A four-part voyage to the limits of interconnected group consciousness.
Starring: Morgan Cahn
Written and Directed by Ben Robinson
Music by The Danger Gang – Wow!
Editing and Post Production ep. 1 > 3 by Andrew Maclean
Ep. 4 Assisted by Andrew Maclean
Ep. 4 Editing and Post Production by Dave Hackney
ART101 ep. 1 – This is the first step on your artistic journey.
Published on 9 Jan 2015.
ART101 ep. 2 – The Next Step.
Published on 17 Aug 2015.
ART101 ep. 3 – death lolz.
Published on 21 May 2016.
ART101 ep. 4 – The Eviscerated Corpse.
Published on 10 Jun 2016.
ART101 is an actual thing, a YouTube channel. Or so at least that’s what it once was, and I’m happy to talk about it now in the past tense. ART101 was a crazy ambitious idea I had for a multimedia art extravaganza, one that would redefine art for the digital age and set off an explosion of activity on social media, although it never quite worked out that way in the end. I’ll use this here Day to go through some of what I wanted from ART101, why I didn’t get it and why I hope it might still remain a worthwhile work of art. I think of ART101 as being a mad quadruple prog box set in my back catalogue, a wild overreaching folly that might still be good for a laugh. Maybe ART101 was just too beautiful and too damn smart for its own good. And remember, ART101 is an actual thing, a YouTube channel:
Our story starts back in 2012 when I made a film called Death Paints Red Daubings for Dundee’s Generator Projects artists’ space. DPRD was the first film I’d ever made, done in a wild rush of inspiration that somehow went really well, a situation that left me at a bit of a loss as to what to do next. I thought part of what made DPRD so successful was that it was made entirely without irony. During the shoot I’d constantly tell the crew that “we’re not making a parody”, so this time I wanted to come at its follow-up from the opposite direction. From a position of 100% Meaning It, I wanted a flip to Irony Overload and figured that the best place to find this absence of sincerity would be on the internet.
I had a successful project complete, so I duly applied for funding from the Dundee Visual Artists Award for this next stage in my artistic development. With the DVAA money I bought a camera and then assembled the ART101 crew. We’d all previously worked together on the art zine Yuck ’n Yum: Andrew Maclean works as a technician at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee and has access to their many technical facilities, while Morgan Cahn is a talented performer who’d previously starred as the voice of Miss X in my DPRD film. A friend’s band gave us the theme song, I wrote a script and we filmed the whole thing over 2 days in early January 2014 at the art school’s green screen studios on 2 cameras.
The premise of ART101 is that it’s a YouTube channel teaching its viewers how to make art and how to be an artist. Its language is aimed at that generation widely known as “millennials”: a plugged-in, attention-depleted audience keen for instant gratification. Morgan’s monologue is all completely scripted and delivered straight to camera with eye contact maintained throughout. Each of the 4 episodes has a different theme with its own colour and a separate prop. The idea was that Morgan’s character would eventually destroy her computer and set herself free from this social media tyranny. Not I’m any kind of Luddite myself, I just saw it as a neat way to end the series.
So the 2 days’ filming all went swimmingly, and a few weeks later Andrew made up a pretty coloured image for each episode:
And then… and then, and then… there was a delay for a year. I should explain at this point that the crew were never paid anything at all for doing the project but still, I found the wait hard to take. Morgan moved back to America, I was still making excuses whenever I saw anyone at any art openings, and all excitement I’d once had about the endeavour was quickly fading into nothingness. The DPRD film had been completed in a matter of days and I wasn’t expecting ART101 to be any kind of an issue. After a year of my chivvying, cajoling, mithering and badgering, Andrew delivered the goods and, to be fair, he made a rather splendid job of it. Episode 1 came up slathered in FX, super fast paced editing and it looked as hyperreal as you like. 9th January 2015 saw the YouTube broadcast of ART101 ep. 1 – This is the first step on your artistic journey.
Getting that first episode out there was such a relief. I’d hoped to spread the word all over social media, creating a Facebook group, starting a thread on the b3ta.com links page, setting up a Twitter feed to compile any comments and feedback we received.
I can see now that I should have come to this with some kind of marketing strategy, because sadly our film attracted very few comments on YouTube or indeed anywhere else. Reasons for this? I dunno, maybe the film’s not clear in its intentions or maybe it just didn’t engage its audience for whatever reason. Had I dealt with it properly, I’d have road tested the project with focus groups and got feedback before releasing it out into the world. Anyway to their immense credit, a few familiar names from this ‘ere blog ponied up with encouraging words, including Thomas Moronic who consistently left some great commentary that I’m very grateful for. I then went on to start a thread on reddit.com to drum up support but my newly-created account only attracted one single response, this from a user named jbhitman:
“Just my opinion, but this seems like somebody trying really hard to be funny….but failing…horribly”
I don’t mind admitting I was mighty put out upon reading this, but then social media’s no place to expect cuddles, right? I commissioned a steel plaque engraved with jbhitman’s message, and submitted it to the 2015 Generator Projects Members Show. This seemed to go down well, as did my talk at the gallery’s Show and Tell event, and I began to feel better about the whole sorry episode.
