A chat with ‘The Vidiot’: Jesse Chard discusses his televisual arts practice

The Vidiot is a character and project conceived in late 2019 by Australian artist, video producer and director Jesse Chard, that he developed through the isolation he endured during the COVID-19 lockdown. It serves as a secondary identity for the artist, who used the massive influx of free time that social isolation presented to create and broadcast an amalgamation of bizarre video clips and music videos; “sort of like a demented version of MTV,” as he describes it. He says, “YouTube and Facebook didn’t like these broadcasts, and would frustratingly strike me down mid-show, so I had to work out new ways to collate and curate material for display.” His frustration led him to expand on the project by developing a series called Vidiocracy, which, he tells STIR, “was more of a shorter burst, micro-format curatorial show.” The series collated nearly 20 fascinating video art pieces from a swathe of experimental and avant-garde video artist creators from around the world, which the artist would mix in with archival and historical broadcast materials and then build them together into a creative edit. Video platforms took kindlier to these uploads, so Chard went on to make more. He says, “These pieces were intricate to make but ultimately more satisfying to put together than the longer format shows. They also acted as a vehicle for me to get in touch with individual creators around the world, and I have formed a number of friendships with these folks. It was a true blessing.”

The New Normal, 2021 Video: Courtesy of Jesse Chard

The digital artist discusses the evolution of his work, saying, “In 2021, during a brief suspension in the lockdown, I was able to perform my first public show in Sydney as The Vidiot, and test out both my own original material and curatorial presentations in a live setting. As the format developed and the lockdowns eased, I was able to do more and more live shows, including sets during festivals.” Chard was then given artist access to early models of the image generation tool Dall-e 2, which uses artificial intelligence, and promptly began crafting a range of micro-films, using prompts off Dall-e as the raw material. He individually spliced hundreds of these film frames together to create visually intense video loops that are now part of a major hybrid cross-media performance called The Televisual Memory of Our Lost Futures, which debuted on May 31, 2023 in Sydney.

Futronic Hauntology, 2021 Video: Courtesy of Jesse Chard

Chard comes from a background in audio post-production, music composition, sound design, and documentary filmmaking. Before his current avatar, he studied at both SAE and Metro Screen in Australia. Besides his work as The Vidiot, he is a documentary filmmaker and media producer, and the founder of Creative Rituals, which is a media production and education service in Sydney. As is the case with his professional engagements, the artist is clearly not content to settle into a rut, and tells STIR, “During my experimentation with other forms of visual art generation tools, I began to create physical metal visual print plates which then started to get me interested in static, large-format visual imagery.” Chard’s experiments led him to develop the visual art series The Cyberdelic Escape from the Self Replicating Goblin Cossacks, of which, as per the writing of this article, he has completed seven iterations. He continues, saying, “In this series, I use the out-painting tool inside Dall-e 2, along with a set of external visual tools, to create works that use thousands and thousands of generative iterations as the raw material.” He calls these artworks “cyberdelic” in both nature and format, as they draw from the computational aspect of the image generation process, as well as from the cybernetic operation of the process itself. “Cyber” stems from the Greek word “kybernetikos” which means “to steer” or “navigate through”. So as the artist explains, the generation of this work is a navigational one, and is determined primarily by the relationship or “conversation” he has with the machine learning system.

The artist discusses The Cyberdelic Escape From The Self Replicating Goblin Cossacks, 2023 Video: Courtesy of Jesse Chard

This focus on artist participation is an interesting lens to look at AI-driven digital art practices and leads one to wonder whether the majority of Chard’s peers are really going far enough. As intelligent creative tech proliferates, practitioners of the digital craft such as him will likely find themselves in a race of sorts; one where each artist is attempting to realise a boldly salient means of standing out from the crowd, whether that be through an aspect of the production process or the presentation format. For Chard, it is entirely likely that it will be the physicality of his Cyberdelic Escape series. He says, “When the piece is fully edited and complete to a set of technical and size specifications, I then have the works plated with high-quality dye sublimation on Chromaluxe aluminum in large format. These works are not really designed to be viewed on computers or phones. They are meant to be blown up and shown on walls in the physical world, and that’s the final display format, outside of the interface and away from the distracting psychological apparatuses that are embedded in technology.“

The Cyberdelic escape from the self replicating Goblin Cossacks - Plate Six’, 2023 | The Cyberdelic escape from the self replicating Goblin Cossacks | Jesse Chard | STIRworld
The Cyberdelic Escape From the Self Replicating Goblin Cossacks – Plate Six, 2023 Image: Courtesy of Jesse Chard

The artist points to an interesting aspect of AI-driven art that often goes unmentioned. He says, “The generative responses from the machine inform my own psychology, and cause me to have intuitive or emotive reactions to what is presented.” This then steers his ideas further in new directions, creating a feedback loop of sorts. He views his art as a meditative visual tool that allows the viewer to absorb their psyche into the work presented, sparking a consideration of the human and machine dynamic. Within this process, Chard becomes a sort of temporal point, facilitating the transference of the psyche.

Portrait of ‘The Vidiot’ | The Vidiot | Jesse Chard | STIRworld
Portrait of The Vidiot Image: Courtesy of Jesse Chard

As of now, Chard is attempting to navigate the art-funding world, which he tells STIR, can be challenging, especially considering that he falls under that broad and loosely-defined ambit known as “outsider art.” “However,” he says, “I have faith that once I get better at showing the pieces of the puzzle in exhibition format, it will be easier to navigate into getting important deals made.” He would also love to take his performances and works abroad, and believes that one of the beauties of being an artist using the televisual medium is that he can use material from anywhere in the world and make something interesting, personal, and unique from it. “So if I am able to go to international locations and re-interpret their own lost media in a hauntological fashion, it could be an interesting anthropological experiment!” adds the artist.

Finally, Chard is excited to meet his fellow artists who are currently working at the edge of digital practices and eagerly anticipates the creative possibilities that would arise from furthering the culture of collaboration that is becoming typical of the scene.

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