Kianga Ellis came over on Monday night to view the new remix videos in their rough state and we ended up talking about identity and storytelling for 5 hours. One point we kept coming back to was the subtle nature of remix storytelling and when subtle works and when it doesn’t. Can just one word, image, cut-away, be tweaked for the entire piece to change meaning?

I’m obsessed with this idea of subtle: what audiences appreciate it and where are they?

YouTube: Little appreciation for subtle with more focus on the “entertain me”.

Alone in a dark room or a white gallery: On the look out for subtle with the hopes that one didn’t just travel all the way downtown just to see a one-liner.

Here are two artists who take subtle to a whole new level. (And, thus, one could argue, aren’t all that subtle)

Chinese photographer Liu Bolin meticulously paints himself into a corner… or his surroundings.

And Alexa Meade takes subtle to the extreme when her human portrait paintings come out of context. Yes, those are humans painted to look like two dimensional portraits. She basically edits out a dimension. I didn’t know that was possible.

source: cup of jo


3 thoughts on “Oh-So-Subtle

  1. DL says:

    Excellent post and artist examples. It’s important to note that different spaces respond to subtlety with varying degrees of enthusiasm. As time goes on, it appears YouTube viewership tends toward shorter and shorter attention spans. The click counters often attest to this, along with video length. A swift and more direct approach (i.e., lack of subtlety) seems to work best on YT. I’m remembering this specific video as I type this:

    In some sense, it is a shame that the general public doesn’t enjoy works there unless they are beaten over the head with the position of the video. Part of the enjoyment of being a viewer should be having a job in the whole process: among these are interpretation, discernment, extrapolation, further building of meaning, questioning. Videos that are more direct often polarize and are a bit monolithic for my taste, because if you don’t agree or do there isn’t much of a role as a viewer outside pre-existing opinions. One will often see comments that more or less range from support of a video’s assertions to merely trying to undercut them. Am I wrong about a general view that ‘YouTube’ wants the ‘quick and easy’? Do you feel such a temperament should have an effect on how remixers strategize the content and form of their videos? Or is part of the editor’s discursive responsibility to resist the continual degradation of attention retention?

    To be a fly on the wall during your studio visit would have been fun! Please share further details if you are comfortable. 🙂 I’d enjoy hearing Kianga’s personal view on what types of subtlety are effective and those that aren’t in general, as well as how her views in the abstract relate to the upcoming remix series.


  2. Great post Elisa. In the 1970s and 80s the model Verushka worked on a series of photo transformations that offer another take on the photographs of Liu Bolin. The book, simply called Verushka is usually listed as missing (aka stolen) from most libraries that used to have copies. Watch here

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