There was positive news from the online Scottish arts channel www.artinscotland.tv who came round to my flat a few weeks later to interview me about the project:
And so the first episode was now complete. I’d said repeatedly during its making that success never depended on YouTube viewing figures, that “It doesn’t have to be a viral hit, I just want it to be good.” I got exactly what I’d asked for as I remain very happy with the work itself, and yet the views have always remained stuck in the low hundreds. I was starting to learn that even with a hallway decent product, online success won’t just fall into anyone’s lap.
Getting episode 2 finished proved to be a similar ordeal, not launching until August 2015 but again it wound up being a worthy product. The script drew heavily on Greek myth and invoked the figure of Dionysus to encourage viewers to embrace a form of religious ecstasy. Success of a kind was to come, on a more local level this time. Again I was interviewed for the Art in Scotland channel, and now the work was shown at Dundee’s McManus Galleries as part of their exhibition Classical Art: The Legacy of the Ancients.
Seeing ART101 displayed in such a context was gratifying. I guess the museum’s thinking was that the YouTube addition brought their story right up to date, from Ancient Greece to 21st century social media. They had the computer screen mounted on a sleek console and everything looked rather spiffing, Morgan’s face now beaming out as viewers perused the museum’s antiquities, while the second Art in Scotland interview was being filmed at the DCA meeting room. I gave an update on our progress since last time:
So headway was seemingly being made, although the next instalment wouldn’t appear until the following year. 9 months later, episode 3 was titled “death lolz” and it saw Morgan instructing our audience of potential artists to create art in order to live forever. The scenario was played out against an orange background and she wore a rubber zombie mask to illustrate her points about mortality. Every time Morgan mentioned the word “death”, her face would be superimposed onto a CGI skull. Whenever she said the phrase “We are born with a repetition compulsion,” Andrew created a Doppler effect-type noise to go along with the visuals.
Again, despite our best efforts the viewing figures were modest and the film was very much delayed. Episode 3 wasn’t broadcast until 21 May 2016, which meant it had been some 9 months in the making. The situation became increasingly fraught as the months went by. My brother Nick stepped in here, and post production duties for the 4th and final instalment were duly taken on by Dave Hackney, a professional editor with the Digital Cortex group. Thankfully, it meant things were ready in just a couple of weeks.
That final ART101 episode is titled The Eviscerated Corpse and it sees Morgan’s narrator destroying the computer that had up to now defined her existence. For this scene we used my old MacBook laptop that I’d long since replaced, and whose screen I’d spilt coffee on some years previously. We watched an old YouTube clip of Ice T dismantling his laptop in the back yard of his LA crib as a form of preparation. Even then the thing was still a struggle to destroy, Mac products being of such sturdy build, but eventually we prevailed and with that, the ART101 project was complete.
So ART101 turned out to be a torturous experience, but on the other hand all our friendships have survived intact. I’m very grateful to all who contributed and, whatever the delays, we got there in the end. It could be down to Dave Hackney coming at this with a fresh pair of eyes but I think Episode 4 is maybe my favourite of the lot. Over the coming weeks my plan is to submit this to a few short film festivals, and I’ll keep everyone posted with news of how everything goes. Who knows, maybe just maybe the ART101 story might have a happy ending after all?
p.s. Hey. ** By mostly coincidence the blog again gets the lucky break of using its facilities to focus on and celebrate another fantastic work by someone whom this place is honored to call a distinguished local, namely _Black_Acrylic, who lives his life and makes art under the real name Ben Robinson. Those of you who’ve frequented DC’s for a while undoubtedly know something about Ben’s wonderful, long term, episodic, video-based and recently completed project Art101. And now you can explore and experience the project in full and learn about his experiences along the way. Art101 and the post are a very entertaining treat, I promise you, so please use your blog time this weekend to check everything out and then speak accordingly and in whatever form you wish to _B_A in the commenting arena. Thank you very much, and even more thanks to you, Ben! ** Billy chainsaw, Billy, maestro, dear pal, how great to have you inside here! My great pleasure on housing Steven’s work, and much gratitude to you for speaking to it. Take care, buddy, and, obviously, come back any old time. