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VVEBCAM was one of a number of the Cortright's experiments with uploading short video works onto YouTube. These videos usually featured the artist in a bedroom or another private space.
Like the rest of Cortright’s videos, VVEBCAM is shot from the perspective of the desktop computer. The artist is not actively presenting herself to the camera; rather, she seems engrossed by the screen, as she manipulates the default graphics of her off-the-shelf webcam.
A dizzyingly colorful array of buzzing bees, bouncing tennis balls, UFO spaceships, and snowflakes dance across and around her face.
There is nothing special about the graphics or Cortright’s use of them–and this is what differentiates this work from mainstream camgirls, who strove to stand out.
“I have that attitude that I just can’t be bothered – maybe it is a millennial thing. YouTube is filled with people making webcam videos of themselves, talking about whatever, journalling their lives, performing for some audience. It was interesting to have my videos on there, which were related to other videos people were doing but they had a lot of very big differences and were very much in their own realm.” - Petra Cortright
Each video was accompanied by a long list of search tags–random-seeming, banal keywords like “KFC,” “border patrol,” and “trans fat” as well as provocative, titillating, and even offensive search terms–terms which appeal to the worst elements of internet user culture.
Cortright copied these lists of words from other YouTubers who used them to draw traffic to their page. The exact keywords used on VVEBCAM also appear in the video “Paris Hilton Nude on the beach,” which consists of a short text displayed against a plain blue background and was published in 2006.
This text was likely collected as part of Cortright’s ongoing process of gathering digital detritus and spam and saving them in a folder on her desktop labeled “HELL.”
Strings of spam text have continued to appear in her work over the years, figuring in titles such as :swat 2 walkthru +home! +”for sale”, (2013) and appearing in her ebook HELL_TREE (Badlands Unlimited, 2012).
“if only someone could only see the notepad files, text messages, emails all to myself, meaningless to-do lists of google image search keywords, things to twitter later, ideas for some .gif, ideas for certain projects that will never happen... i make folders on my computer and to name them i pound on the keyboard like eirtuyu43'; and then that is the name of the folder... then i decided i would put all the 35asgyewwm,[ folders into one big folder that folder is called HELL and now it is the only folder on my desktop and i dunno what the fuck is in there.” – Petra Cortright, 2008
Utilizing provocative terminology to lure viewers to her site, she ultimately turns her own gaze onto her viewers, who happen upon this humorous video of the artist rather than images or video of the keywords they desire.
Perhaps because of her inaccurate keywords, VVEBCAM often attracted harsh and offensive comments from the public. Cortright returned insults to her commenters with equal abandon, and the active commentary that resulted increased the popularity of her videos.
Later, Cortright set up a video catalog which determined the price of her video works algorithmically based on YouTube view counts. She considered this to be a way of deriving value from her detractors.
Thus, views and comments were as much a part of the piece as Cortright’s video. This interest in the social nature of the web can be attributed to her participation in the surf club Nasty Nets (founded 2006), an “internet surfing club” in which a group of artists posted new work and online discoveries in a long-running dialogue, in which commentary (and conflict) were as important as content.
Cover artwork for Nasty Nets DVD (2008).
Likewise, the work exemplifies Nasty Nets’ embrace of the “default” aesthetics of consumer-driven digital culture. Rather than positioning themselves as technical experts or hackers, Nasty Nets’ central concern was with users and user-generated culture. Along these lines, VVEBCAM can be understood as a portrait of the artist as a user.