Oyster Interview: Internet Artist Brad Troemel
"Unfortunately, every time I put my images on Tumblr, someone steals them and puts them on their blog."
Brad Troemel isn't the easiest person to describe. He writes for websites such as DIS Magazine; maintains a store on Etsy; teaches at Pratt (sample lecture: 'What Relational Aesthetics Can Learn From 4Chan'); and creates art across multiple platforms, using anything from Tumblr reblogs to broken cellphones as his medium — and conversing with him over email is a lot like talking to a chatbot. (We are yet to confirm that he is a real person, but we decided to interview him for Oyster #101 anyway.)
Oyster: How do you decide what to make art out of?
Brad Troemel: I often look into a hat on top of a hill and find art materials and Israeli angels bound for Missouri walking in Memphis. My first online girlfriend's screen name was HeavenlyAngle15, she was potentially a carpenter. I've been called the art game Mitt Romney because I'm the premier Mitt Romney–based artist on Etsy today. I'm something like a modern-day Arnold Friberg in an American Apparel button-up. Not far from now the pattern Gingham and the faces of politicians will be inseparable, but for now I'm going to use Ron Paul as a metaphor for stripes on a polo and Barack Obama as a metaphor for baby blue on a ski cap and Willard Romney as a metaphor for 'Life is Good' t-shirts — politics as temporary decor. Politics produce a lot of snowmobiles and television shows and cellphone cases and people feel very secure and sincere in collecting and consuming these things, practically as confident in doing so as they do in buying Kombucha or Kale. So, that's a powerful thing and a market opportunity those interested in the Arts would be fools not to get in on.
Where did you meet HeavenlyAngle15?
I met my online girlfriend from middle school at Art Basel, when my god-uncle took me there in 2001. That year's art had an 'Introspective' theme that went really well with the look on my face.
Do you have any internet disaster stories?
When I was 13 I moved to a big Los Angeles mansion because my mom married the late Jim Varney. I skateboarded with Shaq in private and overcame a bout of gold poisoning several months later. The reason I got gold poisoning was because, based on a CNN article I read online, I had found out that people in other parts of the world melted down computers for their gold parts. I opened a small smelting business in my backyard when I was 13 and began collecting my friends' parents' old computers. Everyone told me I smelled like a fresh batch of jenkem due to my newfound interest in precious metals, but I didn't care — I've always been interested in get-rich-quick schemes, ever since I went to the same high school as Jeffrey Skilling, the architect of Enron. That CNN article was pretty disastrous.
What are the best items you have purchased on the internet?
Please rate these sites/apps:
Instagram: This is a great platform that archives extremely vintage and rare images from back in the day when people hadn't invented 'rectangular' images yet. It always surprises me that so many of my friends who are in their twenties have images of themselves that appear to be from the 1950s–1970s, but I'm not an ageist so it's OK if they've been lying to me about their age.
Tumblr: This is a great platform that lets people use the creative magick of 'blogging'. Blogging is an extremely important form of communication that allows people to share their feelings and images of George Costanza. Unfortunately, every time I put my images on Tumblr, someone steals them and puts them on their blog. The 'reblog' function on Tumblr practically encourages this kind of repugnant behavior. I've been working on a Tumblr blog for 15 years and I consider it one of my most successful Tumblrs because no one has stolen a single image from it. I managed to do this by keeping the blog on 'private'.
Facebook: This is a great platform that lets people tell each other about Farmville. If you post enough pictures of yourself and say enough controversial things, there are rewards like a career in the Arts or free business cards from Klout.
Twitter: I don't use this great platform, but from what I understand it's a place for celebrities to share nude pictures of themselves.
Etsy: This is a great platform for creative people interested in the Arts to sell handmade goods to one another. Before joining I made sure to create my own woodshop and welding studio and employ a team of senior citizens to start knitting for me. It worked out great and now I'm a millionaire.
eBay: This is a very trashy platform that is entirely the opposite of Etsy. It is the genetically modified version of Etsy, because it sells products that have been mass-manufactured by corporations who don't practice local commerce.
Vimeo: This is a great platform for creative people who are interested in the Arts, who create things that can or can't be entered in the Bushwick Film Festival.
YouTube: This is a very trashy platform that is entirely the opposite of Vimeo. It is the Republican version of Vimeo, because people who don't have BFA degrees incessantly write racial slurs in YouTube comment threads.
LinkedIn: This is a great platform that my grandparents have used to find a number of unpaid internships.
Have you ever considered selling your Etsy password on Art.sy? Or do you believe eBay's bidding system would secure a better price?
I've considered selling a lot of things. Thank you for these ideas, I will implement them at a later date.
Do you believe that the current monetary system is approaching collapse and one day humankind will earn Bitcoins via something akin to reblogs? Do you see Jogging as a step toward this New Economy? Have you had meetings with David Karp about this?
Yes, I've been Blackberry messaging David Karp profusely about this. I would like to predict a future where we are paid to move information around in the form of videos, images, lifestyles, etc according to the interests of companies or individuals, where we pay to be able to produce advertisements for companies and then people like the ad. I know it sounds crazy, but this will happen some day.
Let's say a reblog is worth 100 units. What is a (Tumblr) like worth?
A like would be worth five points in that scheme. I've come out of the closet on this issue and am feeling extremely volatile: likes are empty tokens. Sure, they bump your note count up, but only with hot air. A like doesn't move images to new places or allow more people to see the work. Go hard or go home. Reblogs are what make the world go around. Grow some balls and steal my open-source work already. Life is too short for likes. I've been talking with David Karp about removing that feature and he agrees and is going to get rid of likes because I told him so and replace the like button with a 'Zany or Not?' question that is mandatory for everyone to answer. It's costing Tumblr millions to implement but it's going to be the interface we need for times like these.
Jogging's most popular work to date appears to be 'SUSTAINABLE ENERGY (LIGHT), 2012', with 8155 notes. From the comments I can see that its success can be attributed to being featured on the Tumblr Radar. Will you soon start charging corporations for product placement within your work? Have you had meetings with David Karp about this?
Yes, thank you for asking because I have had a ton of meetings with David Karp about this. I'd like to let you know that Whole Foods have been sponsoring Jogging for a couple of months now. And by sponsoring I mean they are my employers. And by employers I mean Jogging's relation to them is that of an intern. We are interning for Whole Foods. It's unpaid but they, like, always hire half of the interns so you just have to show up on time and be nice.
Creating purely for the sake of reblogs already occurs within our culture, but there is not a word for this specific mode of production. What should the word be? (Is it 'Jogging'?) And what should we name the output of this activity?
I've taken a highly controversial opinion on this matter, which has offended a large segment of the Australian community, but OK I'm willing to discuss this for Oyster magazine. I'm in the creative services industry. Follow me for a second: Duchamp tried to intentionally limit his output so that his personal taste wouldn't shine through. I think producing hundreds of images very quickly with the intention of getting as many reblogs as possible is just another way of renouncing personal taste: by outsourcing your own taste to the taste of others. I'm in the business of reblogs, because ultimately the most important thing for me to do with this work is sell it. I want that moment of sale to occur — it's the point of the project. The point of the sale and after is when these products really start. That's the point when the person has to negotiate with themselves about what to do with this item — hang it? Put it in a box? Wear it? Throw it away? One way of encouraging sales is to post even more images as advertisements. Try colouring the item a little differently. Pair it with a sexy girl. Pair it with an image you found from a Reddit WTF?! thread. It's a kooky process, but the reality is I'm just a kooky guy.
Interview: Ariane Halls and Shane Sakkeus
Images: Brad Troemel