Jeonghun Lee
Interview With the Artist David Lewandowski — Part 1

Text. Jeonghun Lee
Image. David Lewandowski

:DDDD: Recently, the series Going to the Store (2011), Late for Meeting (2013), Time for Sushi (2017) received attention. Before we talk about the purchase and distribution of video work, I would like to know about these works. First, Going to the Store (2011) was featured in the final episode of Channel 101’s short film series Everything. Unlike what is described as the “normal guy normal walk”, the figure in the work seems somehow grotesque and its movement is also unique. Please explain what this work is and the story behind it.

:David Lewandowski: The original film in this series was trying to accomplish something I hadn't seen online before. I was making sketch comedy at that time with a group, and I kept finding myself pulled to create weirder and more surrealistic things. I wanted to make videos without dialogue, without a language component, to move beyond kitschy cultural references and to make something based in nonsense. While working in television and films, I noticed lots of strange computer generated errors that I found really interesting and compelling, but no one was adopting them as a deliberate aesthetic choice. I started exploring this with my character by misusing various animation tools and discovered a balance between malfunctioning CG and precise control of his behaviors. It was addictive to study what elements made it upsetting or horrific instead of funny and playful. Looking back now on the first film, it was still new at that time to publish a piece that takes something so truly stupid and elevates it to a level of visual polish and discipline. I wanted it to feel like something that was discovered on an SD card inside of a meteorite. This first film helped launch my career as an artist and filmmaker, and its success led to the creation of a trilogy, along with the subsequent online shop.

:DDDD: Late for Meeting (2013), which was shown in 2013, is a companion piece to Going to the Store (2011). In what ways is it related to other works of the series? Are the stories of all works connected?

:David Lewandowski: That's right, they're all connected. Not everybody notices, but it's true.

I am an image caption.

:DDDD: In the last scene of Late for Meeting (2013), the figure who picked up the balloon leads to next work Time for Sushi (2017). Why was the backdrop to the work moved from Los Angeles to Japan?

:David Lewandowski: This move was about surprising and exciting the audience in unexpected and interesting ways. This was a way to push the concept and execution in every way imaginable. Discarding my life and moving to Japan to create a video in a foreign country in total secrecy, with all the challenges and unexpected issues this would present, seemed like a completely natural, almost obvious thing to do. I gave myself over to the process completely in order to challenge myself and see if the audience would go with it.

:DDDD: At the end of Time for Sushi (2017), all the figures fall into the sea and move freely. I could feel some serenity or sense of stability from the sudden disappearance of the figure's strange movement which was shown fully in the landscape of the city in Japan. I wonder if this moment was made by some directorial intention.

:David Lewandowski: I'm always interested to hear how people react to that turn. "That's beautiful, wow," or "I wanted to cry but I couldn't explain why.” I hear those a lot. But almost never is it seen as a comedy beat. Originally, the joke was intended to be something like, "I can't believe this guy tried to make something magical or emotional with these stupid creatures. They can't even swim right. It's not majestic at all, and this is totally dumb." Unfortunately, we accidentally made something beautiful. (laughs) The joke is supposed to be how I completely failed at creating sincere beauty.

:DDDD: The titles in the series are also unique. What functions do they play in the works?

:David Lewandowski: Originally, the title ‘Going to the Store’ was supposed to be a misdirection joke. It's a throw-away phrase, totally innocuous and seemingly unrelated to the content. I wanted to demonstrate to other artists at the time that you didn't need to create clickbait video titles to try to growth-hack the internet. Concentrate on quality, spend more energy creating something truly great instead of trying to find more advanced ways to trick someone into watching. Great things have magical properties more valuable than a search-favorable title. The second film in the series Late for Meeting was almost originally going to be called ‘CLICK HERE FREE iPAD, 100,000k SUBSCRIBERS FREE NOW’, but I changed the name shortly before uploading it. Eventually, the titles became a little joke for people paying closer attention, referencing the content of the thing which comes next.

:DDDD: Meanwhile, you are managing an online shop called Going to the Store. Selling the copyright of works and goods which are related to these pieces is very impressive. How did you start to run it?

:David Lewandowski: I thought it was time to satirize the e-commerce ecosystem on YouTube — The whole ‘build a fanbase then juice them for money selling landfill garbage with your logo on it’ thing. I was so bored with the mercantile aspects of YouTube, yet I knew I needed to go beyond the frame of what my films could be and embrace it somehow. Naomi Klein suggested the strength of any brand is measured by how far you can stretch it beyond it's primary conceit or product. Can a YouTube video be a book? A towel? Why not a $90,000 chess set? I wanted to see how my fans reacted. Additionally, because production was in Japan, I began to orient the marketing strategy more towards the Japanese internet otaku and art market. I had mostly given up on North America during post-production on Time for Sushi and wanted to explore something more interesting. I am humbled to have sold out of all physical inventory on the online store.

:DDDD: I saw a product named Intellectual Property Purchase Agreement for your video works on your online shop. It is impressive and it makes me very curious at the same time. If customer purchases this product, how does the transaction of this intellectual property proceed?

:David Lewandowski: We would negotiate based on the needs of customer’s project and how much value my intellectual property can offer their campaign/project/brand/etc.

:DDDD: Does the purchase of the Intellectual Property Purchase Agreement go through a lawyer? If it is going to be done in the rage of the law, it seems that there would be different legal interpretations in each country.

:David Lewandowski: That's correct. The paperwork would go through my entertainment lawyer. It would be arranged per country, contingent on your personal needs.

:DDDD: I wonder what contents are mainly included in this intellectual property purchase agreement.

:David Lewandowski: I know one way to get the answer! (laughs)

:DDDD: Is the cost of purchasing intellectual property rights determined by you, the artist, or is there still some negotiation between seller and buyer?

:David Lewandowski: The cost is always different depending on the client and the intended use, as well as things such as exclusivity and timeline. A brief on the desired terms, a bid and negotiation of terms is standard. My work and characters are not perfect for every brand.

:DDDD: Is buying this intellectual property the same as buying your video work?

:David Lewandowski: It's different. The intellectual property is more about buying the characters themselves, their stories, their behaviors, their animations and what I've built inside their world. On the other hand, people license my existing work to use pieces from it all the time; on Instagram, on television, once even in a major studio movie.

:DDDD: If someone purchases intellectual property of your work, how and in what form is it delivered to customers?

:David Lewandowski: It depends on the client's individual needs. In most cases it would be a hard drive, DVD and lengthy documentation. But most clients just want the characters for something custom in their brand or commercial. One client wanted to write them into a script as horror monsters and didn't want any of my files, just the rights to their likeness and movements. Those are really funny emails.(laughs)

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