SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- The Contemporary Jewish Museum
s soaring Stephen & Maribelle Leavitt Yud Gallery is home for the next year to offgrid, a 38-minute-long, Internet-sourced audio visual surround sound meditation on the psychedelic jazz of the 1950s and 60s by one of Israels most celebrated artists. Kutiman (born Ofir Kutiel in Jerusalem in 1982) is a master of YouTube mash-ups, subtly and intricately knitting together snippets of everything from instructional music videos to amateur drum solos that others have uploaded. Many of the videos in his Thru You series have received millions of views and have earned him a devoted following and even a spot on Time magazines Fifty Best Inventions of 2009 list.
offgrid is the final installment in the Thru You series and was developed for the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and shown there in 2016 (curator: Tal Lanir). The immersive work, coming to the United States for the first time in this showing at The CJM, is comprised of twelve monitors equally spaced around the gallery on which various solo instrument players appear and disappear in thousands of combinations from 96 unrelated YouTube clips. The sound of an Indian tanpura mixes with saxophone, drums, synthesizer, and dozens of other instruments as the psychedelic palette of the colorized video shifts every few minutes.
The exhibition also includes a separate monitor outside of the main gallery that shows a compilation of Kutimans Thru You (2009) and Thru You Too (2014) videos including Mother of All Funk Chords, the work that started it all. I was surfing YouTube and I came across a video of a drummer (the legendary session drummer Bernard Purdie) explaining how to play this funky groove and I had the idea of playing over the top of his video, so I did some tests, said Kutiman in an interview with VICEs The Creators Project on the origin of the piece. I really loved the idea so I decided to do another one. I found another video of the same drummer and just before I plugged my guitar in to play over it, I thought to myself, maybe I can find someone on YouTube to accompany him instead of me playing the guitar or bass? And that was it. After that moment I didnt get up from the computer for about two months.
The 2014 Thru You Too project featured a piece entitled Give it Up, that turned a New Orleans nurse named Samantha Princess Shaw Montgomery into a viral sensation and gave rise to a documentary film entitled Presenting Princess Shaw by Ido Haar about this unlikely relationship.
Kutiman has always made these videos as a labor of love, putting them back out on to YouTube for free. The musicians he has appropriated work from have never objected and are usually thrilled to be featured, especially given Kutimans penchant for eccentric and rarely clicked on original material. He provides links to the original videos as well, and often, if those have gone missing, commenters have combed through the web to find them in a crowd-sourced swell of enthusiasm for the works.
Its just a huge wave of positivity, said Kutiman in an interview with Billboard. People that really love it and go see the players, and they love the players and comment on them. Everybodys really positive about the whole thing.
Kutiman is at the cutting edge of contemporary art practice, extending the traditions of assemblage, cut-up literary technique, appropriation, and found art into the realm of music and sound composition, says CJM Chief Curator Renny Pritikin. The Yud Gallery, the architectural gem of The CJMs building, with its eccentrically-angled walls pierced by 36 windows, is going to be a beautiful setting and place for visitors to experience Kutimans state-of-the-art digital creations.
Kutiman (born Ophir Kutiel in 1982) lives on Kibbutz TzeElim in southern Israel. He studied music at Rimon Music College in Tel Aviv and in 2003, went to Jamaica where he worked with the Marley family. In 2006, he signed to a German label, Melting Pot, and began putting out recordings. In 2010 he won the ACUM (The Israel Association of Composers, Authors and Publishers of Musical Works) award for producing. Kutiman is best known for his viral video/audio mashup online albums Thru You and Thru You Too, the latter of which was awarded a 2015 Webby Award. Due to the success of Thru You, in October 2010, Kutiman was invited by YouTube to perform at the YouTube Play grand opening at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City.