Watching “Snuff”
With Eva and Franco Mattes

09.20.12 Marina Galperina

New York artist duo Eva and Franco Mattes of 0100101110101101.org have become notorious for hijacking a radioactive carousel out of Chernobyl, secretly stealing bits of famous art from museums and faking a suicide on ChatRoulette. When they asked their internet friends to watch Emily’s Video, naturally I said yes and prepared for the worst.

“NOTE: Emily’s Video is extremely graphic and extremely violent. EXTREMELY. We don’t recommend it to anybody.”

No, I cannot show you this video. It’s bad. I’m not allowed to for various reasons and I can’t tell you what’s on the video. Ok, I can reassure you that no one got raped. Piece it together from the worst real raw footage you can’t admit you watched (say, from Russia), juxtapose it with the disgusting and sprinkle it with dread. The concept of the project was to record volunteers watching this little mixtape of horrors, in a classic “reaction video” YouTube trope. All these reaction videos are on the Emily’s Video Reactions channel.

I often find myself defending my admiration for these artists to critics and buds whose opinion I value, people who consider what the Mattes do immoral and even cruel. There’s a certain self-implication in “liking” the fact that they’re merciless, that in No Fun people cruising ChatRoulette knowing they can encounter anything — not just cock-twiddling perverts — were punished with the ultimate voyeuristic experience, La petite mort of the internet. Although the hanging was staged, the reactions were real. The giddy were documented and exposed, the traumatized were abandoned without explanation. Is it socially irresponsible to expose human nature? No. Is it art? Yes. I’ll buy you a drink sometime and we can duke it out… Unlike this or the Mattes’ other projects that hinge on suspension of belief, Emily’s Video was real. Too real.

Watching others’ reactions is a bit baffling. It seems that those that watched this in pairs and groups are almost vamping for each other. They seem less affected. They’re laughing. Did they even see what I saw? There were some comedic erotic cuts, I suppose, but though I’ve been around the internet alright, but not that deeply in a few years and I had the images — snow, bare branches, blood, flesh, maniacal grins, blurred abstract manias — burned into my brain for weeks. I may have not gone out searching for it. To be frank, I’m grateful that the Mattes pushed me to experience something so awful. It’s a notch in my mental belt like my other unpleasant experiences, it was a knowledge of pain, something à la Cronenberg’s Crash, and a forced awareness of my own not-so-nice character.

Then, of course, there’s the shame of the playback, of watching yourself watching something, seeing the inescapable artifice of a different sort of self-awareness — eh, I look so stupid. I really did feel barf marching determinedly up my esophagus, despite how idiotic, stupid, so stupid I look… watching the most terrible thing I’ve ever seen.

Here we all are, the culprits. We make we sick.