Honeygun Labs Bec Stupak Talks With EJ Enterprises Justin Kent

Bec Stupak is a one-woman video machine. The poster child of a burgeoning VJ movement, Video DJ Honeygun hit the pages of Artbyte in 2001, billed as the leader of a new generation of video performers. Since then, through founding Honeygun Labs, she’s branched into a variety of video diversions – along the way garnering an award for Best Underground Music Video and a video remix for the Rolling Stones. Never quite comfortable being pigeonholed, she’s leapt from the music video scene into the gallery art space, showing pieces at the Whitney Biennial and now working as an artist-in-residence at Eyebeam.

Her latest project is a DVD ‘zine called Scissor Friends, the first of which was just shown in the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center. MVWire correspondent Justin Kent caught up with her to discuss that project, along with her philosophy on video and her techno/creative process.

eJK: So how did you come up with the idea for Scissor Friends?

Honeygun: The DVD ‘zine thing came out of working on the Whitney project – we were in LA hanging out with all these zine makers, and there was a delay in me getting started on my piece of the project, so I started to make a video of all the little things in the apartment where we were staying and I set it to screwed down music (rap that’s been slowed down to 1/2 speed… you’re supposed to drink enough cough syrup so that you can hear it normally). It was kind of a trial of different kinds of styles – super rough, I bite a million things. Its kind of a throw-away… precious but disposable. That’s kind of the vibe of the whole thing. The second issue is a found footage porn piece. The third one is stereoscopic 3-D, so it comes with 3-D glasses, and the 4th/5th ones are going to be a double disc video where you have to play them both at the same time. Well, you don’t have to… but you can. They’ll consist of all infinite fill patterns (the black & white patterns that computers used back in the day to represent shades of lightness and darkness). The first one also explores different ways to watch video – in addition to the video itself, there is a video loop of a chihuahua taking a nap… so you can have a virtual pet.

eJK: And that was an offshoot of the Whitney piece you did with AVAF?

HG: I’ve been working with Assume Vivid Astro Focus for about three years. We started out creating a video to go with a wallpaper piece that my friend Eli Sudbrack wanted to do – it was made for a group show at White Columns in 2002. Since then, I’ve done video stuff with AVAF for a show at Deitch Projcets. We had a really large projection on the wall of the gallery and then the other walls, floor, and ceiling were covered with this very crazy wallpaper. It was also a music video, set to Yoko Ono’s Walking On Thin Ice, lipsynched by a beautiful amazing Brazilian tranny named Carla… it was super low budget. We did all the lighting, styling, setup, post, etc. It took quite a while (because there were only two of us working on it) but it came out well; it’s pretty nuts. Through that show, we got the Whitney Biennial thing. What I wanted to see happen there was a greater seamlessness between the video and how it fit in to the rest of the room. Everything in these installations is considered one small element of an overall piece… I wanted the video to feel like that too. Unilke our previous vids (which were made more like music videos), that one was created more like a live mixing piece – instead of editing, I made loops using the graphics from the rest of the installation and then at the opening, I mixed the piece live and recorded it.

eJK: So does the live aspect inform your offline process?

HG: Oh, yes, definitely. It’s a cool way of working on something. Mostly because you create little loops but don’t necessarilly draw connections between them until you mix.

eJK: Do you get to know what works and what doesn’t work because you actually get to see people’s reactions? A lot of DJs talk about cutting a track then demoing it in a club to get feedback from the audience.

HG: No, its not about crowd reaction… its more about being able to create video improvisationally as opposed to having to edit with premeditation – I can react to sound and music and environment.

eJK: So, what tools are there for working with video like that? What does your live rig consist of?

HG: I’m getting tired of schlepping gear everywhere – I really want to focus more on content… I put the brakes on doing events last December. It was just toooo much, it took so much time away from actually making video, doing what I love. For a while I’ve been a little burnt on that too though, so I’ve started knitting video objects instead, like videotapes.

eJK: Knitting?! That’s hot. So do you think that the VJ / Video DJ / whatever you wanna call it, is ever going to gain real credibility? It sounds like your distancing yourself from that side of things.

HG: I think its a mistake to say that the method of delivering video is the thing to pay attention to. I definitely still use the techniques, and the Whitney piece was all about that, but I think its important to place the emphasis on the artist… to value the artist’s vision more than the machines that they lay their hands on. My machines, I buy them… there is nothing that makes them particular to me, except that I’ve chosen to purchase a specific group of machines. It’s what I put on them that I want to be the focus.

I had an ephipeny when I saw Tracy + the Plastics. Wynne shows up with a DVD. The brilliance of her show is not what the video is being played on, the briliance of her show is that she’s great and funny and smart. The emphasis is on her, not that she’s clever with machines. So I’m trying to move away from fetishizing machines.

eJK: Yet you’re knitting VHS tapes.

