BR: Where do your ideas come from? I was looking at some of your images that were put together from the Jack Smith shoot that you’d done. I’ve heard that one day at Eyebeam, you shot all these people with hula-hoops. Where does your imagery come from?
STUPAK: The imagery thing is interesting. I feel like right now I’m just beginning to make imagery that is really what I’m interested in. So the stuff from the Jack Smith shoot is really what I’m interested in pursuing. The unfortunate thing about it is that it takes a long time to be able to coordinate a large shoot like that. But I’m getting better at that, because I have a larger group of people to call upon. So the hula hoops. They’re a group called Groovehoops and they’re a dance company. They’re really excellent and we’ve become really close. They came in and did the Eyebeam thing. That was great, because they have their own aesthetic, which is very in line with my own; it’s very colorful, and there’s glitter everywhere, and it’s fun, and running around. When I don’t have access to creating my own imagery, I’ll try to pull things from the Internet. I prefer to generate original stuff, but also from working with assume vivid astro focus, where it’s very much based on research and reference images, I’ve sort of tried doing that a little bit more. So you know, I’ll just look online a lot of times and do a Google search.
BR: The hula-hoop and also assume vivid astro focus are very seventies; you know, aesthetically seventies. You say you’re interested in glitter and in the assume vivid astro focus piece at the Whitney was filled with Mylar wallpaper. To what extent are you channeling that era of the seventies?
STUPAK: I don’t know if I’d say that I’m emulating a specific era. In the research on Jack Smith that I was doing, there was one quote where somebody described him as a fabulist. I really loved that word-- the cubists, the modernists and fabulists. I think that there’s a really rich lineage of artists and people doing artistic things. Studio 54 would sort of fall into that category. I also think that Salvador Dali would fall into that category, and Jack Smith and Leigh Bowery—people who aren’t necessarily coming from the same cultures or the same time period. For the assume vivid astro focus project, people constantly are asking if it’s drawing on the sixties, because it has a psychedelic characteristic. But while it may be informed by stuff that came out of that, it’s definitely not a nostalgia thing. It’s not about nostalgia for another time, or trying to recreate a retro vibe from another time.
BR: So it’s not?
STUPAK: It’s not. I think that as opposed to having it be something that’s retro or nostalgic, it’s sampling different elements from different time periods that are interesting or that are relevant currently, but then sort of spinning it into something that is current and other. It’s blending it with things that are also current. It’s creating a new hybrid. But it’s not, for example--"I wish we lived in the sixties, it was so great then."
BR: Wouldn’t it be nice to be in a simpler time where there was more intimacy in our world? You know, pre-computers, pre-internet.
STUPAK: I don’t think it’s accurate to say that it was a simpler time in the sixties. I think that from what I hear of the sixties—it was actually a time that was very painful in the nation, because there was such a strong divide between every single person and where they stood on the different issues. I think that now is a really interesting time. Shortly after September 11th, I was scared to death to be alive. Things changed a little bit. You just learn to live with that. It’s hard to say. I don’t think things are more complicated now or more difficult. They’re a little bit more efficient—which is a little creepy.
STUPAK: 1984 style efficient.
BR: Well, have computers and technology brought us to that area, you know, to that era, in a way? To that I Robot, Isaac Asimov time?
STUPAK: Yeah. OK. I don’t know if I’d say that computers have brought us closer to 1984. I love them, so I don’t like to say nasty things about them. I think that the nature of human efficiency is to consolidate and to link up information and to do different things and to be more efficient, and that 1984 style stuff thrives on that. I think people are just taking advantage of the computer— the things that computers enable us to do.
BR: How would you describe yourself and the path that computers have brought you to? Do you call yourself a video artist, or a VJ, or a new media artist, or a multimedia artist? Because labels are, unfortunately, they’re there.
BR: We either can latch onto them or not.
STUPAK: Yeah. I think that I’d describe myself as a video artist. But even that feels a little bit closed in. I’d almost rather be an installation artist and leave it open. While video has always been my primary love, I also have a lot of interests and a lot of experience with printmaking, painting and sculpture and different art forms, as well as music. I play in a band. I think that something like installation or even installation-slash-performance is more along the lines with what I would identify with. I don’t like to say that it’s new media. I just like defining myself based on the tools that I’ve used, because those can change at any moment.
