Press Cuttings and more

People Like Us/Vicki has been reviewed in, amongst others, The Wire, BBC website, Bizarre Magazine, Rolling Stone, Frieze, The Independent, Record Collector, Time Out, Film Comment, The Guardian, The Scotsman, XLR8R, Baltimore City Paper, Sight and Sound, NME, Metro and San Francisco Bay Guardian, and interviewed for Found Footage Magazine (2016), The Observer (2006), Filmmaker Magazine (2015), The Wire (2014, 2011, 2008, 1999), Sight and Sound (2013), a-n Magazine (2012), Wired (2012), RadioWeb MACBA (2010), Sound and Music (2011), Sound Projector (2012, 2000), Bizarre Magazine (1999), NME (1995, 1996). On radio I’ve been interviewed on Late Junction (2016), Soundproof (ABC Radio National 2016), WDR 3 Open Sounds (WDR 2016), Cutting Up The Cut Up (BBC Radio 4 2015), North by Southwest (British Council 2012) PM (BBC Radio 3 2010), Twenty Minutes (BBC Radio 3 2009) and Mixing It (BBC Radio 3 2004). Please note: we no longer update this section very often because the internet is effective in finding these things, unlike the old days of magazine articles
Interview about Copyright on Ableton site (Nov 2016)
Interview on Soundproof (ABC Radio National) (July 2016)
Interview in Found Footage Magazine (April 2016)
Interview in Venture Engraved Magazine (March 2016)
Interview on WDR (Feb 2016)
Interview on Late Junction (BBC Radio 3) (Jan 2016)
Documentary about People Like Us (Jan 2016)
Interview in Filling Station Magazine Issue 63 with Peter Jaeger (Sept 2015)
Cutting Up The Cut-Up (BBC Radio) (June 2015)
Feature in The Wire Magazine (Psychic Jams) (August 2014)
Interview with The Wire Magazine (Feb 2014)
Interview in SyncTank about Gesture Piece (Sept 2013)
Interview in a-n magazine about Gesture Piece (Sept 2013)
Feature on our Random Acts commission in Televisual (June 2013)
Interview in Sight and Sound magazine and Clipping (May 2013)
Interview in De-Bug (February 2013)
Interview with City Sonic, Brussels (September 2012)
Review in The Wire of People Like Us & Ergo Phizmiz The Keystone Cut Ups DVD on Illegal Art (October 2012)
Review in Wired of People Like Us & Ergo Phizmiz Moon Magic 7″ on Illegal Art (August 2012)
Mention of Radio Boredcast
 by Radio Web MACBA (April 2012)
Interview in Wired about Radio Boredcast (March 2012)
Essay by Vicki Bennett in The Wire magazine’s Collateral Damage page 
http://thewire.co.uk/articles/8439/ (March 2012)
Review of AV Festival 12 in The Guardian (March 2012)
Blogpost by Vicki Bennett about Radio Boredcast for AV Festival 12 (February 2012)
Interview with Vicki about Radio Boredcast for AV Festival 12 by Pixel Palace (December 2011)
The Doors of Perspection preview in The Independent (29 July 2011)
The Doors of Perspection preview in The Independent 2 (29 July 2011)
The Doors of Perspection review in Front Row Reviews (July 2011)
People Like Us interview in Invisible Jukebox in The Wire (July 2011)
Review of Welcome Abroad in Groovemine (May 2011)
People Like Us feature in XLR8R (May 2011)
Review of More Soup And Tart In The Wire Magazine (June 2011)
People Like Us Chart In The Wire Magazine (June 2011)
Expanded Video exhibition at Maxxi – pdf (April/May 2011) More documentation here.
Review of Welcome Abroad in Letters With Mixtapes (May 2011)
Review of Welcome Abroad in AOL/Spinner (May 2011)
Review of Welcome Abroad in Dusted (May 2011)
Review of Welcome Abroad in Unheard Music (May 2011)
Review of Welcome Abroad in Decibel Tolls (March 2011)
The Keystone Cut Ups (People Like Us & Ergo Phizmiz) in Aesthetica Magazine (September 2010)
The Keystone Cut Ups (People Like Us & Ergo Phizmiz) in The Scotsman (September 2010)
The Keystone Cut Ups (People Like Us & Ergo Phizmiz) in IDMb News (September 2010)
The Keystone Cut Ups (People Like Us & Ergo Phizmiz) in The Guardian Guide (September 2010)
Interview and feature about The Keystone Cut Ups (People Like Us & Ergo Phizmiz) in Berwick Advertiser (September 2010)
Interview and feature about The Keystone Cut Ups (People Like Us & Ergo Phizmiz) in Kyeo TV (September 2010)
Review of The Keystone Cut Ups (People Like Us & Ergo Phizmiz) in Observealot (September 2010)
Review of Music For The Fire in Sound Projector (2011)
Review of Music For The Fire (People Like Us & Wobbly) in Rumore (September 2010)
Review of Music For The Fire (People Like Us & Wobbly) in Record Collector (August 2010)
Review of Music For The Fire (People Like Us & Wobbly) in Sentireascoltare (July 2010)
Review of Music For The Fire (People Like Us & Wobbly) in Skug (July 2010)
Review of Music For The Fire (People Like Us & Wobbly) in RifRaf (July 2010)
Review of Music For The Fire (People Like Us & Wobbly) in Go Mag (July 2010)