HG: That kind of fetish is OK – it’s more about not participating in the gear arms race. I’m tired of having a stressful, intense, soul demanding job to pay for the gear arms race.

The elevator in my studio is my arch nemesis – it’s telling me to leave the gear in the studio – use it to create – don’t use it as the thing that gets you invited to do a show. It’s not about whether or not the medium will receive its day in the sun. I think it will, but in a way that is much richer than celebrating the medium alone. I think the people who have been working their asses off in the medium will receive their day in the sun – that’s much more important. The machines won’t be sad… as long as they are still loved in studios and bedrooms, they won’t be sad. And they will probably be happier not having beer spilled on them in dirty bars. What do you think of that?

eJK: Well, it’s sorta hard for me to swallow because my art actually is the machines. I’m so involved with the technology, it’s hard for me to break away from it. (Justin invented the video scratching EJ Turntable – Ed.)

HG: I know.

eJK: But I’ve been trying to get away from that side of things, too – more into content, less into the platform.

HG: The thing is, what can be made with your machines is unique. They’re interesting because what comes out of them is interesting. Another thing that’s different is that your machine is about showmanship – they take the performance (which is usually a boring, mouse-clicking type thing) and make it more physical, which is essential to a good performance.

eJK: But they are heavy and they hate beer.

HG: Everything I just said above has a caveat – its more from the perspective of an artist who is not a performer. I don’t necessarily consider myself a performer first, so I guess you could say that I’m moving away from performance.

eJK: I think that’s a good perspective, but for what it’s worth, I also think you are a good performer

HG: Thank you 🙂

eJK: Ninety-five percent of the performance happens before you get to the venue.

HG: Right. I guess I’m tired of not having that realized. Like, if I get paid to create graphics and mix live, I can get paid for the live mixing time, but not for the graphics time – which is 95% of it! That’s the hard part. I guess in some ways, its silly to make a distinction between them, but at the same time, its such a labor-intensive medium… I want the labor part to be appreciated.

eJK: You were on tour with Bacardi mixing video in 42 cities last year – that was a big production. What’s it like doing a high profile tour like that?

HG: I liked travelling… I did not like talking to really really drunk people who were asking me to play Sean Paul (again!). I liked being able to quit my job. I’ve liked this year of freelance that it gave me – it’s meant that I can do all sorts of things that I’ve always wanted to do (like study japanese). Other than that, its not like the tour was anything new, video-wise. Except maybe some hardcore road-testing of gear.

eJK: Japanese? Nice! So now you don’t need a translator.

HG: ie (that’s no). Actually… iie.

eJK: You’re sorta hard to slot into the existing categories. Out of all these different things you’re engaged in: what do you want people to remember you for?

HG: I don’t think I’ve done it yet. At the moment, I’m preparing to make a video that I’m really excited about. I kind of feel that everything I’ve done in the past six years has been an exploration, but it hasn’t been representative of my real vision – which has kind of been under wraps for a while. So this next piece will be a debut of that in a way. Yeah, my whole creative background is very chameleon… I was thinking about that recently. But this next piece is one that I want to be a stake in the ground. Nothing that I’ve done yet is something that I would say defines who I am stylistically. In fact, I feel like it’s all a costume… that it doesn’t represent my true nature at all. But this piece will.

eJK: Seeing you perform seems to do a pretty good job showing who you are.

HG: Stylistically, the live stuff is of a culture that I was never a part of socially… it’s all me in a lot of ways, but at the same time, it’s also a compromise.

My new piece is related to Jack Smith, and there was one quote about him, saying that he was a fabulist. I loved that. I wish that were an art style… like Post-Modernist. Fabulist. There are definitely other artists that fit into that realm too, so I suppose it could be a movement of sorts.

I’m also trying to create a lot of material in new asthetics… after doing a tour of live mixing, I got very tired of the old asthetic, so that’s been my focus. The AVAF stuff is really different. The dvd zine project I’m working on with Eyebeam is really different. I’m really excited about the movie shoot I’m gearing up for next weekend. It’s something I’ve wanted to shoot for five years or so, it’s the movie I’ve had in my head since I was 15! Once I shoot it, I’ll have a lot of material that is really different from stuff I’ve had in the past, so I’m thinking of doing a side project where I create live mixable visuals off of the shoot – in addition to the film, like a remix – just to see what happens. I want to be more experimental, I want a more natural combination of live mixing stuff and edited post stuff.

eJK: OK, so in closing – what’s the Honeygun philosophy?

HG: Make video! Live life! I’m learning that input is as important as output. I’ve always been a little too weighted on the output end of things, but now I’m investing in the input too! Days in the park, hanging out with friends, etc. There’s more to life than sitting behind the newest, hottest, fastest computer. (that’s nice too, though)

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