"Guerrilla Media Making
That's tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE" [unpublished]
Copyright March, 1988 Steve Libowitz
Every month a dozen or more media magazines present new products and processes to help us make our film and video productions sharper, cleaner, crisper and better. All of these gadgets and processes work to help us hide the seam of our labor: to further mystify the artificial connections of parts to each other as we create messages. This is the essence of producing mainstream media. Although some alternative media tries to emulate the seamless processes of mainstream media, out along the fringes exists a group that works to expose its process. These avant garde producers work to challenge our perceptions of reality using everything from their own perspective to the means of exhibition.
One such media maker currently exists in a persona he calls tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE. At 34 years old this native Baltimorean exists within his own vision of reality; his creations being not so much external expressions as appendages of his otherwise eccentric lifestyle. Admittedly, everything he does has some shock value built into it, but it's always done with humor. As he has said through one of his pieces of stencil graffiti, Seriousness is Death. tENTATIVELY is a creative guerrilla who denies any pretense to art. "I deluded myself into thinking that I was an artist for about a year," he told an interviewer several years ago, "but I discovered there was nothing worthwhile in art, so I made the transition to mad scientist." Although he works in several media -- from interactive telephone services, alternately called TESTES-3 and VD-RADIO, to body art -- his film and vaudio (video with audio) creations are particularly important, because he's been successful using minimal and often freely accessible tools to create and exhibit his view of a reality.
Currently appearing with a shaved head adorned by a full-scalp tattoo of a brain, tENTATIVELY appreciates the power and the value of utilizing the video medium for creation. "I use video because it is used so effectively against people. TV is the ultimate tool of control for this time in history; it's more effective in controlling people's lives and ideas than the print media, even more effective than a police state," he says. "So, if I can overthrow or subvert that control mechanism of our culture, if I can subvert the general consciousness, then I'll be most happy." - Success being measured in different ways, tENT has at least had fun trying.
In 1979, as a member of the Baltimore Oblivion Marching Band (BOMB), tENTATIVELY joined an excursion, with video camera and deck, to the restricted areas adjacent to Three Mile Island during the days just after the nuclear reactor sputtered. They recorded the actions of and reactions to fellow bombadier Doug Retzler as he prowled the danger zone in a silver Mylar suit that covered him head to feet. The six members of BOMB were not organized to topple any institutions. They staged this very political action in an attempt to manipulate the mass media that they thought were manipulating the reality of a disaster that had occurred in their own backyard. They manipulated their own video footage using borrowed equipment and cut it against distorted audio tracks of the actual broadcast news reports of the disaster. Who saw the result? Nor millions of people. A handful; maybe a dozen handfuls. Most of them friends and interested acquaintances of the group.
The size of the audience is irrelevant to the value of this type of alternative media. Its worth is derived from the action of the people involved who attempt to create some alternative message using minimal equipment both in production and in post production. And some novel ways of exhibiting their productions.
In one Super-8 film project, tENTATIVELY created a text that expressed his outrage at the way sexuality in this country has been exploited for profit by capitalism, pornography being the manifestation of that exploitation. After arranging to be hired as a peep show mechanic he would sneak out archival footage that would then be intercut with his own Super 8 production. The result is a 16 minute absurd comedy. The show, introduced by character generated titles reading "The following is a public service program brought to you by the city of Baltimore", was billed on the porno theater's marquee and ran for two weeks in the peep house without the manager discovering the intrusion. Friends were invited by specially designed invitations and regulars were treated to a truly avant garde porno feature that left them baffled and, well, limp.
Coming to the material of tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE and others who create guerrilla-type media is not always easy. He avoids large, professionally arranged screenings, although some of his material has been shown at festivals. "These type of forums," he says, "are good for the careerist who defines himself as an artist. But art goes against revolutionizing life and I prefer exhibition contexts that center around revolutionizing life." Success, then, is not always measured by how many people see a creation but how they see it. Some of tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE's material has been shown in a local bar, the audience consisting of worn-down drunks, policemen stopping in for soda and the bartenders. And then he has gotten a bit more radical in his exhibition venues.
One of his best attempts at guerrilla distribution occurred during the Christmas season, 1986. "I was getting bored with displaying my work in spaces that I had been given permission to use and where such things are expected," he had written in an article about the event. "I wanted to return to the guerrilla activities using unusual spaces that people in control of which would not ordinarily make available to me." With an entourage of friends and accomplices, he made use of some accessed microwave equipment to broadcast the 90 minute Guerrilla premier of his 6 FINGERS CROSSED COUNTRY T.ORE/TOUR vaudio onto a wall of televions located in a local electronics store. "I'd fantasized about doing this ever since pirate tv broadcasts became technically available to me.
"My content and techniques are such that few big-money backed media would willingly present them. Not wanting business-as-usual economic interests to be the sole ruling factor in the control of mass media, I decided that a small scale detournement of a commercial establishment as rehearsal for something larger was called for."
The plan was for as many people as possible to enter the store in small, inconspicuous groups and change all of the tvs to channel three. The pirate video would then be beamed into the store where customers would watch this very alternative video instead of the onslaught of commercial-dominated programs normally fed them during their leisure shopping time. The reactions of the shoppers and the employees was to be filmed on Super-8 with cameras secreted somewhere on selected person's person. Those results would be the material of another production. Over thirty zealots arrived at the parking lot outside the store where a 35 foot van outfitted with microwave equipment was parked. The participants were given some final coaching. And they were set off to drift into the store in their small, seemingly disconnected groups as the pirate broadcast got under way.
There was a hitch, however. And it should serve as a reminder to all of us who make media in whatever form we choose. Test the equipment before you go on location. It's not that tENTATIVELY didn't; in fact he did a small test run a few weeks before and it had worked perfectly. But on that day the atmospheric conditions were ideal for the test; on game day, however, they were not. They reparked the van and tweaked the equipment but the reception was stubbornly uneven. Inside the store calamity was unraveling as employees slowly began to ctach on to the snowy picture that had suddenly infected all of their tv sets. The event sputtered after an adventurous 45 minutes of transmission.
For tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE the setback was merely a tentative in-convenience. Part of the process of alternative media, almost as enlightening and creative as the process itself, is making the stretch into parts unknown. Pirate broadcasts and the use of easily accessible materials to create alternative messages, can never really fail. As several video compilations and a long winding anti-resume can testify, tENTATIVELY a cONVENIENCE has been a constant creator, an obsessive manifester and a flexible entity who has been able to mediate a commodity-based reality with his life and his material creations. Much of what he's produced is mired in technical difficulties that render many of the final pieces incoherent or disconnected. But wound around the vaudios of some personally relevant tribal ritual or early scatalogical incantations are many gems of creativity that have popped from the mind of a self-described mad scientist/ d composer/ sound thinker/ thought collector.
to the tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE movie-making "Press: Criticism, Interviews, Reviews" home-page
to the "tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - Sprocket Scientist" home-page
to the "FLICKER" home-page for the alternative cinematic experience
to find out more about why the S.P.C.S.M.E.F. (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Sea Monkeys by Experimental Filmmakers) is so important
for A Mere Outline for One Aspect of a Book on Mystery Catalysts, Guerrilla Playfare, booed usic, Mad Scientist Didactions, Acts of As-Beenism, So-Called Whatevers, Psychopathfinding, Uncerts, Air Dressing, Practicing Promotextuality, Imp Activism, etc..
for info on tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE's tape/CD publishing label: WIdémoUTH
to see an underdeveloped site re the N.A.A.M.C.P. (National Association for the Advancement of Multi-Colored Peoples)