“WHERE DID ALL THESE PEOPLE COME FROM?” There’s only one man on the screen with the middle-aged blonde asking the question, but as her histrionic gaze pierces the fourth wall, her wonderment seems legitimate: Where did we all come from? The snippet is from a video produced for a limited audience—for a local cable-access channel, perhaps, or a church group—but it has found a different, unintended viewership via the Final Cut Pro window of Jacob Ciocci, who took the clip from its context and inserted it into I Let My Nightmares Go, 2008. His seven-minute montage is persistently aware of the instability of audience in today’s expanded media culture; the work is bookended by entries from the vitriolic vlog of a bucktoothed, pimply teen known to his YouTube fans as Sexman and peppered with home videos of kids singing or playacting in masks. Ciocci exploits the Internet’s paradox—tight-knit communities use its tools to share multimedia messages among themselves, but in doing so they make them available to everybody—by mining documentation of how ordinary people enact ordinary dreams and anxieties.
Collage films lengthen the distance between an image’s origin and the viewer’s experience of it, which often creates a sense of fracture, but Ciocci manages to merge fragments into a whole. His sound tracks help. In I Let My Nightmares Go, Ciocci mashes up music by hip-hop artist Young Jeezy and the Christian alt-rock band Paramore—specimens of the professional dream factories that supply homebrew acts with attitudes and affectations. Another unifying factor is the artist’s own on-screen presence. Ciocci splices himself into the frame, sometimes several selves at once, headbanging and lip-synching in a tie-dyed T-shirt that he removes halfway through to reveal another shirt with Google’s rainbow logo. (When present at screenings, the artist repeats these motions live.) He also delivers an extended monologue, in which he counts off rubbery “awareness bracelets” that arbitrarily assign color and form to abstractions (“White awareness: peace. Brown awareness: color cancer.”), like Lucky Charms. Juxtaposed with found footage, the bracelets suggest that the videos are embodiments of emotion—that taking a diatribe or a dance and preserving it in a media artifact is a contemporary form of ritual magic.
Last month, Ciocci took his videos on a nationwide tour. One of the final stops, at Issue Project Room in Brooklyn, sandwiched the screening between performances by Andrew Jeffrey Wright and David Wightman, aka Fortress of Amplitude. Wright’s stand-up routine involved a recurring sales pitch for trash bags full of Beanie Babies, while Wightman, after a PowerPoint presentation titled “Favorite Heavy Metal Moment,” played a twenty-minute composition strung together from chunks of repeated, wailing guitar licks that he had synced with rapidly alternating home videos of shredding and headbanging teenagers. Both acts offered illuminating angles on Ciocci’s work. Wright’s excavation of half-forgotten kitsch was a temporal foil to Ciocci’s online rummaging, while Wightman’s attempt to maximally approximate the Platonic ideal of a banging metal jam by isolating and repeating real riffs echoed the way I Let My Nightmares Go combines multiple enactments of strong feeling in a collective noosphere of fun and angst.
The Peace Tape, the one recent video by Ciocci available on YouTube, takes a similar route. It flickers through clips culled from 1980s animated adventures, school plays, Disney cartoons, Japanese commercials, and geometric fantasias. Ciocci interrupts most of them after a few frames but lets them continue later in the video. It creates a sense of homogeneity, as does the saccharine sound track and the disembodied, bulging cartoon eyes that skitter erratically across the surface of the screen, as though trying and failing to take in all the activity flashing behind them. The Peace Tape is a multitude of fantasies stuffed into a membrane of montage that seems to represent fantasy itself—as such, it seems apt that the video’s last, lingering image is a dog in a dog costume.