Review of Music For The Fire (People Like Us & Wobbly) in Magic (July 2010)
Preview of the People Like Us exhibit at Edinburgh Printmakers Prints of DarknessThe List (June 2010)
Review of Music For The Fire (People Like Us & Wobbly) in Playground (June 2010)
Music For The Fire (People Like Us & Wobbly) in Huw Stephens’ Radio show BBC Radio 1 (June 2010)
Review of Music For The Fire (People Like Us & Wobbly) in Limewire Music Blog (June 2010)
Review of Music For The Fire (People Like Us & Wobbly) in MusicOMH (June 2010)
Music For The Fire (People Like Us & Wobbly) in Stuart Maconie’s Radio show BBC Radio 6 (June 2010)
Review of Music For The Fire (People Like Us & Wobbly) in My Old Kentucky Blog (June 2010)
Review of Music For The Fire (People Like Us & Wobbly) in Polychromic (June 2010)
Review of Music For The Fire (People Like Us & Wobbly) in Beyond The Noize (June 2010)
Review of Music For The Fire (People Like Us & Wobbly) in aaamusic (June 2010)
Review of Music For The Fire (People Like Us & Wobbly) in Little Village Mag by Kembrew McLeod (May 2010)
Music For The Fire gets Radio 1 airplay (May 2010)
Article on the Recycled Film Symposium at AV Festival in axisweb (May 2010)Axisweb website
Review of Genre Collage in Baltimore City Paper (April 2010)
Review of MACBA’s Variations program, which Genre Collage is a part of (February 2010)
Review of Genre Collage in Film Comment magazine (January 2010)
People Like Us co-curate an evening at AV Festival (March 2010)
Nothing Is New, Everything Is Permitted – People Like Us play at AV Festival (March 2010)
BBC News – about People Like Us Baudrillard cassette (January 2010)
BBC News Front page (January 2010)
BFI Southbank (December 2009)
Straight.com (October 2009)
Alienated In Vancouver (October 2009)
Jean Baudrillard Le Xerox et l’Infini – Hard Format (August 2009)
Jean Baudrillard Le Xerox et l’Infini – Aquarius Records (August 2009)
Time Out – Critics Choice (August 2009)
Withers In The Waking review – Heathen Harvest (July 2009)
Interview in Crawdaddy (July 2009)
Rhapsody in Glue – Liability (March 2009)
Withers In The Waking review – Record Collector (January 2009)
Withers In The Waking review – Norman Records (December 2008)
Interview with People Like Us – Blow Up (December 2008)
Withers In The Waking review – Aquarius (December 2008) 
Withers In The Waking review – Boomkat (December 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – Bad Alchemy (November 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – Hair Entertainment (October 2008)
Rhapsody In Glue review – Goute Mes Disques (November 2008)
DO or DIY chart – The Wire (October 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – Orkus (November 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – Rumore (October 2008)
Rhapsody in Glue review – Blow Up (September 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – Westzeit (October 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – Ox (October 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – Le Son Du Grisli (September 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – Sound Projector (May 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – Frieze magazine (September 2008)
Rhapsody In Glue review – Pop News (September 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – Octopus Record Of The Week (September 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – Rock Delux(September 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – D Side(September 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – Titel Magazine (September 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – Schlendrian (September 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – Vital Weekly 162 (September 2008)
Mention in the Guardian (UK) – Click That Dial! (August 11 2008)
Rhapsody in Glue review – O Dominio Dos Deuses (July 2008)
Rhapsody in Glue/Smiling Through My Teeth Review – Incendiary Mag (July 2008)
Rhapsody in Glue review – Octopus (July 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – The Wire (August 2008)
Rhapsody in Glue review – Skug (July 2008) 
Rhapsody in Glue review – D-Side (July 2008) 
Rhapsody in Glue review – Choices Cologne (July 2008)
Rhapsody in Glue review – The Wire (July 2008)
Rhapsody in Glue review – Titel-Magazin / CD of the Week (June 2008)
People Like Us interview part 1 – The Wire (June 2008)
People Like Us interview part 2 – The Wire (June 2008)
People Like Us interview part 3 – The Wire (June 2008)
People Like Us interview part 4 – The Wire (June 2008)
People Like Us interview part 5 – The Wire (June 2008)
Perpetuum Mobile – Music For Maniacs (October 2007)
Perpetuum Mobile – Geiger (September 2007)
Perpetuum Mobile – Bad Alchemy (August 2007)

