You were so young, only sixteen, when you got interested in “collage”. ¿What pushed you to get into that first experimentation?
I have always been inspired by music and moving image rather than non-time-based media. The only education that I completed was a pre-degree art and design foundation course and I immediately was most interested in photography rather than drawing or sculpture, etc. I was lucky enough to have a tutor there to lent me his books on performance art, conceptual art and photo collage, and through that I started working with footage and pictures as “found” objects rather than trying to capture something through a lens alone.
Are you aware that you get into cut&paste in a time and being part of a generation that wasn’t digital? In which ways could that circumstance have influenced your work?
What I do is folk art in the age of digital reproduction. When I started it was in the age of analogue reproduction. I couldn’t predict how fast things would develop around 2000 with the age of faster cheaper computing and broadband internet. When I started it was still possible to do quite a lot with a cassette four track, hifi-based electronics and a scalpel and glue. I couldn’t go back to that way of working now and I don’t romanticise it at all. I always had a vision of what I am doing now but had to wait, and in some ways I’m still waiting. For the past two years I’ve been making a 360 surround immerse audiovisual work called Gone, Gone Beyond. This is only possible to do with the fast computer that I now have, but I still am looking ahead and forward, or rather my visions of what I could do next are.
Do you think that for digital natives, collage, or the fragmentation of things, is something more natural, or there is no difference?
No, I think computers and also analogue copying (cassette, photocopier, printing press) are modelled around the human mind’s way of working. We learn and improve ourselves by copying and improvising, by cutting and pasting in our own lives. That is all that we have taught machines to do for us.
Another fact that is related to your job, is that digital media caused an over documentation. Nowadays everything is filmed, photographed and saved. What implies for an artist that works with found footage?
That is true, but most of what is documented is pretty trivial, and the analogue version of that might be taking photos and leaving them in the wallet that you were given them in when they came back from the photo developers. I think once again it’s to do with the way that we are, we like to document as a “witness” to us having been somewhere or done something. This is why people used to like to photograph a landmark, or themselves in a landmark, it isn’t necessarily because they are going to ever look at that again but they want to take the snap shot to some how validate that they were there, possibly with the intention that they would share it in the future with someone, or just with themselves. Although a lot of the time they never will.k
There are some authors that think that this over documentation cancel out, in some way, the “oblivion” and get us into “loop dynamics”, blocking progress or experimentation, especially in artistic languages. Do you agree with that? What do you think about it?
I agree that we all are in danger of repeating ourselves over and over again rather than being on a variable cycle of gradual/sudden change. Although the latter happens naturally if we try and do the same thing over and over anyway.
How much importance do you give to movements like Collaborative Art and DIY? Nowadays what role plays the authorship in contemporary art and what it means to be an artist?
I would rather that there were not “movements”, since they imply that something is in or out, or good and bad. I understand the need to categorise in order to communicate faster but at the same time it can trivialise the subject matter then toss it onto the scrapheap once it’s been summed up. DIY is very important, to learn through repetition is how we finally come up with something that makes sense to us, something that is more than the sum of the parts. Authorship is limited once something is published. You cannot put something out into the public and still have 100% control of it.
What could we see in Oviedo on this trip trough 25 years of “People Like Us”?
I’ve been publishing work since 1991 (so it’s more than 25 years now, in fact!) and decided to make an audiovisual concert compiled from a number of different works. So it’s a whirlwind rollercoaster ride!
The Mirror is created by first navigating hundreds of preexisting feature length movies, searching for conceptual/actual subject matter pertaining to reflection and projection. The initial idea was to depict the camera as a torch that shines light down dark corridors and as an eye that watches people when they are alone, and then through navigating all the footage to see what new stories emerge. The selected source material was then edited into thousands of snippets which are labelled and the descriptions examined to find similarities and crossovers that might be emerging in descriptions/storylines. A conceptually related soundtrack was then composed in relation to edits on the movie timeline, also created by editing and recombining from sections of hundreds of preexisting songs, as well as sounds from the movies. This is an exercise in editing and juxtaposition, also an investigation, an “operation” working with the premise that if you cut into something and isolate it from its “finished” guise you discover new stories and information relevant to the present and future. Published material is often seen as “finished”, the end of the story, not available for comment, a sealed up museum-like product, isolated on an island, away from ideas and reflections. By use of collage, one can unthread, rewind and redirect content to discover what other stories may be hidden, allowing an active dialogue both with the external content, and also challenge the routine ways in which we may be limiting our own creativity by our own fixed (isolated) ways of thinking. Recombining these hundreds of movie storylines into new combinations can create results that are more than the sum of the parts and beyond our usual pattern of creating stories alone, we are carving new pathways for our minds to (re)explore. — Vicki Bennett
For more information on the working methods and philosophical approach of People Like Us please read: ++ This conversation between Vicki Bennett and Peter Jaeger conducted over the course of Summer 2015. It was published in filling Station Issue 63. Download as a pdf. ++ This conversation between Vicki Bennett and Kenneth Goldsmith in Found Footage Magazine. Buy your copy here. ++ The Mirror can be considered a sister project to our 360 a/v Cinechamber installation “Gone, Gone Beyond”, which you can read about here. ++ Read an interview about “Gone, Gone Beyond” conducted by Hearty White here.
