For the past 30 years, Negativland has been making new things with other people’s stuff. Experimental pioneers in audio collage, the San Francisco group has been sued twice for copyright infringement, famously once by U2, and prevailed, at least in the court of public opinion. Members are considered godfathers of the Creative Commons movement and have argued on Capitol Hill that significant reforms are needed in copyright law for creative art to thrive through transformative reuse.
Fewer people know it, but they’re also visual artists and filmmakers. A retrospective group show, “Our Favorite Things: the Art of Negativland,” goes on display Aug. 1 for two months at Ghostprint Gallery, with a solo performance by member Mark Hosler on opening night. Style Weekly spoke with the Asheville, N.C., resident — whose father had just died — while he was helping his mother move into a California retirement home. He did the interview while showing her how to set up her Internet access.
Style: What will the solo performances consist of?
Hosler: We’ve built these homemade electronic noise-making boxes called Boopers. Not circuit-bending, very analog, no laptops. It will be an electronic soundscape that’s really funny and ridiculous. … As a performing tool, computers just look like someone checking their email — I don’t like them for that. These are improvised shows and each is totally different.
Is there overlap between the audio and visual work?
We’ve always done visual collage and films. There’s just this joy we find in taking things that exist and using them in some new way that wasn’t intended. You’re selecting items but letting them speak for themselves. You can take our work from the intellectual, political, critical aspect — but there’s also a kind of delight just in the weirdness, or the way a guy’s voice sounds. “Christianity Is Stupid” is a good example.
That’s true with the visual art as well. Interestingly, it ends up not being very political, not by design at least. You’ll see different techniques from each member — one guy does everything digitally, with images from eBay and Google, but he hides that by collaging them and redrawing them down to the level of the pixel, so it looks like a painting. Another guy uses aerial images of crop circles from England, cut up and rearranged with packing tape. … Even at my father’s memorial recently, I used a found thing. I read from this crumbling piece of paper from 1933 that was a fake press release my grandfather [a former reporter] wrote when my father was born, as if it was an international news event. Really funny and wacky.
I take it you’re disappointed with Obama’s track record.
Oh yes. Aggressively pursuing whistleblowers and Wall Street gets no meaningful reform? The biggest banks are 30 percent bigger now. It’s disturbing because [a crash] is going to happen again but worse. Climate change has passed a tipping point. The middle class is vanishing. But the system doesn’t allow you to run for president unless you’ve been vetted and are going to play ball. … This thing with Edward Snowden, all the mainstream media here is failing to cover what really matters which is what he unveiled. If this story broke in the ’70s, there would’ve been unbelievable outrage … but now we’re cowed and scared and fearful because of the threat of the brown-skinned terrorist. … [Working as a teacher], I’m horrified and saddened by what I see. Kids aren’t being taught to think critically, which is very dangerous for democracy. … My friends may say I’m throwing away my vote: But I don’t plan on ever voting for a Democrat or Republican for president ever again. I’m just done.
“Our Favorite Things: the Art of Negativland” opens Aug. 1 from 6-9 p.m. with a solo performance at Ghostprint Gallery, 220 W. Broad St. Runs through Sept. 28. Hosler also will perform at Balliceaux on Sunday, Aug. 4.