Perpetuum Mobile – Brainwashed (June 2007)
Perpetuum Mobile – RifRaf (June 2007)
Perpetuum Mobile – Rolling Stone (Mexico!!) June 2007 
Perpetuum Mobile – Review in Norman Records June 2007

Perpetuum Mobile – Review in Jumbo June 2007

Perpetuum Mobile – Review in Loop June 2007
Perpetuum Mobile – Review in Boomkat June 2007
Perpetuum Mobile – Review in Cologne Choices June 2007
Story Without End – Review in Jazzthetik July 2006
Story Without End – Review in Trax Magazine June 2006
Interview with People Like Us in 
The Observer 6 November 2006 – herehere & here
Story Without End – Review in Black Jan 2006
Story Without End – Review and Interview April 2006
Story Without End – Review in Cinemania May 2006
Story Without End – Review in The Wire May 2006
Story Without End – Review by Kevin Hamilton February 2006
Story Without End – Blow Up February 2006
Story Without End – Rock Delux Magazine February 2006
Story Without End – Magic Magazine February 2006
Story Without End – Debug Magazine January 2006

Story Without End – Intro Magazine February 2006
Story Without End – Sonic Seducer Magazine February 2006
Story Without End – D Side Magazine January 2006
Story Without End – Go Magazine January 2006
Story Without End – Bad Alchemy Magazine January 2006
Story Without End – Clone Magazine January 2006
Story Without End – Metro Magazine Summer 2005
“The Remote Controller” won second prize in the Backup Festival in Weimar 2004
Worked on a film/installation commission with Sonic Arts Network, 2004-2005 
Worked on a film commission for LUX, 2004
Yerba Buena Center For The Arts with Matmos, November 2003
Article featuring media work of PLU on BBC site July 2002
Review of People Like Us album, Recyclopaedia Britannica, on BBC website 2002
PLU get a mention in Larry Lessig’s blog 2003 
Very good interview with Kenny G on WFMU, March 2003
Small mention in The Guardian (UK)
Sound Unseen Festival, Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis 2002

Sound Unseen Festival, Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis2 2002