We are pleased to announce a new audiovisual immersive cinema performance by People Like Us called The Mirror, performed (and screened in Theatrical form if in the US) from March 2018 worldwide.
“A feat of research and craft, this new work is a spellbinding inquiry into editing and juxtaposition; a collage one can unthread allowing the viewer to discover hidden stories through familiar images. The soundtrack is performed live, made up from hundreds of preexisting songs, as well as particular sounds from the original film clips.” — Flatpack Film Festival
”With The Mirror Bennett has proven herself an alchemist of popular music, able to push her source material into fresh and engaging places.” — The Wire
”Because of the use of familiar pop sounds, “The Mirror” is often grandiose. Like an epic film only with highs, never letting the listener down or letting him doubt the power of pop. Even, of course, when the coordinates are twisted, mixed, over or underrepresented. Each moment feels like something that could only happen in a parallel universe. Although that may sound naïve, it’s just a lost thought of reaction to the beautiful collages of People Like Us in “The Mirror”. This mirror doesn’t reflect an image of ourselves or an image of pop. But an image on the way memories drift and are being constant rebuilt. An unfinished collage.” — Boomkat
“Bennett celebrates the song stylists, the crooners, the sirens and interpreters of melody, and all the psychedelic in-between. The songs she pulls from seem to stem between 30’s ballroom and 70’s soft disco, here presented like being in a deep REM-state, dreaming of being at the drive-in, in warped Panavision. Essential.” toneshift.net
3/4 March 2023 – The Mirror at TUSK NORTH, Newcastle 18 February 2023 – The Mirror at Electric Spring Festival, University of Huddersfield 29 November 2022 – The Mirror at Ubu@50 at Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb 26 November 2022 – The Mirror at BBMix Festival, Paris 19 November 2022 – The Mirror at Keroxen, Santa Cruz, Tenerife, Spain 5 November 2022 – The Mirror at Intangible Festival, Lleida, Spain 20 October 2022 – The Mirror at Stimul Festival, Prague 9 July – 4 September 2022 – Theatrical screening at Cover Versions curated by Anthony and Graham Dolphin, Exeter Phoenix 3 June 2022 – Open Ears Festival, Kitchener, Canada 21 May 2022 – Live again! At Index Festival, Braga, Portugal April – May 2022 – theatrical screening at Cover Versions curated by Anthony and Graham Dolphin, The Athenaeum, Sunderland Feb – April 2022 – part of gallery exhibition MIND MAPS: The Art of Vicki Bennett – solo exhibition Walla Walla USA 4 December 2021 – Keroxen, Tenerife (postponed – pandemic) 29 April – 2 May 2021 – Online screening of The Mirror, Oscillation Festival, Brussels 21 November 2020 – BBMix Festival 2020, Paris (postponed – pandemic) 6 November 2020 – MAAT, Lisbon – virtual performance of The Mirror 28 July 2020 – 4 August 2020 – Virtual screening (pandemic rescheduling), Le Nouveau Musée National de Monaco 5 March 2020 – Theatrical Screening (not a concert) WFMU Benefit, Monty Hall, Jersey City 28 September 2019 – Theatrical Screening (not a concert), Radius Gallery Santa Cruz, CA 15 September 2019 – Theatrical Screening (not a concert), 21C Museum Hotel, Lexington, KY (introduced by Hearty White) 22 June 2019 – Iklectik Art Lab, London 14 June 2019 – The Mirror and Objects in the Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear, Culture Lab, Newcastle 9 May 2019 – Venice Biennale at HILLARY: The Hillary Clinton Emails by Kenneth Goldsmith after the opening reception 23 – 28, April 2019 –Theatrical Screening, AFO Olomouc, Czech Republic 6 April 2019 – Theatrical Screening (not live), Other Cinema, ATA, Valencia St, San Francisco 27 March 2019 – Musikbrauerei, Berlin 9 February 2019 – Theatrical Screening (not live) – The Voix de Ville 2019 / ARTxFM, Columbia Theatre, Louisville Kentucky 30 November 2018 – Theatrical Screening (not live, we do not perform in concerts in the US) Recombinant Festival, Gray Area, San Francisco 15 November 2018 – Cinecity Film Festival, Fabrica, Brighton 10 November 2018 – Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo Norway 2 November 2018 – Spill Festival, Ipswich 