My only business at this year's WFMU Record Fair was to catch up with Vicki Bennett, whom radio listeners and patrons of avant media know as the supremely talented People Like Us. In the midst of all the vinyl which the Fair aggregates on an annual basis, Vicki and her pal Irene Moon helmed a stall festooned with trinkets, baubles, plastic grapes, and the pair's many independent and self-released audio/video projects.
Vicki's immense catalog of work includes the Story Without End DVD, which is a wonderful collection of her inventive and forward thinking media manipulations. Using found footage, impossibly obscure audio, and relics of both mediums that have fallen into the public domain, Vicki weaves disparate themes into an all new narrative which is light years away from anything the original creators could have imagined. A recurring theme in her work is a breathless anticipation for an orderly, technologically advanced near-future that would improve our lives while simultaneously bringing us closer to one another. But with those eagerly foretold years now behind us and their promises unfulfilled, there is a poignant subtext which stands in stark contrast to the bright eyed characters who populate her universe.
"Resemblage", which is included on the DVD and which was created with materials from the Lux collection of moving images has an unusually sinister tone to it, but it is one that works to brilliant effect. Beginning with some undeniably Gilliam-esque paper collage, the film quickly moves into foreboding territory through the colliding images of burning landscapes, failing powergrids, and digital static. Although it clocks in at only slightly north of four minutes, I've found it to be among her most compelling works to date.
The true magic of People Like Us is Vicki's unique model of promotion and distribution. By operating so far outside of the mainstream, she has freed herself of the baggage that customarily inhibits artistic growth, and her lengthy career and incredible prolificity bear testament to that truth. In the past, she has said:
"I believe that through the internet, people can experiment and distribute their work for free, or very cheap, and become famous through their idea, rather than through having financial backing. I see the value of working below the radar because I believe all things float to the surface eventually. And so I reinterpret the media through my work."
Here's a recent interview with Vicki in which she further expounds upon these themes, her source material, the Story Without End DVD, and other aspects of her very inspiring career.
People Like Us - Green, Green Grass [MP3]