite so simply brilliant. The fact that it was followed by a sugared cereal version of a Duchamp-like explosion in a shingle factory helped. Paper Rad videos are seizures of pleasure.

Excerpt from Trash Talking DVD

Their latest video work subdues the frenzy, though. Some of the video mutants in this issue use YouTube to step outside of white cubes, while others – such as Kalup Linzy -- are creating their own answers to TV genres. With Problem Solvers, Paper Rad are taking the latter idea to a paradoxical extreme, seeing what they can do within the time constraints of a common sitcom format. I recently spoke to collective member Jacob Ciocci.

SFBG: I know you have a performance at the Sundance Film Festival. Will it be a bombardment?
Jacob Ciocci: Cory [Arcangel] is going to do a couple of performances, and we’re going to play live music to Problem Solvers, the new 23-minute video.
It will be a bombardment, but not as much overload as some previous performances and videos, because Problem Solvers is a narrative work that tells the story of six characters.

Trailer for Trash Talking DVD

SFBG: Can you tell me about the characters?
JC: They’re a ragtag group of adventurers. Some of their names are Dewy Petals, Panda Monia, Riviera, Tea Bubbles, and D.O.G.

SFBG: I like the character who introduces himself when you visit the Paper Rad site.
JC: He’s an old hippie who rides his bike – that’s Dewy Petals. He’s hungry for adventure.
Problem Solvers is a project that originated because we wanted to make a narrative video that was close to the format of what we remember and know of TV cartoons.
We screwed up, so it’s not 22 minutes, which is the perfect length of a TV pilot or half-hour show. But it’s close, and it has characters and a plot. We wanted to make something that could be expanded. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel – instead, it uses some of the conventions to push the narrative along.
Personally, I think there is nothing about it that’s weirder than an episode of Land of the Lost.

Still from Paper Rad's Problem Solvers
problem2.jpg

SFBG: Is there a Cha-Ka?
JC: No. There’s no Cha-Ka or Sleestaks. But it’s got a looping time-space quality that I’ve seen in a lot of serial shows.
We wanted to keep the format so simple that there would be a lot of room within it to be innovative. The format allows for our sensibility – deadpan humor, long pauses – to shine.

SFBG: I enjoy the way you use direct address in your writing, like on the website right now, or at the beginning of Trash Talking.
JC: Usually [that happens] when we’re compiling things together, and we realize there are moments that need clarity, or moments where the audience needs to enter. That’s when those interactions tend to happen – when we feel there is essential information that everyone needs to know, right up front. Even when we present things in a playful or absurd way, usually those kind of public addresses have a functional purpose.
The whole point of the beginning of the [Trash Talking] DVD is to say that there is no menu on the DVD. The beginning of Problem Solvers basically introduces the characters and shows what their basic characteristics are, so you aren’t figuring that out while you are watching.

SFBG: What I like about the DVD menu rant at the beginning of Trash Talking is that while you’re helping people, at the same time, you’re pulling the rug out from under them, basically defying their expectations of how a DVD functions.
People don’t realize how quickly their eyes glaze over and they become passive when they look at a screen.

JC: The videos that we make are very direct. Even though they may be disorienting or confusing, they’re in your face and upfront.

SFBG: When you’re working with visually intense material over a long period, does it affect your dreams?
JC: One thing that happens is that I have anxiety dreams about future performances or art shows going wrong, but within those dreams I’m envisioning new work – new videos, installations, or comics. So, those ideas will be in the context of a situation like “We have 10 seconds to finish painting this 50-foot wall bright green.”
It’s exciting when I wake up from that kind of dream – I’ll try to write down the ideas that happened. They’re usually weird bizarre-o versions of the next logical thing we could do.
But on a daily basis, I don’t have more vivid dreams than other people just because I do stuff with lots of color.

