Interview: Experimental Vine Artist Keelayjams Does Not Care About Being Popular
Keelayjams, or Kyle M. F. Williams, grew up in Massachusetts and currently lives in New York City with his wife Erin and their two cats. He went to college for painting and works for a clothing company designing men's accessories, yet on the web, he has created Vines that defy genre. Keelayjams talked to us about choosing to create what he wants without worrying about feedback or popularity, and his unusual decision to reject corporate money when it comes to his Vine account.
Tribeca: Your website reveals that you've made digital collages, sculptures, paintings and even music (with accompanying videos.) What advantages does Vine have as an artistic medium, and is it your preferred medium?
Kyle M. F. Williams: I like the immediacy of Vine. My workflow with Vine is usually pretty fast, I have a little visual idea in the morning, sit down for a while and conceptualize how to make it real, gather supplies and shoot the Vine that afternoon. I've always loved art and music that either looked or sounded half-finished, like artists' sketches and musicians' demos, and because of the time limit, interface restrictions, and low-resolution of Vine, I feel like I can just crank out these visual ideas in that "medium quality" look that I'm comfortable with and release it into the feed and then move onto the next idea. It's not my preferred medium but I think that it's influencing what I want to be doing in the future, like a long-form cinematic kinda thing.
Tribeca: Your latest Vines involve pasting graphics over real-time footage (ex: "Sneaking Lindsay Lohan into my apt with a very large rope", "Installed a new security system", "I'm in a fight with a skeleton"). Knowing that Vine doesn't allow for any editing, how are you able to accomplish this (or is it a secret?)
KW: I wanted to expand on creating surreal Vines that occur in a realistic space but I wanted to push the content towards something that would be almost impossible to produce. I've spent a good amount of money on supplies for Vines in the past and decided to chill out on the purchases and figure out a way to achieve some sort of bonkers scenario economically. I caved to stop-motion. I'm not a fan of cutesy, whimsical stop-motion. I thought I could make it a little creepier and less cartoony by grounding it in real life.
The public Vines take a lot of courage. I'm not super comfortable going outside in the city and making a scene.
The "I'm in a fight..." Vine was created by filming raw video with a DSLR, exporting 6-seconds of that footage to individual JPEGs, loading them into Photoshop and manipulating each one of the 60-or-so frames with superimposed elements like a horse head, a Shia LaBeouf head, a koala head, and a basketball all emerging from a human skeleton body. These individual collages were printed out on sheets of paper and shot stop-motion-style with the Vine app. Sound effects were looped in Garageband and played on an external speaker aimed at the phone doing the Vining. Pretty intense set-up, but much more cost-effective than actually buying a human skeleton, koala head, basketball, horse head, and creating a life-cast of Shia LaBeouf.
"Sneaking Lindsay Lohan..." and "Installed a new security system" were done in the same frame-by-frame Photoshop edit style but were shot using stop-motion off the screen of an iPad with a piece of frosted plexiglass over it to soften the pixels that often pop up on shitty Vines where people record their computer screens. The frosted plexi just blurs the pixels a touch so it doesn't look so obvious.
I think the words "Lindsay Lohan" floating in a lake is funny and cool to look at. That's all.
Tribeca: You've done some wonderful Vines in public spaces that combine pop culture icons with surreal imagery (drawing some parallels, I think, to Banksy). How were you able to make Vines such as "Amanda Bynes Graffiti" or "Shia LeBeouf hit me up" without interruption? And what's the significance of having the Vine orchestrated and filmed in public?
KW: The public Vines take a lot of courage. I'm not super comfortable going outside in the city and making a scene. I certainly don't want to interact with strangers or make them uncomfortable or leave a mess. For these larger-scale public pieces I try to shut off the world, focus on the shot, bang it out as efficiently as possible, upload the video, clean-up, and peace out. "Amanda Bynes Graffiti" was easy: I just had headphones in and listened to some tunes while I worked, muting the rest of the city. "Shia LeBeouf hit me up" was a little tougher and took an assistant and two takes.
It's cool here on the Upper East Side because it's not really an "artistic" kinda neighborhood like Williamsburg or Bushwick. Things are clean and people are too busy with their own business to give a shit if you're sticking white bread slices to a brick wall or placing letters on an abandoned movie theater marquee. I think I only do these public spaces Vines to give my feed a little bit of visual variety. I live in a tiny studio apartment and I'm pretty sure every inch of it has been featured in a Vine at some point during the last year. The outdoor stuff is almost an excuse for me to vary my feed or maybe to feel like I'm getting some exercise or something. The pieces are temporary and exist only for the Vine.