Ether Festival Flyer, Purcell Room, London 2002
Ether Festival review in The Wire, Purcell Room, London 2002
Ether Festival reviews, Purcell Room, London 2002
Sight and Sound magazine 2002
Lovebytes Festival Programme, Sheffield 2002
Lovebytes Festival Programme, Sheffield 2 2002
Oblique Lu Nights Festival, Nantes, France 2002
People Like Us at Sound Unseen, Minneapolis 2002
LMC 10th Anniversary Festival, Purcell Room, London 2001
LMC 10th Anniversary Festival, Purcell Room, London 2 2001

People Like Us and Matmos concert at Sonar, 2001 (The Wire)

Laptops Live ICA, London 2 2001
Laptops Live, ICA, London 2001

Futuresonic Festival, Manchester 2001
EMAF, Osnabruck, Germany 2001
Electrofringe, Newcastle, Australia 2001
Reviews in NME and Bizarre Magazine 2001
Sydney Opera House flyer 1 2001
Sydney Opera House flyer 2 2001

Sydney Opera House ticket 2001
Lux Centre, London 2001
BBC Radio Times 2001

Sound Projector interview 2000

Exit Festival, Creteil, France 2000
The Wire magazine interview 1999
San Francisco Bay Guardian review 1999
Ars Electronica, Linz, Austria 1998
NME Single of the Week 1996
NME Interview 1996
NME Interview 1995

This is by no means an exhaustive list, there are many that we have not scanned in from the 1990s, and many a web search we have not made. But it’s a taster.

pumpkin

Selection of People Like Us movies in one file

Not sure where to start because there’s too much? Know what you mean. Here’s where to start because there’s too much.

People Like Us
Excerpts from Genre Collage: The Look [2009-2010]
Excerpts from Genre Collage: The Sound of the End of Music [2009-2010]
Excerpts from Genre Collage: Ingrid and Tobor [2009-2010]
Excerpts from Genre Collage: DrivingFlyingRisingFalling [2009-2010]
People Like Us – The Remote Controller [2003]
People Like Us – We Edit Life [2002]
People Like Us – Nothing [2005]
People Like Us & Ergo Phizmiz – Mull of Kintyre [2010]
People Like Us – Music of Your Own [1999]
Vicki Bennett – Trying Things Out [2007]
People Like Us – Story Without End [2005]
Vicki Bennett – Skew Gardens [2008]
People Like Us – 2″00′ The Movie [2011]

Collateral Damage in The Wire Magazine, March 2012

Vicki Bennett has written the Collateral Damage page for the March edition of The Wire magazine.

http://thewire.co.uk/issues/337/

It is also available to read in The Wire’s online archive:

http://thewire.co.uk/in-writing/essays/collateral-damage_vicki-bennett
wire

Vicki will also speak at Off The Page in Whitstable on 25th February 2012 as part of a panel based around the same column.
http://www.peoplelikeus.org/2012/off_the_page_the_wire_sound_and_music.html

Collateral Damage: Vicki Bennett

February 2012

In the early 2000s, increased bandwidth allowed recombinant artists to enter the gift economy. It’s a freedom we should defend at all costs, argues Vicki Bennett aka People Like Us

In 1999 I bought my first fast computer – and although it was dying to do speedy things, I was on dial-up, reduced to a crawl when it came to information retrieval. Logged into file sharing communities, I’d sit in the chat and watch people posting files that would take me a day to download, so I’d just read about them. Then I’d go to the WFMU website and try to stream the station and just get blurts and gaping silences. Then I’d visit archive.org and look at all the wonderful synopses for Rick Prelinger’s films, which were too large to access. 
It wasn’t long, however, before affordable broadband reached my area of London. Then everything 
changed. Forever.

The biggest improvement that broadband has brought me is access to previously inaccessible content, which I can then work with as raw material. In 2000, Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle asked Prelinger to share his films online, for free. Although Prelinger was initially wary of this suggestion, he did so. By making these films available in good quality and continuing to sell the same footage in high quality, not only did he advertise his commercial archive, but also this generous act had a revolutionary effect on artists like myself who utilise already existing footage to make new works. Before this, I’d approached regional and national archives and either found a total lack of interest in collaboration, or a bigger interest but lack of manpower to liaise in realising the project. The advent of broadband made it possible to share on a massive scale. It changed my life.

