We speak to Chicago-based artist Nick Briz, one of 10 artists showing in No Copyright Infringement Intended, a group exhibition, curated by Antonio Roberts. Taking place at Vivid Projects until 23 September, the exhibition explores the collision of digital art and copyright issues.

Nick Briz, Diamonds (Green Screen Version)

ok, i’ll try to answer as many of ur questions at once as i can (^__^) >> not sure how much u know about the story behind the Rihanna SNL performance, but in Nov of 2012 Rihanna performed live on Saturday Night Live (SNL) in front of a green screen (so that the audience @home would see her superimposed over other backgrounds), not xactly groundbreaking, but tbh i don’t think i had ever seen someone do that on SNL. the images/scenes she was superimposed over seemed weird/trippy to most, but more than familiar to a small group of net artists which also overlapped w/a small online-subculture which was being referred to as ‘seapunk’ at the time. that community got pissed, feeling their aesthetic/scene/culture had been co-opted && online publications were quick to write about the backlash (the knowyourmeme entry for seapunk has a good list of articles re: the Rihanna “controversy”). as someone in the net art community i was seeing a lot of my friends making upset posts on social media re:the situation && it reminded me of something i had gone through a few years earlier.

i think it was sometime in 2008 when Kanye West had released a music video for his track “Welcome to Heartbreak”, this video featured a glitch aesthetic (specifically a technique known as datamosh). glitch art is another community i’ve been heavily involved in for years && before the Kanye video this community was relatively small, few people (including artists) had heard of glitch art. so when the Kanye video dropped folks in the community were pissed, i had friends claiming that glitch had been co-opted && it was the beginning of the end. the reality however was that glitch art had now been introduced to a much larger community, after that Kanye video glitch became much more popular, so much so that my glitch friends && i were able to organise a glitch conference (called GLI.TC/H) 3 years in a row (which Antonio also helped out on) as a result of the increased popularity we’ve now got A LOT of shi//y glitch art online, but at the same time, most of my fav glitch artists are folks who didn’t discover glitch until after the Kanye xplosion. the story behind the Kanye video is interesting, but i don’t want to digress too much… the reason i bring it up is b/c it was a big eye opening moment for me as an artist, at the time i felt glitch had been co-opted but i realised that was too simplistic a view of how culture worx. Kanye hadn’t “co-opted” glitch, he simply joined the conversation && of course (given his status) had a big impact on it, the results of which where both good && bad (but in my opinion, mostly good. .. even though the video itself might had been a little lame (>_O)).

so bax to Rihanna, when this happened i couldn’t help but feel like my fellow net artists weren’t seeing the bigger picture on social media, this is part of how culture worx, no one owns the conversation (it wouldn’t be a conversation if u were the only one allowed to have it). a few years b4 some of the artists in this community had made an xtremely influential glitch art piece using a Rihanna music video … && though i’m not trying to equate an underground artist’s appropriation of a large pop star w/her appropriation of an underground artist (there’s a clear power-imbalance there) it’s important to remember that in a way we (net artists) had already started this cultural remix “conversation” w/her.

i wanted to make something in re: to the way my community was reacting to the Rihanna performance in a way that was both sympathetic (like i said, i had already xperienced that feeling of co-option) but also helped them realise that this is how the cultural convo worx. i wanted to make something that would take the energy they were spending on making angry social media posts about Rihanna ‘copying’ their work && redirect it towards making new work ‘copying Rihanna copying their work’ >> ie. get them bax in the cultural remix discourse. the whole green screen aspect of it reminded me of this Oliver Laric piece i absolutely love called ‘Touch My Body (Green Screen Version)‘ (which came out around the same time as that Kanye glitch video), where Laric took that Mariah Carey music video && went through frame by frame replacing all the backgrounds w/green so that it could be remixed online (very “Internet”, much “remix”). && so i figured it made the most sense to remix his idea into another remix project which would invite these internet remix artists to remix Rihanna’s remix of their work.

i called my younger brother (who’s great w/after effects) && asked him if he could quickly do what Laric did to this Rihanna performance. so he did that to as much of the performance as he could in one night && then we put it up online, && naturally the community started remixing && the cultural convo continued in the productive way i was hoping it would (^__^) (w/more remixing, rather than sh*t posting). && the conversation literally did continue, i started collecting the remixes on my website && then the agency which had produced that performance for Rihanna on SNL reached out to me to see if there was some way she could collaborate w/this community of artist directly (unfortunately that never worked out, interesting story though, but again, i’ll try not to digress).

u asked what i’d hope an audience would take away from the work, tbh i never intended to show this work in galleries or anything like that, the audience was always supposed to be my community of net artists who had felt co-opted. like i said, i know && sympathise w/that feeling, but i’ve also come to realise that culture is a complicated conversation && feeling co-opted in a situation like this means ur missing the bigger picture. i wanted to help my community see this as an opportunity, as part of the convo && so that’s why i posted the green screen version, so they would remix it && get their feelz out that way. i think it’s great that folks have wanted to share the piece in different contexts (like this show for xample) but i never really intended it for larger audiences (so i’ve never really thought about what they’d get out of it).