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Cool, that makes total sense: your take on the value of face-to-face. Yeah, it’s nice to have an almost normal back, it’s true. Thanks! And thank you for the congrats about the film/funding success. Yes, we’re thrilled and now anxious to start working. I guess location scouting is the first thing. You have to move? Oh, no. Or … maybe you look forward to that once the grunt work apart is over? Do you have a new place picked out? What are the advantages or even disadvantages of your next place compared to your current one? My day was pretty lowkey-ish, just work and stuff. Zac and I started figuring out the music video in more detail, and we’ll hopefully a pretty solid plan by the end of the weekend. Speaking of weekends, what will you be up to? I’ve got work and seeing a couple of films and hopefully being around friends too on my theoretical agenda. ** Dadoodoflow, Thanks, man. Your entangled fingers clearly helped. Thanks for the thoughtful response and ideas-sharing with Steven. I feel like gifs are freed in a weird enough way to call their own, new medium’s shots. I mean I consider my work with them to be fictions, novels, short stories, just like the ‘real’ kind, and I weirdly think that’s true, weirdly. Good weekend to you! ** Tosh Berman, Thanks for taking to Steven, and thank you for your thanks about the film funding. Yeah, that was great news for us. ** Schoolboyerrors, Hi, Diarmuid. I suppose it won’t be a surprise to you that my spellcheck insistently wants your name to be Diamond. Glad you liked Steven’s work! And I’m happy you like Vår. And thanks about the funding. It was and still is a rush. I’m still kind of floating, you’re right. Well, now that Zac and I have no use for luck for the time being, all of ours is being airlifted as I speak to you with Fulbright’s name stamped on it. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi, sir. I do like some of Todd’s films, just not most of them. And I do like ‘I’m Not There’. I would say the films of his that I like a lot are it, ‘Superstar’, and ‘Velvet Goldmine’. And ‘Dottie Gets Spanked’. ** Steevee, Hey. Thanks, man. Well, our new film could well get more play in the States. It’s not about sex, which will certainly help, and it has a single narrative running through the entire thing. And having a producer who actually understands the film and really believes in it unlike the case with ‘LCTG’ will help too. I’m sorry but those people arguing for CA:CW over KoC are undoubtedly lovely and even thoughtful people, but Jesus fucking Christ nonetheless, ha ha. I have this dream that any minute now the superhero blockbuster genre will be dead as a doornail. If that dream comes true, maybe Zac and I will chime in. Doubtful, though. I know not nearly enough about Charles Burnett’s stuff to have a fully formed opinion. Actually, maybe I’ll do a post on him as a way to learn more. How was that film and the q&a? Are you a big fan of his? ** _Black_Acrylic, Thanks on both front, and, duh, thank you again ever so much for entrusting the goal of helping the dispersal of your fine project to this humble abode. Enjoy your weekend, man. Love, me. ** Thomas Moronic, Hi, Thomas! Thanks, get some shut-eye, and see you soon! ** H, Hi. Thanks for the congrats about our film progress and for letting Steven know what you thought. Mostly work and nothing to report on my end too. ** Chris dankland, Hi, Chris. Cool, great, your thoughts on Steven’s work. Thanks from my part of the post’s bargain. Me too, re: what’s up our new film’s sleeves. We know the sleeves, and we think we know what’s up them, but you really don’t know until it starts happening. Good weekend! ** Mark Gluth, Hey! Thanks for christening the new pad. It still feels weirdly brand new to me. Yeah, stuff is going really well on my end, thankfully. And yours too no doubt. I have heard some things from Michael about what you and he are up to and planning to be up to, and I’m consequently quite excited, of course. What, holy moly, about the William Morris thing. Did nothing come of that? Strange and, yeah strangely cool no matter what. Have fun on top of fun this weekend! ** Jonathan Parker-Bryant, Good morning, if it’s morning at this moment where you are. It is here. Thank you so much for your attentiveness to the recent posts, and I’m happy they had some kind of through line that entered you. Yeah, I haven’t seen ‘Barbarella’ since the old days, but, based on clips I’ve come across, I do think maybe abstaining as an adult could be more fruitful for your soul. Thanks a lot for thinking about and speaking to Steven’s work. Well, I’m not so sure that the people around here constitute polite company, ha ha. I would always gravitate towards the bizarre, but, by doing so, a downside always potentially awaits. Good romance, good. Heartbreaking about Vin Scully’s imminent retirement. I probably already mentioned that, some years ago, I tried really hard to get to interview him. I had a good venue (an LA Weekly cover story) lined up, but Mr. Scully apparently only does three sit-down serious interviews a year at most, and I didn’t get through that threshold. Thanks about the funding. Nope, the band whose music video we’re doing is not Sparks. Now that would be a great gig! Maybe we’ll send a polite query to their people. You have the weekend of your dreams please! ** Misanthrope Hi, G. Thanks about the funding. Crazy. I like zucchini muffins! Now you’re talking. I did read that Jacob Ketterling was found and his disappearance figured out. Adam Walsh was so not Dahmer’s M.O. Attributing him to Dahmer makes no sense at all. Surely your weekend will provide a brief albeit too brief respite from the same old shit. And how so? ** MANCY, Hey! Oh, man, the thanks are so infinitely and entirely mine. I’ve been buzzing and daydreaming ever since I first saw ‘4LANGUAGES’. It’s not only amazing, but it has kind of a thrown down the gauntlet in the best way. Thank you thank you! ** Bill, Hi, Bill. Thanks for the congrats. Yeah, we’re really happy and rarin’ to go. I hope you get to make the weekend count, and/or that it makes you count. Well, you always count. What am I saying? ** Okay. You know what to do with your local time this weekend, and please do that ‘what to do’ to your heart’s content, and then let Ben/_B_A know something about it. Excellent weekends to you all. See you on Monday.