With more people producing and distributing for themselves, the dynamic has changed and the focus shifted away from the middleman towards the producer. Since 2000, albums I’ve made with Ergo Phizmiz and Wobbly were created remotely, as a result of being in different parts of the world, through ftping multitracks. Many are surprised to hear that such methods could be successful, but working alone on site, and in collaboration online, can be a winning combination. Once completed, it can be shared online. If you work with the right people you’ll reach thousands of listeners. In turn, some of those listeners will be working in areas where they can offer concerts, commissions, or play you on their radio show. This is called the Gift Economy.

Audio content both for People Like Us and my radio show has mainly been sourced online. This heightened access increased my musical knowledge massively, feeding into my creative process, the palette increasing in size and colour. Access to and hosting by curated servers like UbuWeb has given a wider context to my work, where I’ve found aesthetic similarities to genres that in turn inform my practice. As well as curated music servers, there are now thousands of dedicated, knowledgeable music blogs. A web search for an obscure artist heard on the radio will take you to a blog telling you all about them, sharing out-of-print material, with tags linking to related areas. An adjacent column will have links to 25 other websites and radio stations with similar interests. There then follows a wonderful odyssey into hidden and often forgotten sonic worlds. This is very different from looking in an Oxfam record bin.

As well as being able to access specialist audio and moving images, broadband also made it possible to hear radio on a worldwide scale. Although analogue radio has long served the world over certain wavelengths for larger radio networks, it was an amazing experience to hear smaller radio stations like WFMU, where, as a result, I have been a DJ since 2003. WFMU archives its past shows forever, making them available for free listening. When Googling a little-known artist, the chances are the results will include a WFMU playlist. This helped make the local New Jersey radio station a global concern – and now, more people listen online than through radio receivers.

With this enhanced access in the past decade, one is far more likely to hear more less often than less more often. This shifts the way one listens, as the process becomes more like a ‘one-off’ experience of something that is ‘live’ or ‘unrepeatable’, almost like it was before the age of recording. Cassette sharing has been replaced with links and playlists. The physical experience of holding something as a treasured possession is lost, or it would be if you’d put your laptop or iPhone down. The loss of the artefact in favour of info.txt and jpegs is unfortunate; however, I recall many hours spent in record stores only looking at the covers.

In Klaus Maeck’s 1983 film Decoder, Genesis P-Orridge states, “Information is like a bank. Our job is to rob that bank.” These were prophetic words. Freedom of the internet is under threat – over access to and ownership of information. Although I don’t see sharing and creatively transforming information and content as plundering, I do believe the ‘banks’ have the potential to lock up a lot that should rightfully be ours. When Megaupload was recently shut down for facilitating copyright infringement and money laundering, approximately 150 million users instantly lost access to their files. Carpathia and Cogent, Megaupload’s hosting companies, have been told by the US authorities that they are free to delete the content, but unlike the US government’s approach of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, Carpathia has put together a website (megaretrieval.com) with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) so that affected users can assess the scope of the issue and try to retrieve their data. My focus here is not on the legal aspect of this case, but on how further damage occurs when a heavy-handed approach is taken in dealing with such a situation – millions of users were innocently implicated in this case and the collateral damage is immense.

We may be at the stage where many people don’t even wish to download, and are just happy to listen to Spotify or Last.fm, and much future content will only be on servers, with smaller domestic hard drives. While advocating the sharing ethic, I’m wary of ‘the cloud’ – servers looking after everything for you. Megaupload was a ‘cloud’ – it remains to be seen what happens to users and their data when things go wrong. Intellectual property is a complicated issue with many grey areas, which need to be assessed on an individual basis. If there is the opportunity to throw out the grey with the black, this is often done. My main concern over the cloud is that this ‘automatic and effortless’ experience of access may be improved upon by eventually narrowing down results to only mainstream or sponsored content; in the worst cases, people may find themselves simply shut out.

