b-side chat: Interview with DJ Spooky on race, technology and his “Rebirth of a Nation” at MoMA

photo courtesy of djspooky.com

photo courtesy of djspooky.com

We interviewed performance artist and writer, DJ Spooky: That Subliminal Kid, on his latest project starting on Monday at MoMA here in NYC, where he is remixing controversial film Birth of a Nation. This event titled, MoMA Presents: DJ Spooky’s ‘Rebirth of a Nation” exposes and confronts the history of racism in this country.

Our first post on this, got us wondering how he got the idea for such a project, so we decided to ask the man himself (find info on the event, starting on MONDAY at the end of the interview):

Why did you want to remix film Birth of a Nation?

Watching the news, looking at Google, seeing how Youtube, watching films on cell phones, and stuff like the billboards in Times Sq changed the way people consume media content made me realize that in the last couple of years, we’ve had a massive sea-change in how media affects people. The 2004 election was the last election before Youtube, and you can see the way Bush’s people played with media – Swift Boat Veterans, weird innuendo etc. to make people believe crazy stuff – like Bush should be President. It made me look back at history and realize Birth of a Nation was still a big mirror held up to a very dysfunctional society.

How did you come up with the idea for this project?

Basically the elections of 2000 and 2004 made me realize that people can consume media without any critique. If you get into a cab in NY, you still hear many foreign cab drivers listening to Rush Limbaugh! I always want to ask them why they listen to such crap. Anyway, Birth of a Nation was the first film to show a flawed election, and it still has a deep resonance with us now that we have a Black President and the way the right wing is responding.

Why did you decide to branch into using film as a means to fight racism?

Film is the basic vocabulary for everyone at this point. I’m mainly an artist and a writer. DJ culture has inherited the whole collage potential of film in such a dynamic way that you’re left with a sense of convergence. Chuck D from Public Enemy said once “Hip hop is the CNN of urban youth culture.” I want to update that formula with things like how the Iranian people are using Twitter to bypass censors, or the way txt messaging has changed the political landscape. I mean, look at the way Newt Gingrich is using Twitter to attack Supreme Court nominee Sotomayor… It’s all quite current. Collage, attention deficit disorder, and a basic sense of how people respond to false information… that’s the key issue for Rebirth of a Nation.

How does your project advance human rights or the fight against racism?

I really think that people need information to understand so much of the way the subtle colonial and racial implications of our global order have warped the way people respond to other people. How do you empathize with an immigrant when you don’t share any of the experiences? How do you understand what motivates a pirate off the coast of Somalia or the nuclear ambitions of Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea without understanding the psychology of this kind of “new world order.” I just want people to see some of the original DNA of how film conditioned people’s responses to race and class. The rest is up to the viewer.

If you knew when you started this project what you know now about taking on a creative, powerful endeavor such as this, would you change anything?

Film doesn’t make people do anything except look at the world from a different perspective. Some of my favorite directors like Tarkovsky, Eisenstein, Jim Jarmusch, or Spike Lee, all offered perspectives from radically different places in culture. I want to do the same. Give me a little more time – I’m working on about 4 more films coming up!

What’s something most people would be surprised to know about you?

That I’m from Washington D.C. Everyone thinks I’m a New Yorker, through and through.

It’s a must see:

June 22-28
Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street New York, NY 10019
(212) 708-9400

June 19, 2009 by crissy spivey
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