Am I Evil?? (single-channel-version)

This is a single-channel video version of the “Am I Evil” project. This version is available for screenings and public viewing on youtube:

” “Defense Against the Dark Arts” is a mandatory class at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in which students learn to protect themselves against evil creatures and black magic. In J.K. Rowling’s novel, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005), wizard Severus Snape characterizes the Dark Arts as, “[…] varied, ever-changing, and eternal. Fighting them is like fighting a many-headed monster, which, each time a neck is severed, sprouts a head even fiercer and cleverer than before. You are fighting that which is unfixed, mutating, indestructible.” If artist Jacob Ciocci taught this (imaginary) course, he would add the Internet to the curriculum. In fact, Ciocci has used the term “dark arts” to describe the Internet and it’s teeming swaths of video, photography, digital art, and graphic design, which seem to multiply like Snape’s metaphoric monster. Adaptable and unpredictable, the Internet provides a perpetual platform for all kinds of artistic expression. Ciocci engages directly and deeply with this “dark art” in his videos and 2D works. He samples both amateur and professional web content, then overlays self-generated imagery and music to create wildly hallucinogenic works with critical subtext. Ciocci’s work emphasizes the power, danger, and potential of this unrestrained environment and its myriad inhabitants. Am I Evil (2012) exemplifies Ciocci’s approach. The video opens with a plume of smoke revealing a vanity adorned with a mirror ball, skull, pestle and mortar, spell books, and a large “Magic Mirror” (à la Snow White). All of these components are crude and pixelated, a kind of throwback to the early days of graphic software. A rudimentary rendering of Harry Potter slides in from the left and gazes into the mirror. The music, which began as a trill from the Harry Potter movie score, swells with guttural electronic sounds that darken the video’s tone. Inside the mirror, Potter views the reflected image of conservative politician Christine O’Donnell. As the image zooms in, the animated mirror explodes to reveal a fast-paced, magnetic, and creepy amalgamation of found online content and original artwork. The video’s crux is O’Donnell’s infamous 2010 campaign commercial in which she addresses (through denial) her association with witchcraft. Ciocci extracts central lines from the commercial’s monologue, including “WHO AM I,” “I’M YOU,” and “I AM NOTHING.” These phrases and O’Donnell’s face punctuate a wide range of witch-related visuals, from homemade videos of covens and videogame graphics to 1980s cartoon animations and Halloween imagery. Ciocci’s self-produced audio—a raucous, rhythmic soundtrack—weaves together guitar riffs, digital noises, and clips from popular musicians like Lil Jon. Ciocci also integrates his own vibrant imagery including an iconic, bright green, sharp-knuckled witch hand that appears in numerous other works. More than just an indictment of O’Donnell, Am I Evil? questions and draws connections between religious fanaticism, the histrionics of political rhetoric, pop culture seduction, and the contemporary fascination with witches and other paranormal characters. Ciocci serves up this critique using an appetizing music video vernacular: a bright, punchy experience that you can move to. Amusingly, this work suggests that the real “magic” is on the Internet. Viral, open, and unlimited, the Internet as shown here is a magical space where both abject and affirmative expressions share the same air. It is a place of transformation, where a cat in a costume rolling around on an Ouija Board can become a cultural sensation. It is a forum where witches can be simultaneously celebrated, studied, refuted, and hunted. “

from “Dark Magic” by Megan Lykins Reich, from the exhibition catalogue for Realization Is Better Than Anticipation