20 October 2018 – 100 Years of Copyright Festival, HKW, Berlin 19 & 20 September 2018 – Theatrical Screening (not live) – Spectacle Theater, Brooklyn 17 September 2018 – Theatrical Screening (not live) – Bryce’s Show on WFMU 26 July 2018 – MACBA, Barcelona 19 July 2018 – LEV Festival, Arenas Movedizas, Gijón 11 July 2018 – Cafe OTO, London 12 May 2018 – Splice Festival, Rich Mix, London 21 April 2018 – Flatpack Festival, Birmingham 20 April 2018 – Cafe OTO, London 17 April 2018 – Belfast Film Festival, Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast 13 April 2018 – UK Premiere: FACT, Liverpool 18 March 2018 – World Premiere: Athens Greek Film Archive Foundation (as part of Shadow Libraries: UbuWeb in Athens, organised and produced by the Onassis Cultural Centre-Athens)
If you are a festival organiser with a budget and are interested in booking this or anything else, please get in touch by way of our Contact Form. If you are in a country requiring a work visa to perform we can in very special circumstances make this work into a theatrical screening, but generally this is only available as a performance with the artist present and you will need to gain necessary papers for us to agree.
Citation City is a 42 minute audiovisual performance work which sources, collages and edits 300 major feature films where content is either filmed or set in London – creating a story within a story, of the film world, living its life, through extraordinary times of change, to see what happens when these multiple narratives are combined… what will the story tell us that one story alone could never tell?
“The result is a sweeping panorama of London, a London as represented through cinema – not the real city at all, but one that exists in the collective imagination of moviegoers throughout the decades.” Filmmaker Magazine
Please note: this is now retired. However, we occasionally make edits available as stand-alone movies for cinema screening.
A time-travelling voyage through one city, assembled from hundreds of movie clips and inspired by the wanderings of Walter Benjamin. A patchwork of over 300 features either filmed or set in London, Citation City combines multiple narratives to create the story of one city in a period of enormous change. Pieced together by audiovisual artist Vicki Bennett (aka People Like Us), this beguiling, labyrinthine work takes its cue from Benjamin’s Arcades Project, an ambitious attempt to map out Paris in fragments which was cut short by the author’s death in 1940. Flatpack Film Festival
Background: Inspired by The Arcades Project by Walter Benjamin, this audiovisual performance work by People Like Us is created from 1000s of clippings of text and visual media, collaged using a system of “convolutes”, collated around subjects of key motifs, historical figures, social types, cultural objects from the time. By gathering and assembling such groups of similar yet unrelated, he revealed a hidden, magical encyclopaedia of affinities, a massive and labyrinthine architecture of a collective dream city. On reading Benjamin, his approach to editing astonished Vicki Bennett, and the similarity of their creative processes of cutting and collating extensive lists of subject matter by context.
As a side project, Vicki also invited selected sound artists to create distinct soundtracks to the work in order to produce two new films.
A portion of Citation City previewed at London’s Cafe Oto on 9 December 2014 then World Premiered in full at transmediale, Berlin on 29 January 2015. It’s UK Premiere was at Flatpack Film Festival on 28 March 2015, and London Premiere at Whitechapel Gallery on 26 September 2015 as part of the Walter Benjamin Now Symposium.
Citation City education/teaching pack PDF download: citation city teaching pack We thought it may be useful to make a document explaining the process of making this work. This pdf is intended as a companion to the audiovisual work, giving examples of the process one might undertake to create new work when sourcing from a large media database. This particular example relates to moving image and musical composition, but the methods can translate to other platforms that use composition, directing, editing, creative narratives and story telling.