BR: What might be some tools that you might want to experiment with over the next five years?
STUPAK: I guess right now I work a lot in video, obviously. But there are things that I want to get into. I’ve been doing a lot of knitting lately. And so there are times when I feel burnt out on making video, and I’ve tried to knit objects that are video-related, but they’re knitted.
BR: Like what?
STUPAK: Like right now I’m knitting a videotape. That’s kind of my first project. But I also want to knit cozies for televisions. I had a heartache over a video camera that I had, and I kind of want to knit another video camera for myself. So the knitting is one. But another is installation overall. With the assume vivid astro focus stuff, it’s gotten to a point where the video is becoming more seamlessly integrated into the overall installation, with the wallpapers and the other objects in the room. I really like the direction that that is going, so I feel like when I show, for instance, my Jack Smith piece, I might want to display it with the elements that went into making it. So there’s a big painting that we made for the backdrop, and there’s some props that we got, some costumes that another artist put together. Part of me wants to think about it in a greater context. There’s nothing I hate more than going to a museum and it’s a black box that’s meant to represent no space around the video; or looking at something in a monitor, with headphones on, I find to be really confining. As a viewer, I don’t want to go and do that. But a room with stuff in it, I’m much more likely to spend time in there.
BR: Speaking of creating environments for looking at video, can you describe how you presented your project for the Open Studios at Eyebeam? It was a very new way of presenting video—at least for Eyebeam.
STUPAK: Right. When I presented my project for the Open Studios at Eyebeam, it didn’t come out quite the way I wanted it. I wanted it to be bigger and crazier. But there wasn’t time, so I had go with what I could. But something that I thought was really important was to bring in a greater context to show the work. The thing I showed was a video and it was on a monitor. I wanted the sound to be audible as opposed to in headphones. We had different colored lights everywhere. I taped things all over the television, so that it masked the television a little bit. And that was something that I thought was really important, because I feel— especially with technology art--I feel a lot of it is very cold, and that it also puts people off, or it doesn’t encourage them to invest time into drawing deeper into the work. So I wanted it to be warm and inviting, and have a party atmosphere, so that people would spend time with the work, and possibly look into it further, or maybe even watch it a couple times instead of just watching it once. So that goes a little bit back to my philosophy as well--if people are enjoying themselves, they’ll be more likely to spend time with your work. Thinking back to an earlier question about whether the aesthetic comes out of the rave, I think the thing that was interesting about creating artwork for raves was that instead of having people coming into a gallery and doing a once through and then leaving, there were people who were at these things for twelve hours straight. They were in a very receptive mind state. There’s something about when people are enjoying themselves and exposing themselves to the work, it allows the work to sort of expose itself to them a little bit more effectively.
BR: Would you say that this is somewhat like sitting in a theater and watching a movie? What about your interest in Fellini and Satyricon, and other Felines...? So many artists have been influenced by Fellini. What do you get from him?
STUPAK: I think that my interest in Fellini is really specific to Satyricon. I mean, I love his other work as well, but there’s something just so insane about Satyricon. It’s just the colors are really amazing; the storyline is very meandering. It’s very photographic; there are all these little tableaus that happen. I must’ve seen it at least a hundred times, and I cannot remember the logic behind the sequences that happen, but I remember the sequences really well, and I have the soundtrack of it. I think it was just fascinating how weird it was and how lush it was, how beautiful everything is in it. The colors are just so lovely.
BR: With Fellini, as a viewer, you're asked to take a journey with him. To what extent can you apply that to your own work? Are you asking us to take a journey with you, to take a trip? Go someplace really different that we’ve never been before?
STUPAK: The interpretation of Fellini, where he’s kind of trying to take you on a journey, in a way, that idea can be applied to my work. But at the same time, it’s something that I aspire to. In the past, I’ve been making work that doesn’t ask a lot of audiences, where it’s all very short and it happens really quickly. So it doesn’t ask you to pay attention to it for very long; or it’s the kind of thing where you can walk in at any point and sort of go into it. With the Flaming Creatures feature piece, it’s going to be forty-two minutes. So it’ll be the longest thing that I’ve made. I’m going to refer back to him a little bit more, and try to ask people to go on a journey, where it requires you to sit and watch it for a while. You know, something that is just very interesting to me about assume vivid astro focus and Eli Sudbrack, my friend who’s the primary artist in that, is that he’s very unapologetic about making the viewer work a little bit to engage with his work. And that’s something that I really admire, where you say, “Well, ok, this is what it is…you need to put a little of yourself into spending time with it or looking at it to understand what’s going on.” Does that make sense?