I can’t over-emphasise how much broadband has improved my life, and although I worry about the control of this ‘free’ space, I remain optimistic of seeing blue sky between the clouds. At present, I am curating and programming Radio Boredcast, a month long online radio station for the AV Festival. All content and submissions reached me by way of that modem sitting next to the telephone socket, which then flew across the living room into my computer. I don’t know how that happens, but I’m glad it does.

The Doors Of Perspection – Photo Documentation

Here is some documentation of “The Doors Of Perspection” a solo exhibition held at Vitrine Gallery in Bermondsey Square, London, from July to September 2011.
Prints displayed in the gallery window are still available in a very limited edition (please contact us), and two smaller prints are still available from Modern Empire, details here.

List of Works in The Doors of Perspection
Mountage [2011]
C-type print on dibond, 1242mm x 235mm
Edition of 3, + 1 A/P
Commissioned by Touch
In Retrospect [2011]
C-type print on dibond, 1097mm x 638mm
Edition of 3, 1 A/P
Commissioned by Touch
Descending [2011]
C-type print on dibond, 1307mm x 645mm
Edition of 3, + 1 A/P
Commissioned by Touch
Time and Time Again [2011]
C-type print on dibond, 932mm x 264mm
Edition of 3, + 1 A/P
Commissioned by Touch
Streetwalking [2011]
C-type print on dibond, 1628mm x 567mm
Edition of 3, + 1 A/P
Commissioned by Touch
The Doors of Perspection [2011]
Single-channel HD video, length: 9:32
Edition of 5, + 1 A/P
Perpetuum Mobile [2011]
photo-collage, 1500mm x 355mm

Streetwalking Time and Time Again and Descending

Vitrine: Streetwalking, Time and Time Again and Descending

Time and Time Again

Time and Time Again

Descending and In Retrospect

Descending and In Retrospect

Vitrine Window

Vitrine Window

Vitrine Gallery

Vitrine Gallery and Bermondsey Square

Vitrine Gallery

Vitrine Gallery

Bermondsey Square

Bermondsey Square

Perpetuum Mobile

Making Perpetuum Mobile – this is not a dibond print but made by hand with individual photographs photomounted together

Print edition, in addition to the above works

This exhibition not only features large prints for sale on site at Vitrine Gallery, but also a special print edition featured here
Streetwalking [2011]
C-Type Print on Matt Fuji Archive Paper, 914mm x 321mm
Edition of 100 + 5 A/Ps
In Retrospect [2011]
C-Type Print on Matt Fuji Archive Paper, 671mm x 392mm Year: 2011
Edition of 100 + 5 A/Ps
Co-published by Modern Empire and Vitrine Gallery

Related posts:
Full info on The Doors Of Perspection
Video of preview of The Doors Of Perspection
Print edition coinciding with The Doors of Perspection

MACBA, Radio Web interview

People Like Us performed at MACBA earlier in 2010 as part of the Variations series at the MACBA auditorium. After the concert Anna Ramos from Radio Web MACBA (RWM), who also curated the whole series, conducted an interview which is now online and also downloadable as a podcast.

http://rwm.macba.cat/

And in English:
http://rwm.macba.cat/en/sonia?id_capsula=750

If you are interested in the history of audio appropriation then listen to Jon Leidecker’s Variations podcast.
http://rwm.macba.cat/en/variations_tag/

Artist statement for People Like Us & Ergo Phizmiz

People Like Us & Ergo Phizmiz
Over the past five years the collaboration of People Like Us & Ergo Phizmiz has produced two full length albums, a podcast series, a live soundtrack to Christian Marclay’s “Screenplay”, a 7” single on Touch, and a 10” EP. Their work has been disseminated internationally to widespread critical acclaim, straddling the absurd with the accessible, filtering experimental and avant-garde techniques through the looking-glass of humorous pop music. They have come to resemble something akin to the Morecambe & Wise of the avant-garde…

Individually both artists have produced a vast body of work that collectively spans hundreds of hours, across film, theatre, albums, radio and live performance. Most recently People Like Us released the album “Music For The Fire” in collaboration with Wobbly on the Illegal Art label (with a new solo record due later in the year). Ergo’s most recent productions are the new album “Things to Do and Make” on Care in the Community Recordings, and the contemporary opera about radio, magic and death “The Mourning Show”.