Vicki Bennett/People Like Us Since 1991 British artist Vicki Bennett has been working across the field of audio-visual collage, and is recognised as an influential and pioneering figure in the still growing area of sampling, appropriation and cutting up of found footage and archives. Working under the name People Like Us, Vicki specialises in the manipulation and reworking of original sources from both the experimental and popular worlds of music, film and radio. People Like Us believe in open access to archives for creative use. In 2006 she was the first artist to be given unrestricted access to the entire BBC Archive. People Like Us have previously shown work at Tate Modern, Whitechapel Gallery, The Barbican, Centro de Cultura Digital, V&A, Sydney Opera House, Royal Albert Hall, Pompidou Centre, Venice Biennale, Maxxi and Sonar, and performed radio sessions for John Peel and Mixing It. The ongoing sound art radio show ‘DO or DIY’ on WFMU has had over a million “listen again” downloads. since 2003. The People Like Us back catalogue is available for free download hosted by UbuWeb. Longer Biography Filmography Exhibitions and Editions Selected Performances and Screenings Commissions and Awards Discography https://peoplelikeus.org/2014/artist-statement-for-people-like-us/
“Notations” is a film by Vicki Bennett for live performance by improvising musicians and artists. It has been created using collected and edited found footage from hundreds of different films, where the content conceptually or literally portrays different kinds of ‘gestures’, ‘instructions’ and content that can then be interpreted by musicians and artists with unique audio accompaniments. Notations contains edits of the movies and sounds from the source films, separated into ‘sketches’ or stories that segue into one another, and it exists with a list of instructions (score) on how artist(s) working with this choose to work with these particular elements.
Notations references the fact that it is very natural, even primordial for one to creatively respond to visual stimulus in an “improvised” (natural) way rather than all responses being directed, set in stone. Within human communication it is part of our hard circuitry that for instance we use hand gestures to articulate our speech, which is essentially graphically describing/enforcing audio or spoken discourse. Even when spoken language is not present, a whole series of hand and facial gestures are available to us to communicate expressions. By making a film that both contains human gestures (hands, facial, movement) as well as gestures made by natural and mechanical occurrences we are setting up the conditions for a dialogue between the graphical elements on the films and the improvisers, both with the film as well as with each other.
When performed, the film is provided with a “score” (ie a list of instructions to be translated into sound) which consists of some basic instructions and a synopsis listing characteristics of the 9 different sketches featured in the film. The sketches are as follows:
The film is made in 9 sketches with titles that roughly describe the content/concept/theme. The themes move and progress with many tangents, although there is continuity of concepts and the pace even and flowing. There is intermittent film sound throughout, and lots of silence. Hopefully the sound will be no more surprising than any other performer on the stage. The maximum audio volume should be set equal to each participant.
There will be no instructions to be found beyond what is in the film, no written score beyond this text. The film will be provided to the players at least 2 weeks before the performance date, and should be viewed several times well before performing. For each sketch different numbers and combinations of performers are recommended, either spontaneously or pre-determined. All players should meet to discuss this before performing, and rehearsals are at the discretion of the performers.
Ultimately, whatever the film content suggests is what all should react to. – Vicki Bennett, May 2013
1. A Nod to Previous Players. Majority of footage sourced from old avant-garde and comedy films featuring people playing cards and chess, also doing things at tables. Very little sound added to the film soundtrack. 2. From A-B. Transport, trains, cars, carriages and things that move fast. Some typewriting and conducting too. This one is fast and also noisy in places! 3. Spin. Lots of spinning, vertigo, circles and targets. Zooming into eyes. Camera shutters. Not too much incidental sound on the film apart from towards the end with a piano. 4. At Home. Mainly footage shot in domestic environments – pans through people’s rooms, people eating and chopping food, ringing doorbells, broken appliances and acts of domestic destruction. Reel to reel tape recorders and record players. Fairly quiet, some incidental sounds with a few louder bursts at the end when woman finds a monster in her fridge. 5. Several Directions at Once. Part 1 A conductor conducts traffic lights and traffic. Incidental sound from traffic, but not conductor’s music. Radio dial turns. Hands waving, pointing and conjuring. Quiet to start with then bursts of sound around the time of the radio dial being turned. Part 2 Lots of punching, slapping and violence with incidental sound, cut in with a little conducting and hand gestures, bending and stretching. Quite noisy. Ends with car crash and bowing conjuror. 6. Dark. Hand movements signifying quiet/listening. Record player and film leaders flicker black and white. People in the dark with candles, thunder and lightning, lights on and off. Disconnection of power, suspense and fear. Incidental sound of storm. People walking on wooden steps in the dark. Radio tuner and typewriters/printing machines. Quiet incidental sound apart from necessary bursts of weather/explosions. 7. Ups and Downs. Record players, panning through people’s living rooms. Leisure – card playing and knitting. More panning and record playing. Walking legs/feet through many films. Very quiet. Desert scene, people run down hill making a noise, there follow many scenes from westerns, woman stops train, buzzers pressed, men with bells, all incidental sounds for this section. More walking, people waiting behind doors, quiet, suspense, just footsteps and door handles. Door lock gets shot (very loud) and then follows a lot of scenes of people struggling in train/horse carriages, to the sound of a carriage then train stopping. Ends with car sinking into mud. 8. The Suspense is Killing Me. Predator/victims leaning over/backing away or trapped. Retaliation, shooting. Walking. Snooker and more predators. Opening of doors to different scary people, hiding. Child making horrible noise with a pencil on chalkboard. Doors and wall banging intercut with silence and suspense, listening at walls. More doors opening and suspense, hiding and running. Screaming and fear, silhouettes with bright lights. Power cuts, darkness intercut with conductor and man stuck in phone booth. More power cuts and screaming, general misery. Sleeping woman, man walks up the stairs away from her, looks around, she looks up. He walks away. 9. Nothing Happens. Man walks down wooden stairs to men playing cards at a table. Intercut with other people staring at the screen or each other, no one does anything, they are just looking. Walking around wooden flooring, woman slams door, sits in silence, kicks floor and three people faint. LP rolls across floor, car runs over accordion. Birds fly up and down, mixed with dancing swimmers. Man sits and writes at a table, silently turning blank pages from different movies. Lots of panning over paper and big tables, mainly silent, man screams at faceless man. Lots more staring at one another, suspense, waiting. Nothing happens. Door opens to man in fez, everyone screams. More staring and suspense. Still nothing happens. Gust of wind, Harpo plays flute through window and scares all the ladies. More predators with weapons, people run away, roll credits.
