Feministing Five: Elisa Kreisinger

Elisa Kreisinger Cutting, splicing, and reattaching her way through pop-culture, Elisa Kreisinger is a vibrant artist of the 21st century. Elisa, through her work at Pop Culture Pirate, creates feminist multi-media remixes of popular culture which lucky for us, she shares with the web. For example, she’s created works that reinvent shows like The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills to create a feminist contestant, have introduced a passion between Mad Men’s Don Draper and Roger Sterling, and (perhaps my personal favorite) documented Peggy Olson’s growth from entry-level to boss. 

Elisa’s remixes are smart, pithy, and entertaining, but they also express the potential for pop-culture to centralize more identities and more communities. Additionally, Elisa has become an advocate for fair use laws and has demonstrated why tech and political worlds clearly need the voices of brilliant artists. If you happen to be in Brooklyn on March 28th be sure to see her group show Who’s Taylor Swift Anyway? at the Fowler Art Space; if you’re in Cambridge, she’ll be at Harvard Law’s Berkman Center on April 22nd discussing art and copyright online.

And now without further ado, the Feministing Five with Elisa Kreisinger!

Suzanna: First off, can you describe for us how you became a “pirate?” 

Elisa Kreisinger: First, I would say that it’s important that I stress that when I use the word “pirate,” I’m referring to a feminist pirate and not a pirate in the way that we think of piracy on the Internet. Because of the work that I do is appropriation art, it’s often confused with stealing of copyrighted footage or images online, and actually the work that I do with remixing is completely legal. It’s not piracy because it’s covered under fair use, which is a portion under copyright law that lets anyone — artists, filmmakers, documentarians, academics to use copyrighted material for comment and critique without asking the copyright holder for permission. I struggle a lot with the term “pirate” because I do think of myself as a feminist pirate who is looting and plundering things not from a copyright holder so much but from a patriarchal media perspective.

To answer your question, I first became a “pirate” as undergraduate at Simmons College — I was a women’s studies student as well as communications and I got sick of writing papers and critiquing media. I wanted to pick media apart myself and put it back together. Originally, the goal was to deconstruct the male gaze, but I realized that the goal  was really hard to do with editing. That’s really cinematographer’s perspective so I focused on narrative and in particular a more feminist narrative. I wanted to take identities out of popular culture and re-edit them so they would be more subversive.

SB: Can tell us more about your experience with advocacy within fair use policy? How does that intersect with your art? 

EK: They are actually very much related and earlier on I focused solely on the feminist aspect of remixing because that was what I was passionate about. As I started uploading things to YouTube, I really wanted to share the work. Part of the reason why I was making these remixes was to reconnect with women all across the Internet who were in these feminist corners of the web, to connect them and have the conversations that I was having as an undergrad in women studies classes. When I would upload my remixes to share, I kept getting take down notices and copyright violations.

This was in 2011 and YouTube’s Content ID system had just got live. For those who don’t know what content ID is, it’s a private agreement that YouTube makes with copyright holders directly. Tumblr and Twitter also have these private agreements with copyright holders and it kind of usurps users’ rights once you’re in that space. You’ve got fair use rights and Freedom of Speech out in the world, but once you agree to the terms and conditions within Youtube, you are kind playing by their rules. I thought it was disingenuous to the company and the platform since Google and YouTube have consistently won fair use cases when they argue it as a company.

I started to get involved in fair use policy because I felt it was really important for artists to be in the number two search engine and to be able to have art there and to be able to comment and critique, especially for popular culture. That’s really what YouTube is all about and how it all started. So that’s the policy aspect of my practice.

SB: What types of ingredients go into your ideal mix? 

EK: That’s a really great question. Sometimes what I think is super interesting to remix doesn’t make an interesting remix. For example, I’ve been trying to remix Girls for three years, but in many ways, it’s already feminist, it has already a queer female character. So a lot of the things that I edit into popular female culture, thankfully, already exist within Girls. Of course it’s not without it’s shortcomings, but a lot of things that I would edit into that script already exist.
The best mash ups juxtaposed two pieces of media from very different corners of the internet or pop culture. It can be high/low, uber masculine/feminine. Under normal circumstances, they shouldn’t even be in the same thought together yet, when combined, they result in something that’s much better than either of the original pieces. What it comes down to is that people want to see their communities and identies represented in popular culture so any way I can do that thru two pieces of popular culture that represent that identity. I find that really interesting and other people do too so they share it. When they see their cultures reflected in popular culture, it gives them a greater sense of purpose.
I’d be a fan of a lot more media if I didn’t have to constantly compromise my politics to be entertained. With remix, we can reedit tired narratives into more subversive ones or pay homage to the awesome narratives that do exist. We’re remixing to show, rather than just tell, what we want to see in pop culture and Hollywood. When we see media that represents our values and principles, it deepens our sense community, closing the gap between fan and critic.
SB: What advice do you have to new media makers? 
EK: The best piece of advice that I always is to keep going and keep making, especially in the YouTube space. Since there is already so much crap, if you are making crap you are in good company. Don’t judge yourself keep making stuff and don’t worry about the quality of it.
I think for women and for critically thinking women that’s really hard to do because we have this lens, this filter on the world where we’re being critical of the media. It’s important to turn off our own criticism for the media that we are making, and make stuff, turn out a product, and don’t worry if it’s crappy because there is enough crap on the Internet. You’re in good company if you make crap.

Remix and feminism go hand in hand. For young women and girls, it’s a way to take back our identities from corporate commodification and the use of appropriation in the remix process allows for images of woman and femininity to be rearticulated and redefined by the author. As a result, women become authors and makers, resignifying the practices, discourses, and institutions on which oppression is based…in real time.

SB: You’re stranded on a desert island and you get to take with you one drink, one food, and one feminist. 

EK: For drink, I’d pick coconut water. For food, I’d take these peas at Trader Joes, they are called ‘Imagine World Peas.” For feminist, I’d take Anna Holmes.

 Suzy 1

 Just for the record, Suzanna Bobadilla doesn’t think Peggy Olson would mind being called bossy.  

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