Dazed's ultimate guide to US creativity
As part of our new digitally-led US project States of Independence we've invited our favourite 30 American curators, magazines, creatives and institutions to takeover Dazed for a day. To kick off, LA's Museum of Contemporary Art are showcasing their view on US visual culture, with local net artist Petra Cortright's Tags For Likes, which debuted at their monthly MOCAtv screening. Elsewhere, check out our look at the history of this incredible museum and platform and read a manifesto from the new director Philippe Vergne. But for now, read our interview with Petra and check out her awesome video above.
Petra Cortright is walking around the beautiful new 2-floor studio she’s just moved into with her fiancée, artist Marc Horowitz, on the outer edges of downtown LA. Some of her digital paintings are sitting in her back gallery space, printed on aluminum and silk and flags, all created meticulously through layers in Photoshop. An iMac and giant new PC are light up her working space, the vaults for her brilliantly imaginative webcam vids.
A retrospective screening of Petra’s selfie videos was held at MoCA at the end of June: an hour’s worth of her glitchy effects-laden and music-savvy shorts from the last 7 years. It included her viral classics, like “buggin out”(where Petra lowers her sunglasses to reveal giant cartoon eyes), “:' |._ ~**~ _.:' |._ ~**~ _.:' |._ ~**~ _.:' |._ ~**~ _.:' |._ ~**~ _.” (featuring a magical glitter effect that falls from tree branches she pulls, and an epic spacey soundtrack), “Bridal Shower” (her eerily hypnotic piece for Frieze), “DRK PARA” (multiple green-tinged images of Petra singing Lana Del Rey’s ‘Dark Paradise’), and her latest commission for MOCAtv, “Tags For Likes.” They’re mesmeric, beautiful and totally addictive.
In conversation, Petra’s mind is an equally entertaining and unfiltered place to get lost in. She tells DAZED how art relates to her former soccer career, why she hates YouTube, and how to print explicit dog tags at a pet store franchise.
Tell us about your MOCAtv collaboration, ‘Tags For Likes.’
I really love everyone that I’ve worked with at MoCA, they tried to make things as easy for me as possible, but the shoot was really so outside my comfort zone. We filmed at YouTube studios. And then having everything be so official - I’m just not used to working in that way. Like, if you use a song it has to be paid for! (laughs) The final MoCAtv video was pretty silly. It was this kinda stressful Skype thing, with a melty gross dripping Skype window and a stressed out puppy.
MOCA was great but I’ve just never worked well under pressure. I’m like the biggest baby ever. Like, I’m kind of sad this week, with the United States losing the World Cup. I played soccer for 14 years. It was really serious, I had all these full rides to colleges, I was on the pre Olympic team. I quit at the height of everything because all of the college scouts were showing up to watch you, just to wait for you to do something wrong. So I decided to go to art school instead.
I feel like art and sports are very related. With both, no one’s telling you what to do, it’s just these really intuitive things. You can do exercises to improve your skills, but in the end it’s just really up to you. And artists have to work with people too.
Where did the title Tags for Likes come from?
I had this weird relationship with YouTube - they actually removed the first video that I ever put up, the webcam video, because of the description. I used this list that’s just this internet spam list - I’ve used it for my bio and my artist statement. I don’t really like to talk about my work that much, especially a long time ago, so I just use this insane list that has everything in it - like Britney Spears, Taco Bell, KFC, Rugrats. Weird stuff. YouTube removed the video not because of the work but because of the explicit nature of the description. Some of the words are really gnarly sex stuff and racist stuff. But the list balances itself out. It’s really silly, it’s really dark, it’s really beautiful. It just describes everything so it kind of describes nothing; it’s so neutral to me.
“Tags for Likes” was taking into account the whole history I’ve had with YouTube, and I really felt the need to make a prop. For the shoot I went to Petco and made all these custom dog tags which had words from the list. It was like “Kim Kardashian” “Taco Bell” “Bees” “Faggot” one of them was like “Orchid rose rape”. At Petco they have this big machine where you can make dog tags. The screen for making it is this huge console, and the words are really big on it. So I was in Petco just sweating bullets because I was typing words like “rape” and “faggot” and all these horrible words from the list. I was trying to get a balance of really good and evil. These kids were coming by and I was throwing myself over the screen trying to block it! I was in there for like 3 hours. I probably looked like I was on PCP. The dog tags were like little sculptures, and they’re all different colors. They’re really beautiful. But the dog trainers showed up with this puppy and they were looking at the tags, like “What the fuck?”
Your videos are quite personal, almost voyeuristic.
People are always surprised that I don’t like to watch my videos - I’ll turn my back if they’re in a gallery or something. It makes me uncomfortable. But when I post them online, they don’t feel voyeuristic to me. The internet is an anonymous audience. The videos are somewhat personal, but I don’t know who’s watching them. Also on the internet you can see how many views it’s getting. I actually price the Youtube videos by view count, it’s based on this algorithm.
I really love comments on my video, or likes or dislikes, because at least that’s some kind of honest feedback. At the screening, people were watching me for an hour but I have no idea if they were like, “Oh...this bitch.” But on the internet, someone will type out THIS BITCH, and then I just know, so it’s great. And I love responding to comments. I respond to comments in a really brutal way. Of course I get negative comments - a girl making webcam videos comes with that. But I can’t even say out loud what I’ve typed back to people! My policy is to respond equal to, or greater than, what they’ve said to me. It’s so fun for me. Because that’s just the language of YouTube. It’s interesting, that kind of vernacular.
Let’s talk about your music selection. I think you’d be a sick DJ.
It’s funny because I’m just such a clown. I really love rap. I think I have a video on Facebook of me rapping to Too $hort ‘Blow The Whistle’ - that song makes me a crazy person. A lot of the dancing videos are whatever Russian clown techno I’m listening to, or all the happy hardcore stuff, it’s great. The slowest stuff I’ve been listening to is Lana Del Rey, she’s the shit.
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