BR: Absolutely. Do you have to be a very proficient technologist in order to be an artist today?
STUPAK: I guess I’d say to be an artist now; you kind of do have to be a very proficient technologist. But in a way, you don’t. I look at the videos that Eli and I made for Walking On Thin Ice. That was a bit of a breakthrough for us, in that it was the installation that got us the invite to the Whitney. And that’s very low tech. Just sort of technology-wise; it’s super ghetto and all over the place, in terms of color. It’s not very skilled technologically. But it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t take away from it; it doesn’t make people say, “Oh, if it were done better…” You know, like it’s accepted as it is. I think the art world is more forgiving in that way. You look at somebody like Dear Raindrop, where their aesthetic is very cut and paste, and it’s super-fast fast and everything. They’re not banging their heads against the wall, trying to learn the computer better and better and better. I think they’re just making work. You have to have a certain level of proficiency to be able to make work. And that’s true. But you don’t have to be the greatest effects master of the world in order to be able to succeed at technological art.
BR: Do you ever worry about copyright issues in your work? Because you’re borrowing from here, from the web, from music, etc.
STUPAK: The copyright thing is really interesting. It’s also something that when I was working in the record industry, it was a super-hot topic. The particular record company I was working in was actually one that was at the vanguard of setting the tone for how other record labels associated with the company operated in terms of the copyright thing. My personal take on it is I don’t lose sleep with my own work. I try to be careful. I prefer to have the work that gets attention--to have that work be original work. If it’s drawing on found material, I will have it modified so much that that it becomes my own. The second Scissorfriends DVD is a bit of an exception; but you’ll note that there are no indicating markings on it. So it’s like: Who made it? And so that’s something that I’ve learned.
BR: Are you talking about not “signing” your work or taking credit for it?
STUPAK: Yes, that work was anonymous. It’s a little bit back here in the back of my head, but I think that the art world is kind of an interesting thing to explore. So when we made the Walking On Thin Ice video, we talked about it. Like, “Should we get permission to use a Yoko Ono song?” And it was a discussion that we had over the course of making the project. And we decided not to. And we decided, I think it’s officially called The Unofficial Music Video for Yoko Ono’s Walking On Thin Ice. It sort of points back to being unofficial. And she’s seen it, and she loves it, so we have her blessing.
BR: That’s good.
STUPAK: It’s something that comes up, for sure.
BR: What do you say to the young VJs that are just coming up right now? What’s your advice to them?
STUPAK: I get a lot of emails, actually, from people who are starting to be VJs, who are getting into it. It’s definitely expensive. It’s a very expensive little art form. And I think really, the most important thing is to focus on the content. There’s a lot of emphasis placed on the technology, but the content is really, at the end of the day, what you become known for. And investing in creating a personal style, I think is really important. Becoming known for that is more important than the kind of equipment that you use or what you have, if you have the next big thing or something like that.
BR: Yes, the content is supreme. What are some exhibitions that you’ve seen, or shows that you’ve seen recently in New York that have struck you?
STUPAK: I was really inspired by the Dear Raindrop shows and the Paperrad shows, just because sort of in the media world, there was such an emphasis on making things look very slick and look very sexy and professional. And the Dear Raindrop and Paperrad shows—the aesthetic is about exploring the really rough, really quick techniques, and a lot of energy comes out of that. Like the Jack Smith collage that I’m making for the Jeffrey Deitch book.
BR: What about that piece?
STUPAK: It’s all super, super rough, how it’s cut out. You know, and it’s as if you cut it out with scissors. A year ago, I probably would’ve cut every little single thing out. The idea of making something without having to make it perfect, and where imperfections actually reveal something about the essence is important to me.
BR: Because the imperfections are what gives it aesthetic interest or beauty?