(The 30-minute version of the film excludes parts 7 & 9)
20 April 2013 (with the working title of Gesture Piece*)Tectonics Festival, Reykjavik, Iceland Performers: Skúli Sverrisson, Davíð Þór Jónsson, Kristín Þóra Haraldsdóttir, Hlynur Aðils. 8 June 2013 (with the working title of Gesture Piece*)Tectonics Festival, Tel Aviv Performers: Alex Drool, Assif Tsahar, Robbie Avenaim, Christoph Heemann, Eyvind Kang and Jessika Kenney. 10 June 2013 (with the working title of Gesture Piece*)Uganda, Jerusalem Performers: Eyvind Kang, Jessika Kenney, Robbie Avenaim, Christoph Heemann and special guests November 2013 Various locations in the UK, produced by Tusk and commissioned bySound and Music. https://peoplelikeus.org/2013/notations-tour/ : Bill Orcutt, Rhodri Davies, M.C. Schmidt (Matmos), Philip Jeck, Jaap Blonk, Steve Noble, Wobbly, Mark Sanders, Tomomi Adachi and Jennifer Walshe. September 2014 WFMU Monty Hall, NJ, performed by M.C.Schmidt and Jason Willett September 2014 High Zero, Baltimore, performed by Bob Wagner (drums),LaDonna Smith (violin), Jenny Gräf(electronics, guitar) October 2014 In Mute Festival, Athens Onassis Cultural Centre performed by the duo Acte Vide. May 2018 School of Music Studies Aristotle University of Thessaloniki May 2018 School of Music Studies, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki Greece – A.U.TH. Experimental & Improvised Music Ensembles September 2019 at Digital Alchemy/Indexical at Radius Gallery Santa Cruz, performed by Blectum from Blechdom
* Please note – Gesture Piece is now a separate project, an online film with 7 artist soundtracks. We needed to change the name as the project split into two parts.
HISTORY OF GESTURE AND CARD-BASED WORKS
There is a tradition in experimental music of musicians responding to graphic scores and non-conductor-led direction. John Cage wrote scores that both directed the performer on what elements/structures needed to be used/responded to, but at the same time introduced chance elements based around personal interpretation and the use of random prediction techniques like the iChing. In the past 25 years some contemporary artist-composers have used prompts as guidelines for musical interpretations, following John Cage’s tradition.
Examples of alternative methods of conducting:
John Oswald “Rien Ne Va Plus” uses a roulette and coloured cards to prompt an orchestra to play certain tunes. Christian Marclay’s “Shuffle” uses a pack of cards containing his own photographs of various depictions of musical scores which improvising musicians then respond to live. In Marclay’s “Zoom Zoom”, the performer interprets his projected images of everyday objects with graphics contained within them. John Zorn index card/file-card composition pieces include “Cobra” and “The Big Gundown”: combining composition and improvisation in which Zorn would write down a description of what he wanted on file-cards and arrange them to form the piece. Zorn compiled his various thoughts regarding his subject on index cards, and then arranged those into a working roadmap for his band of improvisers. He described the process in 2003: “I write in moments, in disparate sound blocks, so I find it convenient to store these events on filing cards so they can be sorted and ordered with minimum effort. Pacing is essential. If you move too fast, people tend to stop hearing the individual moments as complete in themselves and more as elements of a sort of cloud effect…”.