A still from Soda_Jerk’s Astro Black
Soda_Jerk, the art collective who work predominantly with audiovisual sampling, emerged from Australia in 2002. The two-sister team hijacks all sorts of AV content and weaves it into contemporary fairy tales that pose striking political and cultural similarities.
Using many copyright protected films as the source of their fantastical story lines, they position themselves squarely on the side of freedom for media piracy. While they haven’t experienced any lawsuits yet, they continue to investigate political subject matter through the sampling of a wide variety of recorded media including celluloid, VHS, DVD, and online content. Their archival media practice blurs the line of research, documentary, and theoretical fictions that question the interconnection between power structures and narrative framing.
By working as a collaborative entity, they see themselves as part of a larger trend of artists moving away from the commercial enterprise of art that predominated the art scene until around 2008. Instead, they prefer to focus on current political and economic situations through more social means. Art collectives like the Russian groups Voina and Chto Delat closely align political activation with their art practice and groups like SUPERFLEX have been dedicated to participatory social experiments. The Australian duo relates that they admire this work and are seeing a larger shift towards art practices taking reference from the 60s and 70s.
With the rise and fall of the art bubble that mirrored larger economic crises, it seems natural that artists would search further back for different models and a new direction for a better future. Aside from an admiration for collaborative art practice, the two pay homage to pioneers of archival film essay, cinema povera, and found footage films. They state that heroes like Bruce Conner and Craig Baldwin have been influential to their process as well as the legendary BBC documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis.
Trailer for Hollywood Burn (2011)
Their recently completed work Hollywood Burn runs an eight-minute long credit detailing all the sources that went into the 52-minute video that took ten years to produce. They say the project became more relevant with time.
Instead of passing out of date, the increasingly oppressive approach to copyright has made Hollywood Burn even more of this time right now. In the cultural climate of ACTA, SOPA and the general hysteria, we see the project as an urgent call to arms.
Hollywood Burn is an anti-copyright manifesto disguised as an epic Hollywood style film. In it, Elvis Presley plays the hero, a video clone brought back from the past to change the present and save video piracy. He is pitted against the evil character Moses and the copyright commandments. Copyright law is positioned as archaic and outdated. Derived from footage from the 1956 film, The Ten Commandments, Charlton Heston plays Moses in Hollywood Burn. Heston was seen as the perfect villain as his real-life, gun-wielding, conservative leanings are comparable to antiquated copyright protectionists. Much of the collective’s productions work in this manner, comparing Hollywood and cultural icons to real-life political situations. In Astro Black, science fiction and social politics of Black Atlantic culture are correlated, and in The Dark Matter Cycle a comparison of older and younger versions of screen personalities charts the impact of time and reveals that even these icons cannot escape its forward trajectory.
Trailer for Soda_Jerk’s work-in-progress How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Internet
Similarly, their hero, Elvis, in Hollywood Burn has a mission to change the past for the sake of the present. And just like him, Soda_Jerk sees their work as manipulating the past in order to change the present. The medium of film is special in that it can be edited in any number of ways and they see that there is magic in the process.
For us, what is most important about the way that sampling reconfigures the past is that it points towards an alternative and inclusive mode of historiography—a means of constructing strategic counter-narratives. It is a way of hijacking the past to open new possibilities for the present.
The two sisters from Down Under therein take hold of political and cultural histories and provide new ways of understanding current situations. It is also of great importance for them to analyze the original codifications that framed these productions in the first place. As George Orwell stated, “Whoever controls the past controls the future, whoever controls the present controls the past.” And so for Soda_Jerk, sampling and editing are like waging warfare on contemporary power structures.
Taking hold of video seemed to be a concrete way of getting our hands on the stuff of history, of literally hacking into the cultural record of our time.
A still of Elvis turning into The Hulk in Hollywood Burn
For their upcoming project, How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Internet, Soda_Jerk is taking the factual history of Wikileaks and Julian Assange and framing it around another film legend, the Cold War thriller. The work attempts to compare the similar discourses on American espionage and information warfare and the American response to WikiLeaks. For their research and production they are in the process of amassing a selection of Eastern Block spy films, hacker documentaries and early 90s cyberpunk cinema.