where my girls at?: Ageism, Auteurs, and the YouTube Play Project
Note: This will be my one and only post this week as my schedule is a little hectic right now. Tomorrow is the day I co-facilitate the Music History Workshop at Girls Rock Camp Austin (can’t wait!) and I’m attending a workshop on “Making Movies Matter in the Classroom” at the Harry Ransom Center on Friday. But I’ll be back next week – hopefully with a post on Claire and Season 1 of the HBO show Six Feet Under. Have a great week and remember – if you’re in Austin come to the Girls Rock Camp Showcase!
Over the weekend the New York Times reported that the Guggenheim Foundation and YouTube are joining forces to search for and then showcase digital work from up and coming video artists. Labeling their project YouTube Play the idea is that video artists around the world will have a chance to upload and submit a video via YouTube. Curators at the various Guggenheim museums will then have a chance to look over the submissions and select videos they wish to include in video-art exhibits that will be opening in the Fall.
Nancy Spector, the deputy director and chief curator of the Guggenheim Foundation, stresses that they are looking for originality – not necessarily the “best” videos. In various interviews Spector and others stress the notion that anyone with access to a video camera can potentially create a digital video that could end up on display in one of Guggenheim’s locations. In an attempt to level the field between video-art pros and artists with limited resources and/or knowledge, Hewlett Packard is offering tutorials on editing, lighting, and animation – tutorials that are featured online through the YouTube channel for YouTube Play. HP will also be providing all the technology required for Guggenheim to showcase these video-artworks.
Now I understand there’s a lot of self-interest going on here. YouTube is hoping to gain some attention (maybe some credibility since the site is known for hosting a ton of cat videos among other things) and obviously HP has plenty to gain in offering various tutorials (which may or may not push their own software or products) and in providing the tools required to put on the exhibit. YouTube Play could be a great publicity opportunity for all included – even Guggenheim, which is described in Discover as the “ultimate arbiter of contemporary art success” – an image that suggests elitist (read stuffy, classed, raced) notions of art. Partnering with YouTube for this project has prompted some to call YouTube Play a mash-up between high and low art, and in the NYT piece Spector states that the goal in all this is to “brea[k] down traditional art-world boundaries.”
Here is a video that outlines the goals of the project:
While this all sounds great, and my immediate reaction was sheer joy in the idea of Guggenheim showcasing girls’ video-art, my enthusiasm faded when I read some of the fine print regarding submission criteria. First and foremost, no one under the age of 18 can submit a video. So even though the youth of today are generally the most familiar with digital and social media – they are almost completely excluded (unless they’re 18) from participating in the project. How is that breaking down barriers? Maybe there’s some legal reason for this guideline, but their site doesn’t mention it . . . prompting me to wonder if there’s some ageism at work here – in that maybe people at Guggenheim don’t think youth can create video-art that would be worthy of their time or consideration for YouTube Play.
Moreover, one rule stipulates that each video can have only one creator – or at the very least only one creator will be recognized. This means that organizations such as Reel Grrls which encourages girl collaboration and teamwork, would either be excluded from submitting a video, or only one of the girls who worked on it would receive recognition. Recognizing only one creator reinforces this idea of the auteur – in which one person, usually the (white, heterosexual, able-bodied, cisgender male) director, is considered solely responsible for the video or film in question while everyone else who worked on it is cast aside. Championing one creator – in instances where this isn’t the case – is also how minority groups’ contributions to film industries and film history (in editing, lighting, sound, costume design, screenwriting, and on and on) have been overlooked and undervalued.
Sadly what seemed like a wonderful, open project seems less so when the various rules and criteria are closely examined. Guggenheim and YouTube plan to make this a biennial event – maybe next go around the creators behind the project will consider the ways in which their submission guidelines break down some barriers, but simultaneously reinforce others.