STUPAK: Yeah. With the Jack Smith movie, we shot the whole film in one day. It’s a forty-two minute film. He shot it where he used pretty much every single thing that he shot. A one-to-one ratio. This is unheard of. There’s maybe one frame that was thrown away out of it. With video you can shoot till you’re blue in the face and it doesn’t cost you anything. But we decided to shoot very similarly. So we didn’t do anything in more than two takes. I think we did two takes just to get different camera angles. Oh, another huge influence is Brian Eno. I just have to say that. The thing I found with the Jack Smith thing was that he incorporates a lot of methods that Brian Eno talks about, even though their work is aesthetically really different. And one of the things that they both agree upon is the idea that you can honor your mistakes as a hidden intention. That’s from Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategy. But it’s something that Jack Smith really believes in too. The first take is the one where you get the essence of the person. So even though there might be a mistake in it, there’s something else that comes out that if you continue to do take after take, maybe you lose some of that original potency or something.
BR: I think it’s interesting that you’ve gone from video to installation and then the DVD ‘zines and now the film that’s also going to become a book.
STUPAK: The book that Deitch Projects is putting together is a collection of just different artists who are younger artists. They’re in my peer group. And, there’s actually a few people from Sarah Lawrence who are in it, which is really funny.
So it’s like a yearbook. I’ll be getting two pages. We could do whatever we wanted to with it.
BR: The premise of the book is: Here’s what’s happening with some young artists right now.
STUPAK: I think so.
BR: So, you’re taking some of the Jack Smith project and making it into a two-page spread?
STUPAK: We had a photographer at the shoot. He was taking photos the whole day. It serves as a more interesting way of showing the film, without doing just straight screen shots.
BR: But it’s also another way of publishing, in a way. So where do you think that interest in new forms of publishing is going for you?
STUPAK: I don’t know. I think I am really more and more valuing physical objects. I just think when I was working in this web company, Method Five; at one point they had seventy-five people working for them. I would just trip out by looking around me, and everyone was so intensely working on their computers. They were working on something that never existed. The nature of that company was that the projects would never be finished. They’d always get bogged down at some point. So, it really wouldn’t amount to anything. I would just be sitting there thinking of how much money is being pushed through the wiring.
BR: Is the idea of publishing something like—-boom--it gets finished. It’s a completed project.
STUPAK: It’s finished. And there’s also a tangible mark. It’s like a drawing. It’s like making a mark on a paper. Brian Eno who is a part of the Long Now Association, says that right now we’re in a bit of an informational dark age. Because so much of what is happening in terms of communication and artistic development is taking place electronically, and it’s not in a medium that has any archival qualities. It’s too much information to keep up with in the archives. So it’s impossible to archive. And it’s not being kept. I guess the early conversations about artificial intelligence or virtual reality or both…took place on early computers at MIT that nobody can get into anymore—not even MIT, they can’t even get into them. So all of the beginning discussion about that is no longer available.
BR: So is this what we have left? I mean, have we gone full circle in saying ok, the printing press, books to computers, websites, now blogs. Now are we back to books?
STUPAK: I kind of think so.
BR: People will always want a book in front of them.
STUPAK: I guess so. This is something I think about—and I lose sleep over this—is that if the apocalypse happens tomorrow, and I survived it and other people survived it— I would not be able to show anything for the things that I’ve put my heart and my soul into for the last twenty-seven years of my life.
And that’s kind of scary. I actually like the idea of flipbooks. That’s actually something that I’d like to start exploring, is the idea of making video that’s like, flip books.
BR: And flip books are really from those coin operated machines.
STUPAK: Yeah. That’s really interesting as a way of showing motion and stuff.
BR: But, coin operated machines are obsolete. What do you think will replace the DVD? Will the DVD go the way of the eight-track tape?
STUPAK: It’s really hard to know. For assume vivid astro focus, there’s a collector in Germany that purchased our Deitch installation. It’s been really interesting interfacing with them, because when they purchased it, they wanted all of these different formats. It was as if they were trying to cover all these bases for technologies.
BR: They want a DVD, they want a VHS?
STUPAK: Well, they want DVD— they want DVD and mini-DV, like Diga beta. We had to give them all of these formats. When someone buys the assume vivid astro focus wallpaper, they usually just get the files on a CD. They’re the people who are considered holding the master copy. And if a museum wants to recreate it, they go to the collector for that master copy. But what happens when the Photoshop files can’t be read, fifty years from now…and they probably won’t be. Will that collector be up on it enough to know that they have to update their collection?