On Wednesday, February 4, 2015, Jacob Ciocci came to MassArt to both of my classes. I reached out to him with more questions.
EST: What is your process for diving into a topic such as "urgency?" Does this differ from your musical process?
Jacob Ciocci: "the urgency" is a great word to define the paradox of contemporary american culture: on the one hand there is a lot of talk about things that need to change now, that time is running out, that we have spun out of control and desperately need to re-route our course, that technology is disrupting and revolutionizing human experience at a faster and faster pace, that we are almost there (the singularity) . . . so we must seize the day, it's now or never, if you don't start your diet today then when are you going to realize your life is slipping away-, it's either the red pill or the blue pill you must choose!!!- but at the same I get the feeling that we are more complacent than ever with the status quo/normalizing forces of consumerism/lifestyle branding, that we actually care less as a society than we ever have, that some of us literally don't care if we live or die---all we do all day is stare into screens and drink starbucks and worry about everything . . . 2015 is like the 50s but way more intense . . . not that the 50s were bad . . .
but at the same time I still believe in "the urgency" and radical transformation . . . American history is intertwined with this kind of beautiful paradox: born again christianity is kind of about "the urgency" in a way: immediate salvation, direct relationship to god, but it has also always been about selling people things, about keeping people hypnotized . . . as an artist I am equally fascinated by both facets of culture: the transformative and the imprisoning, the uplifting and the soul-crushing
EST: How do you balance accessibility in your practice? Is there anyone in particular you are making work for?
Jacob Ciocci: I think about accessibility and the visual language/vernacular cultures I am using all the time when I make things: I want to make things that can work and be successful within a contemporary fine art gallery/screening context but also work and be successful on the internet or in a rock club . . . it is an insanely hard challenge to make things that speak with depth and breadth (and are not compromised) to all of these different audiences at once . . . but it's important to me . . . I did it once already with great success (with the collective I was a part of called "paper rad" in the early 2000s) and maybe I was spoiled by that experience--so I'm still trying to do it . . . most people just pick one audience and even then still struggle their whole lives to communicate fluently and with expertise to that one audience/pocket of culture (contemporary art, experimental music, comedy, etc), for some stubborn reason I believe I can speak powerfully to multiple audiences at once . . . I drank the DIY/computer/internet kool-aid . . .
EST: What is youth culture to you and how did your views change by getting older? Some students felt there was a generation gap. Can you elaborate on generational discrepancies?
Jacob Ciocci: youth culture is always changing . . . it's an invented concept that started perhaps when they invented the term "teen age". I highly recommend the documentary by Matt Wolf by the same name, that researches the "youth cultures" that pre-dated the term "teen-age" . . . it's a complicated and fascinating history . . . I hope that the things I make are both contextual and stand the test of time, that the cultural artifacts that I either sample or refer to somehow resonate even if the audience does not remember them or know the references. most of them are so obscure I don't even remember them or didn't experience them as "a kid" or even a "young adult" . . . it's about a kind of cultural archaeology, and in that way I hope it doesn't matter what the clips "originally meant", it's more important how we react or interpret these references in the present . . . I like the analogy that my videos put the viewer in the position of being an alien looking at human culture from space, trying to comprehend the incomprehensible . . . when I use found footage clips referencing children's or teen programming I am not being nostalgic but am using these clips as starting-places for discussions about the myths and ideologies that are constantly informing us, both as kids and adults . . . I believe that even adults are being brainwashed by their own set of "lifestyle choices" , the reason I tend to use kids or youth culture is because that version of brainwashing is somehow more endearing or pleasurable or tragic to me, but brainwashing is inevitable and is always happening, this text is my attempt at brainwashing you!! I am the TRUE identity of Mr. Brainwash unmasked!!!!
EST: Where do you lie between artist (authentic and romantic) and artrepreneur ( an artist working within neoliberal capitalism and the deregulated (art) market)?
Jacob Ciocci: haha those are both such cynical descriptions of professional/life paths . . . I suppose I'd like to imagine myself perfectly balanced between the 2, like kurt cobain . . .
EST: Who are the artists you closely relate to? Influences?
I would be interested in hearing your input about artists who break into the mainstream like Alan Resnick and to hear more about your experience with Adult Swim.
I had little to no experience with Adult Swim. That was all Ben Jones (Paper Rad was myself, Ben Jones, and Jessica Ciocci, my sister, who also helped animate the Adult Swim pilot). As a collective we got a grant through a non-profit in Pittsburgh to create a TV pilot for a kid's show called "Problem Solvers" but it was very different than the pilots or the programs that Ben ended up producing for Adult Swim, and eventually for Cartoon Network, and now Fox. I've never heard of this Alan Resnick guy but am going to lookg him up after I type this, but I am familiar with Wham City Comedy. But I don't like to categorize culture into mainstream versus underground or art versus entertainment. Everyone in the creative world (or maybe everyone in life period) is just doing their job and at the same time trying to not do their job (trying to do something profoundly important that can not be commodified/the opposite of a job). It's a paradox/balance/game we play . . . we can't have it both ways . . . money and god are both real . . .
As far as other artists/etc:
I find out about a cool new painter like every other day on Instagram. Probably about every 2 weeks I find out about a cool new internet artist on facebook. I haven't found any cool new musicians on myspace in a while tho, not since they changed the interface . . .
EST: What was grad school like? Mad money? Did you pay that stuff off?
The grad school years for me were 2002-2005 which coincided with the "jumping off" of Paper Rad's power on the internet and in the art/music/culture world. I wish that I was a bit more creatively lost in grad school so I could have got my money's worth. But instead I was just really focused on "doing Paper Rad", which I did to the best of my ability while still doing homework. I still have many, many loans from undergrad and grad-school. People have very different opinions on dealing with loans and debts, I recommend Suze Orman:
"The key to making money is to stay invested."
I feel like Andy Warhol would have said the same thing :)