People Like Us website – http://www.peoplelikeus.org
Ergo Phizmiz website – http://www.ergophizmiz.net

“… a freeform, unfolding imaginary landscape that is liberally peppered with slapstick.” – Phil England, The Wire
“Bennett has taken Eisenstein’s montage collisions and refashioned them as bumper cars at a seaside carnival.” – Jim Supanick, Film Society of Lincoln Center
“Genuinely astonishing” – Boomkat
“Hilarious, but also fascinating…audacious, kaleidoscopic pop assemblages” – Brainwashed
“Beautiful, compelling, funny, crazy stuff” – Matt Groening

Essay by Drew Daniel

Just What Is It That Makes People Like Us So Different, So Appealing?
Drew Daniel

Just What Is It That Makes People Like Us So Different, So Appealing?
Drew Daniel

From “Beware the Whim Reaper” (1995) to “Abridged Too Far” (2004), Vicki Bennett has a way with execrable puns. Confronted with the task of theorizing about what informs and unites the bewildering multiplicity of her life’s work creating painstaking, hilarious and disturbing assemblages out of sound, language and moving image as People Like Us, the title of hers that catches me by the throat is an oldie but a goodie: “Pompous Circumstance”. Wit’s last minute detour off the golden road to cliché, puns take a piece of shared culture and suddenly tweek it into a personal shape, creating something new by revealing what was already there. Inverting Alexander Pope’s formula for poetry (“what oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed”), puns reveal a latent possibility within the given: what oft was expressed but never, until now, brought to thought. Puns are a kind of “black art” that throws received values into reverse: if good puns are bad, then the worst are the best. Ideally, you should be groaning and laughing at the same time. Fair is foul and foul is fair.

Risking a descent into pompous circumstances indeed, the occasion of this retrospective exhibition reverses Vicki’s direction of flow and prompts us to take her sound and video work seriously, and asks us to try to place her work in the context of an ongoing sea-change in how creativity is understood. Pompously put, the artistic re-use of found material confronts us anew with the enigma of creation. Up-ended by indirection, we can only half-see the artist at work in the capricious decision to smash and grab. Looking at the results when the glue has dried and the files have been rendered, can we do any more than catch the shadow of a hand in mid-flight as it grasps and folds a found form, clicks “Crop”, hits “Save”? Trying to catch up, we might ask some simple questions: why isolate and preserve these fragments? Why this piece, placed exactly here? Why this element and not others? Is this a work of love and preservation for what is disappearing, or an act of mockery at the expense of the found? Are we meant to recall the vanished whole, or to see this isolated quanta of material as newly self supporting?

Faced with mounting evidence of collage’s omnipresence and the increasing banalization of cutting and pasting as components of every form of content-management software, it may hurt more now than ever before to return to the old, awkward question: is this creative?

Yodeling in the valley, the fragment oscillates between emotional pitches. When T. S. Eliot wrote “These fragments I have shored against my ruin,” he figured modernist fragmentation as a melancholic funeral rite, a minor key lament at cultural collapse sung against the headwind of history. The irony is that his flimsy barricade of found fragments of popular songs and overheard conversations and quotations proved surprisingly durable; far from a last gasp, it was a breathtakingly successful demonstration of the energies of a new, combinatorial poetics. Jump-cut from Eliot to Dada. Like the public torture of the corpses of suicides in medieval Europe (designed to purge the village of an evil selfishness through a gratuitously “meaningless” display of cruelty), Dada snippetry started as a hostile surgical intervention into a moribund and self-canceling society. The marginal chancers at the Cabaret Voltaire may have thought that their cut-ups of official rhetoric were the final harrowing of necrotic ideological tissue, but Dada collage inadvertently accomplished a revivifying transfusion into the post-war artistic bloodstream. Avant-garde art practices of mangling and attacking and distorting the detritus of mass culture birthed a portable technique of collage that proved all too adaptable to the posterboard and the advertisement and the radio jingle and the TV spot and the viral web campaign. Such are the ironies of what John Ashbery termed “acceptance culture”; the smothering bosom of official sanction muffles the howl of critique with a pillow of puff pieces. For further evidence, consult the PLU track title: “Cushions can Kill”.

