Jeonghun Lee
Interview With the Artist David Lewandowski — Part 2

Text. Jeonghun Lee
Image. David Lewandowski

:DDDD: Have you ever been contacted by art galleries or private collectors, as opposed to film production or advertising companies?

:David Lewandowski: There was some interest from a few small galleries and a thread with the folks at MOCA (The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles) to show the first prototype of the Time For Sushi chess set. A collector in Texas who specializes in eccentric and surreal art named David Lackey and a bitcoin millionaire also got in touch. There are two young artists (Jillian Mayer and Ambar Navarro) who have really encouraged me to show some work and ideas in more gallery contexts. Maybe for the next project.

:DDDD: The aging of the work with computer graphics technology, the possibility of data damage or the change of video platforms for playing and distribution are of concern to both artists and purchasers. I wonder how you think about this phenomenon. Have you considered methods of preservation for these video/media works?

:David Lewandowski: That's a great point. It would be really interesting to distribute video art with a standardized playback device and display, and with a service contract to maintain it and ensure its quality for collectors. Even online, stuff disappears from YouTube every day, though I always make an offline backup if I discover something I like. Even hard drives have data rot and die. Filmstrips decay. Isn't CREMASTER1 only on VHS?¹ Art critics Lucy Lippard and John Chandler once wrote about “ultra-conceptual art’’ where the idea behind a work is all that really matters. The concept is most important when weighed against aesthetic properties like image fidelity or sound quality. There's a video artist I really admire called Paul Pfeiffer who has discussed this topic before. I strongly recommend his work and his Art21 episode.²

:DDDD: You have also produced a book called YouTube Inbox. Why do you sell the messages which were sent to the inbox of your YouTube channel?

:David Lewandowski: The concept with YouTube Inbox was born out of frustration with the signal-to-noise ratio of spam rising in my private messages. When I started on YouTube, I used to get exclusively personal and encouraging messages from strangers. I would often receive very innocent questions. That changed over time and I began to get more and more messages from people attempting to exploit me or get me to sign over the rights to my films or join their company — all attempts to fold me into a dollar-sign and profit from my work.

I was getting increasingly frustrated and disappointed, I felt like YouTube culture was changing. I missed making connections to strangers who chose to speak in private rather than leaving a public comment. Eventually, all of those new personal messages went to zero and every message sent to me was a marketing message, spam or a very bad exploitation offer. I thought it would be funny and conceptually interesting to take all of those attempts to exploit my films and make money off of me and then turn it into a product which I could theoretically sell and profit from. The spam itself became the marketable content, sort of like how Marshall McLuhan said “the content of a medium is always another medium” back in the 1960s.

:DDDD: You are also selling the film rights to YouTube Inbox. What rights does the customer have if they make this purchase?

:David Lewandowski: If you optioned YouTube Inbox, you'd be legally able to produce almost anything you want using the contents, messages and themes of my book. You could even make a hit film about it starring Tom Cruise. I could give you a lot of free casting ideas and concepts for it. Seems like a slam dunk to me. (laughs)

With the intellectual property rights, you could do almost anything you'd like with my characters. Use them to solve homelessness or sell poison to children. Advertising, art and entertainment are just three examples, but you could do anything imaginable once you purchased the rights. You would get access to the tools I use to create my films and be able to explore your own creativity using these paintbrushes. The possibilities are endless.

:DDDD: There is also a product named ‘YouTube Inbox – Certificate of Authenticity’. I wonder why this certificate exists and what it proves?

:David Lewandowski: This is mostly a joke, a commentary on the landfill garbage that most people sell as “extras” or bonus content for their book. People use "cost-decoys," artificially marked up versions to make the standard edition look like a better deal. It was funny to suggest someone would need to authenticate their copy of YouTube Inbox, as if there would ever be a situation in which you'd need to verify that it's not an illegal copy.

:DDDD: What is the Option the Film Rights? Is this different concept with the intellectual property agreement?

:David Lewandowski: “Option the film rights” would permit you to create a television film or stage production based on my book YouTube inbox. The “Intellectual Property agreement” is a license to use the copyrighted likeness and behaviors of my characters and films in new productions for commercial applications.

:DDDD: According to the explanation, Purchaser will have exclusivity to develop story and character of works over the next 12 months. I wonder if the purchaser wants to extend the period of use, should they purchase again?

:David Lewandowski: That's right. In the literary industry, you can do what is called "optioning" a literary work, which gives you exclusive, temporary permission for a period to try and develop a new project with it. Once the option expires, you can sell the option to another interested group or company if it is not renewed.

:DDDD: Despite the growth of digital platforms and video works, awareness of video work copyrights, distribution or purchase are still insufficient. What do you think about the phenomenon?

:David Lewandowski: I am exceptionally passionate about this topic, beyond the scope of what I can say to answer your question here. Copyright is something I'm puritanical about because myself and so many other independent artists get ripped off a lot. I do what I can to help teach and protect other artists, despite us living in a time where most of the landscape for online video and art has become a poison, toxic wasteland of piracy and theft. I hope that as the internet matures, our laws will reflect a more robust path to protect artists and let them participate in the rewards of the attention economy. I have so many thoughts about this, but I don't want to bore you to tears.

:DDDD: We have already reached our last question. What do you have planned for the years to come?

:David Lewandowski: I have many ideas. The next 20 or so films in the series are already written. I'll just need about 200 years or so to create them, so please be patient. (laughs) Maybe I'll sell off all of my assets at auction someday, and someone else can make them for me. That would be interesting!

  1. First video work of American artist Matthew Barney's serie work The Cremaster Cycle


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