Yung Jake, a Recent CalArts Grad, Could Be the Breakout Art Star of Sundance
Although half of Los Angeles will decamp this weekend to the snowy hillsides of Park City, Utah for the Sundance Film Festival, not everyone is going for the movies. Starry-eyed attendees relish access to the suits, the skiing and the swag, but what about the art?
Shari Frilot has curated Sundance's experimental New Frontier films and exhibitions for the past seven years, and this year, rather than pushing anyone to see James Franco's film Interior. Leather Bar, (hint: it involves sexually explicit gay BDSM), Frilot is encouraging us to notice Yung Jake, whose work blurs the lines between memes, hip hop and video art.
"He's young, green and pretty hot," Frilot said. After all, not many visual artists would mention a dislike of rapper-turned-actor Ludacris and race-conscious silhouette artist Kara Walker in the same breath. I want to know more, to talk to Yung Jake himself, but he's back in New York for the holidays. He doesn't want to talk on the phone, and he doesn't want to Skype; he says it's too impersonal. He wants to talk over text.
I try to establish some simple biographical details, but CalArts grad Yung Jake isn't having any of it:
He claims he grew up in "bridgehampton, sag harbor, Bali, New Zealand" and attended ten different high schools. He texts me a photo of his brother skyping while driving...
... but at this point in the interview I'm beginning to wonder whether or not he is a real person.
"Yung Jake is a character [but] he also lives by that character. I don't even know who the other person is," admitted Frilot. "I found out his legal name just for airport purposes, but I never talk to him other than calling him Yung Jake."
Yung Jake first made big waves with a piece he put out last March called "E.m-bed.de/d," an interactive HTML5 "video" that satirizes viral culture while simultaneously sucking up to every relevant art blog and Internet presence. At first glance, "E.m-bed.de/d" is an irritatingly catchy Auto-Tuned song that sounds like Drake at his slowest. But then the page view count on what appears to be a YouTube-hosted video begins flipping before your eyes into the millions and the model in the ad to the right of the video stands up and struts into what appears to be Yung Jake's bedroom.
Windows pop up willy-nilly, taking over your computer in a style established in 2010 by Chris Milk in "The Wilderness Downtown," Arcade Fire's video for the song "We Used To Wait," which recently appeared as part of the Hammer Museum's "Graphic Design: Now in Production" exhibit.
Yung Jake takes the concept a step further, rapping about social media and the quest for Internet fame as he shamelessly name drops Justin Bieber and Terry Richardson. Blogs like Art Fag City took notice because of the name-check but found themselves delighted with his work; screenshots of these raves and reviews were integrated into future iterations of the work itself.
In the early aughts, an even younger Yung Jake spent his time on primitive video and image-sharing sites like eBaum's World and Spaceghetto, but one video in particular showed him the true potential of mash-up culture: that loop of Peanuts characters dancing set to Outkast's "Hey Ya!" that found its way into all of our inboxes in 2004.
"wow so dope" he texts, describing the magic of how Charlie Brown barking orders into a megaphone corresponds to Andre 3000's count-off at the beginning of the song.
Of course, he considers himself a visual artist first and a rapper second. At CalArts, where he completed his BFA last year, he grew frustrated with the flatness of his two dimensional work and turned his paintings into GIFs to give them more life. Even this, however, turned out to be something of a dead end.
"everytime I made a painting it was about being black all da sudden," he texts. "so I started making raps about pretty-hoe-bitches and suddenly blackness wasn't an issue anymore." Plus, apparently "pretty-hoe-bitch" rhymes well with "video glitch."
Last year New Frontier headquarters moved off the main drag in Park City (the Deer Valley Drive/ Park Ave loop) to The Yard, a refurbished lumberyard on Kearns Blvd. Frilot describes this year's event space as less of a gallery and more of "a social lounge," featuring multimedia pieces including large scale projection mapping, lay-down theaters, and Yung Jake's new augmented reality piece, Augmented Real, programmed by Vince McKelvie. More conventional theater spaces at The Yard will also show Yung Jake's 2011 work, Datamosh, which plays on the fuzzy images created when you want to put yourself in front of a background image on iChat or PhotoBooth but don't move out of the shot.
"E.m-bed.de/d" will pop up on laptops stationed in a central room filled with couches and club chairs as well as on private electronic devices brought into the space. Somehow the walls of this room will also be "covered with the fingerprints and heartbeats of the patrons," according to Frilot.
What will all this look like? I'm imagining pulsing pixels haunting visitors from floor-to-ceiling screens while videos peek out from every corner and images seem to travel from device to device... but you'll have to go check it out for yourself to know for sure.
You don't even need to head out to The Yard, though, to see Yung Jake at work. Download the "Yung Jake" app and aim your phone at the Yung Jake rock, which can be found in the Sundance Insider magazine given to festival attendees or on certain people's shirts, and he'll pop right up.
But if anyone goes to see him perform at The Yard on the 22nd or the 24th at 7:30 p.m., keep me posted on whether or not this guy is a real human.