Jump-cut to Richard Hamilton. Post-war fragmentation accelerated the centrifugal separation of the positive and negative powers unleashed by cutting up and reassembling culture into both an atomic optimism and an atomic pessimism. If anything could be harvested, shattered into fragments and then recreated for the sake of new art, then the entire archive (sound, image, word) was a standing reserve waiting to be taken by force. Unfortunately, thanks to the accelerating technology of nuclear warfare, this was also true of our own bodies: we were all going to be split apart and reconfigured against our will, and soon. William S. Burroughs’ nostrum “Cut into the present and the future leaks out” figures both the Pandora’s box of potentiality for recombination initiated by a self-consciously mature cut-up aesthetic and the radioactive fallout of anxiety and fear unleashed by a society which had cut into matter itself at its most basic level. We are still living with the results, as lurid narrative scenarios of the endlessly imminent total war choke present reality with a toxic cloud of futurity. Bennett revisits these fantasized bomb-sites and loops them, literally, in the “fort/da” game she plays with animated renderings of atomic explosions that wallpaper the backgrounds of the tank-faced, bighaired women in her video piece “We Edit Life”. Caught in the headlights of these macabre and hilarious people, with each improbable spit curl and passing facial tic replayed and looped into a digital tableaux vivant, we are embarrassed for them and yet find ourselves withering slightly under their artificially steady maternal gaze. In Bennett’s work, the past isn’t suddenly modernized by digital tools, but seems instead rendered even more saturated with the creepy alterity of its very pastness: the syrupy orchestral swells, campfire sing alongs, and outmoded fashions and forced smiles that she assembles and recombines aren’t so much preserved from the ravages of time as they are powerfully fermented in them.

The ability to cut up and transform found material would seem to constitute the ultimate post-modern runaround from older models of artistic expression as a self-revelation. Trading character and depth for a jigsaw surface, collage can seem like a cheap shot detour from being answerable for the self within the work. And yet there is something weirdly self-exposing about the cumulative results of Bennett’s excursions into the mass media archives; the obsessive return to certain images and sounds across decades of work grants them a weirdly personal quality, the fetishistic investment of a cargo cult of one that recognizes the deity of Rod McKuen and Dolly Parton. If it’s so funny, why does it make us feel so awkward? Bennett’s work registers a hot flush of manic exhilaration in the sheer powertrip of her sure technological command over her source material, but it pills the sugar with a certain lingering aftertaste of despair at the failure of the aspirations within the material she collects. If the surreal humor of her work at its lightest suggests the comic English anarchism of Monty Python or Richard Hamilton, the quotidian grimness of her work at its darkest suggests the mordant English miserabilism of Philip Larkin or Mike Leigh. Far from proposing a utopian or psychedelic “other world” of festivity in which to escape from the drabness of the everyday, after prolonged exposure to the alchemical work of Vicki Bennett, we see and hear our own everyday world as one big joke which is already cut to pieces. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry.

Works Cited
William S. Burroughs & Brion Gysin The Third Mind New York: Viking Press, 1978.
T. S. Eliot “What the Thunder Said” The Waste Land and Other Poems. London: Faber and Faber, 1972.
Alexander Pope “An Essay on Criticism” Collected Poems. London: Tuttle Publishing, 1991.
This essay was commissioned by alt.gallery to coincide with “People Like Us: We Edit Life” – a Retrospective of the work of People Like Us, which ran in the gallery from 16 May-12 July 2008. Documentation can be found on the gallery site and here:
http://www.peoplelikeus.org/2008/documentation_of_the_people_like_us_retrospecitve_at_altgallery.html