I don't like permanent street art. I like the process if the piece is interesting, but awful "social commentary" type street art that just sits on a wall until it's washed off is the worst. I guess I'm doing the anti-social-commentary street art by simply using the name of some high-paid celebrity with little to no biting commentary at all. I don't care to make a statement. I think the words "Lindsay Lohan" floating in a lake is funny and cool to look at. That's all. Plus, I clean up.
When a massive company is trying to be a your bud on the web and hashtagging themselves into your heart it's so obvious and embarrassing.
Tribeca: You've done some great work with Simply Sylvio and j_e__s___s. Are there any other Viners out there who inspire you and who you'd like to work with?
KW: I want to push Jake Fogelnest off a cliff while he's riding a Citi-Bike with training wheels, I want Matt Goold to do that pursed-lips-head-shake thing for as long as he physically can. I want to pants Bobby McKenna. I want to dog-sit for Marlo Meekins. I want Matt Swinsky to murder me until I'm dead.
Tribeca: Some of my favorite Vines of yours are the fake advertisements where you end up saying "fuck you" to all of them (literally.) Are you completely against Vine being used for advertising, even if the advertiser is attempting to take a more artistic route in promoting their product?
KW: I didn't think I was against Vine advertising until I started actually seeing it on Vine. Earlier this year I joined a Vine-centric ad agency. I thought it was no big deal: If a company wanted to work with you to make a Vine for them they'd give you a couple thousand bucks, you'd do the 6-second video pushing their product on your account, and who cares, onto the next thing. But when I actually saw what other people started doing for companies, it grossed me out. I never got any action from the ad agency and I was pretty sure I didn't want it, so I bowed out. Not that it was compromising my "art" but I had a feeling that if I looked back a year's worth of my Vines I'd be thoroughly embarrassed by the shitty ad for Triscuits or whatever that I was contractually prohibited from deleting from my feed. So I made a series of fake-ads utilizing the cute stop-motion technique that so many of these corporate Vines resorted to to make these goofy anti-corporate "fuck you" Vines for Garnier Fructis, Campbell's, Gatorade, Yamaha, and Monster Energy.
Corporate presence on any social media platform is a joke. When a massive company is trying to be a your bud on the web and hashtagging themselves into your heart it's so obvious and embarrassing. No one cares. People just want coupons.
Tribeca: According to this article a while back, you gave away your username and password via Twitter, allowing any user to do whatever they wanted to your profile because you were concerned about being too consumed with the internet. What were some of the most memorable changes that people made to your account? And would you do it again?
KW: I would never do this again unless I wanted to permanently abandon my account. It was a nightmare to regain access, delete all the videos my "guests" made, and revert my account to the way it was 12 hours before the stunt. I tweeted my Vine log-in info, my phone died, and I went to bed. I was asleep for the entire thing so I'm not completely sure what went on, but I think there were some pretty good puns on "Keelayjams" as my screen name.
Make things that you've always wanted to see but never have.
I got locked out of my account. I lost a bunch of followers who didn't get the joke, which was a nice little spring cleaning. I uploaded all the videos to hackedjams.tumblr.com. Bobby McKenna's dick drawings Vine was my favorite.
Tribeca: If you could change one thing about Vine, what would it be?
KW: I'd like to have some sort of collaboration dropbox - Like I could do the first half of a Vine and then someone across country could do the last half. I think one Vine with a bunch of different styles from creative users could be great. I'm always searching for ways to creatively hack the app for my needs. I use the iPhone's built-in AssistiveTouch setting (in the Accessibility menu) as a timer, as a way to force a 6-second long press without actually touch the screen, and as a way to standardize the timing of stop-motion taps.
I've jailbroken my phone in order to use a second phone and even a Nintendo Wii controller to serve as a remote control shutter for Vine. I'd love to see some of these little hacky tricks be offered in a simple menu within the app. Stabilization would be nice. And locked-focus without that auto-focus-screen-pulsing-thing happening would be great. That's my list.
Tribeca: Have you or do you plan to film anything on Instagram Video or MixBit, now that those are options?
Tribeca: What is one piece of advice you’d give to beginner Viners and artists?
KW: Devalue your follower count and number of "likes" you get. Try not to give a shit about them and don't make content just because it's something you've seen or done that has gotten a lot of "likes" in the past. They are meaningless, dude. Who cares. Make good looking Vines with nice visuals and show us something we've never seen before. It's so much more impressive to stumble upon a user who is just doing her own weird thing than someone resorting to rehashing what's happening on the "popular" page.
Personally, I've always loved short, single-shot, simple art-movies so I try to make those. Make things that you've always wanted to see but never have. Figure out a way to visually illustrate that thing that pops into your head every so often that makes you think to yourself, "this is so fucked up and weird, what is wrong with me?"