Play With Me: Let’s Get Guggenheimed!

The Guggenheim Museum and YouTube have announced the shortlist of finalists in their co-branded YouTube Play Biennial of Creative Video competition. The contest launched last spring (see YouTube as Digital Art Museum). It drew a whopping 23,000 video submissions from 91 countries.

The shortlist of finalists isn’t exactly short — it includes 125 videos of varying styles and lengths up to 10 minutes long. Here’s a sampler:

According to the Guggenheim’s press release, “The YouTube Play shortlist videos include submissions from students, video artists, photographers, filmmakers, composers, video game programmers, an American Women’s Chess Champion, a comedy improv group, a Swedish rock band, a South African hip-hop group, and an Australian electronic music producer.”

That’s quite a broad sweep. Some of these videos are true discoveries, completely unknown to the masses, while others have already gone viral, such as “Birds on the Wires,” a personal favorite, which has been viewed more than 200,000 time on YouTube.

To help us navigate this mass of content, the short list of YouTube Play videos has been sorted into categories: Animation, Documentary, Experimental, Narrative, Non-Narrative, Music Video. While some of these categories have dozens of entries, sadly, the documentary category is downright anemic – only 5 videos rose to the top – and even those are very uneven. 

The stand-out in that bunch is “Stoop Sitting,” a poetic piece about people and their porches. It is truly an inspiring work of art that deserves to be among the winning top 20. It’s made by Everynone, the multimedia group that has crafted visual works for NPR, such as Four Corners of Health Insurance, and for RadioLab, such as Parabolas, Moments, and Words (which I applauded in a previous blog post). There is some salty language in Stoop Sitting, but over all the video is mostly very sweet.

The other four pieces that wound up in the Documentary category seem either misplaced or very raw, requiring a little attention from a good editor. Even so, Brokelyn Films‘s submission called “BedStuy Street Interviews,” has one truly memorable moment: Describing how gentrification has changed his community, a young man says “It’s a different kind of neighborhood. It ain’t what it used to be….Fifteen years ago, we woulda took that video camera from you!”

So how come the documentary category is so thin? Certainly the field isn’t starving for creative juice. Perhaps some video-makers didn’t want to take a chance that they would somehow compromise their broadcast rights by posting to the YouTube contest. Or perhaps the absence of a rich and delicious documentary section is a reflection of YouTube itself, which overfloweth with popular animals-do-the-darndest-things videos.

Or is it just the judges? The curatorial jury included accomplished artists (this is the Guggenheim, after all). Perhaps the most famous among them is experimental sound and performance artist Laurie Anderson, who says “My bias, probably, was to look for something that had a kind of cool story.”

So, I invite you to come out and play with me by visiting the YouTube Play site. Skip around. Click randomly. Let me know what gems you find as you sift through the sandbox, and I’ll let you know if I’m seized by any must-sees. And please, do come back and tell us which videos you think should be among the 20 included in Biennial of Creative Video at the Guggenheim this fall?