Petra Cortright in The Museum of Modern Art Collection
Petra Cortright’s critically renowned work VVEBCAM, 2007, has been acquired by The Museum of Modern Art’s Department of Media and Performance.
When Petra Cortright uploaded her video VVEBCAM to YouTube in 2007, she tagged it with a range of clickbait keywords, some quite offensive, including “nude,” “slut,” and Britney Spears.” But the video is nothing remotely like its tags promise: with an ambient soundtrack, the artist is seen at her computer, using its default graphics software to animate animals, pizza, and household objects. It’s a performance in an unprepossessing space, not unlike the videos of the teens who jumped on a nascent YouTube, transmitting from their lonely suburban bedrooms; but instead of emoting, Cortright remains inscrutable. Her persona is a kind of digital tabula rasa that recalls the subjects of the seemingly oblivious camera of Andy Warhol’s early films. Like Warhol and the pioneering video artists that came after him, Acconci, Jonas, Nauman, and Wilke to name but a few, Cortright defies expectations while laying bare the mechanisms of performance to camera.
VVEBCAM received lots of search hits, and some people expressed their anger at its misleading descriptors in the comments section below it. Cortright, in turn, robustly answered her critics in the spirit of the Internet burn. Her spammy keywords led to the video’s eventual pulling from YouTube in 2010.
Cortright’s video and the swirling interactivity around it made VVEBCAM one of the first social media artworks, and it remains one of the most influential. It engaged with a highly volatile, anonymous digital populace, one that has become a dominant force in today’s socio-political landscape.