YouTube Play’s Perception Problem

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

YouTube is the extrovert’s playground, so it’s no surprise that the Guggenheim’s inaugural Youtube Play Biennial netted so many technophiles broadcasting their wizardry. More than half of the 25 winners employed animation or cinematographic sleights of hand, too often in the service of low concept gimmickry. (Just one harnesses the unique participatory potential of this platform: Perry Bard’s “Man With a Movie Camera: The Global Remake” is a stunning piece of user-generated art).

By contrast, in “Luis,” Joaquín Cociña, Cristóbal León and Niles Atallah offer intimacy. Using stop-motion animation, they present a weird little world inhabited by an angry child who camouflages himself as animal. In a raspy whisper, Luis explains his inexplicable–and catastrophic–separation from his friend, Lucia: when this emotional bond breaks, his house falls apart, the walls dissolve, and he’s exposed to menacing creatures of the night.  In a white heat of fury, he takes a long breath and blows the evil force from his home, hissing, “I’ll kill you, asshole, son of a bitch, you fucking idiot.” Magically, order is restored: his ravaged house rights itself, the camera dollies back, and a sheer curtain closes on the stage set of Luis’ exorcism. Conjuring children’s stories like Where the Wild Things Are and The Three Little Pigs, the video–using a set made of charcoal and cardboard, flowers and found objects–captures the raw fear and primal power of childhood rage.

But it also calls into question the scope and purpose of the Guggenheim’s YouTube biennial. “Luis” has already garnered six awards at film festivals in the U.S. and abroad, and by YouTube’s own standards (where views are votes), it’s a winner (with over 100,000 views). Unlike the Vimeo Awards (also inaugurated in October), which are organized by genre and allow only original content, Play pits “Luis” against slick commercial entries, documentaries, and an unruly host of other forms by pros and amateurs. Is the Guggenheim mistaking a hosting site for an art form?