Still from Paper Rad's Problem Solvers
problem1.jpg

SFBG: You guys do something different, but I wonder if you feel a kinship with what people like Negativland, or Animal Charm, TV Carnage have done or do.
JC: Yeah – I’ve met one guy from Negativland, hung out with Animal Charm, and met the TV Carnage guy, and feel a definite kinship.

SFBG: You do more animation than they do.
JC: We do a lot more Flash animation. I knew about Negativland in high school, and it had an impact. It gave me permission to make VHS mixes of found material. I didn’t even think, “I’m doing what Negativland is doing,” but because I saw what they did, I knew it was possible.
The first thing we [Paper Rad] did were these Flash animations of this Gumby cartoon. We wanted to distribute them, but it was before the days of the DVD and just at the beginning of the Internet. We’d make these VHS mixes and in between all of our animation I started to collage found-footage. It’s almost as if the footage formed commercials between our animations.
Back in the day we lived in different houses and whichever one of us had cable would record whatever weird thing was happening and give the others what we called a “cable tape.” What we do came out of that functional purpose, and then we started putting [in] our animation as well.
Now it’s evolved. Personally, I’m making pieces that combine animation with found footage, or place animation on top of it. Like the “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” piece at the end of [Trash Talking] –

SFBG: Or the “umbrella zombie datamosh mistake”?
JC: Yeah. One thing I’ve been thinking recently is that you have to create something original as much as you sample.

cher and troll

SFBG: I wanted to ask about YouTube. For a start, about your YouTube clip “cher and troll.”
JC: I was over at the house of some friends who do animations under the name Hooliganship and they were playing me an old VHS tape they had found of one of them goofing off with his sister. They were doing a skit, and then lo and behold, in between the home movies that moment appeared. I stole the tape and never gave it back.
One of our early [video] mixes mimics that experience of layers and layers of TV being dubbed on top of each other. It mixes original stuff, home movie stuff, stuff from cable and more for that treasure trove experience of when you put an unlabeled VHS tape in the VCR and you don’t know what you’re going to get.
I like looking at a tape as a completed piece of art, so there will be ruptures and then a return to the narrative. To think of it like that – that everything on it is there for an intentional purpose -- is a fun way to watch.
But Problem Solvers is almost totally the opposite of that – there’s no found footage. We wanted to do something different.

SFBG: In terms of video, it seems the boundaries, not just between genres, but also between YouTube and the art world and cable TV and more, are becoming vague.
JC: The boundaries are vague, and we embrace that and work with it. We try to control the way our media is distributed, but we’re aware that media distribution is opening up or exploding, as it has been since computers.
A long time ago, when we first started Paper Rad, we began making ‘zines and comics together. Then we made animation, then a website, then a DVD – the work we make is scale-able, it can easily be translated from one media to the next without losing impact.
After VHS tapes, the Internet represents a new form of chaos in which you experience all these different source materials jumbled together. Having grown up with that, we’re aware of it and can’t help but mimic it in the work we make – and that also extends to the way we distribute our work. In the ‘50s, there weren’t these various easily acceptable media outlets, I might have had to show my films in an art cinema. I think it’s great if an artist will wants to do that.

SFBG: There’s a lot of humor and pleasure in your work.
JC: Pleasure is important – it can be a way to engage an audience in a variety of contexts. Now, looking through media is a sifting process, and the stuff that sticks out is often clever and humorous. There are thousands of videos that you can pan through in an hour on YouTube, and the one that will stick out is the one that’s clever or that speaks to you in a subconscious way.
The thing that sucks is that the scanning process might only be good for a day. You discover this Indonesian horror movie that’s the best thing you’ve ever seen -- and the next day you want to find another one, or something new, because it’s all up on the Internet: “I want to download every great horror movie ever made – show me something new, show me the next thing.”

P-UNIT-2 !!PART 2!!

SFBG: Do you like horror?
JC: The reason I mentioned it is that I just saw this horror movie called Mystics in Bali. It’s great. And that Japanese movie House [aka Hausu, from 1977] was just released on DVD. But sections of all of this can be found on YouTube.

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