Since 1980, the 4 or 5 or 6 Floptops known as Negativland have been creating records, CDs, video, fine art, books, radio and live performance using appropriated sound, image and text. Mixing original materials and original music with things taken from corporately owned mass culture and the world around them, Negativland re-arranges these found bits and pieces to make them say and suggest things that they never intended to. In doing this kind of cultural archaeology and “culture jamming” (a term they coined way back in 1984), Negativland have been sued twice for copyright infringement.
Over the years Negativland’s “illegal” collage and appropriation based audio and visual works have touched on many things – pranks, media hoaxes, advertising, media literacy, the evolving art of collage, the bizarre banality of suburban existence, creative anti-corporate activism in a media saturated multi-national world, file sharing, intellectual property issues, wacky surrealism, evolving notions of art and ownership and law in a digital age, and artistic and humorous observations of mass media and mass culture.
While it is true that, after being sued, Negativland became more publicly involved in advocating significant reforms of our nation’s copyright laws, Negativland are artists first and activists second. All of their art and media interventions have intended to pose both serious and silly questions about the nature of sound, media, control, ownership, propaganda and perception in the United States of America. Their work is now referenced and taught in many college courses in the US, has been written about and mentioned in over 150 books (including “No Logo” by Naomi Klein, “Media Virus” by Douglas Rushkoff, and various biographies of the band U2), cited in legal journals, and they often lecture about their work here and in Europe.
Negativland is interested in unusual noises and images (especially ones that are found close at hand), unusual ways to restructure such things and combine them with their own music and art, and mass media transmissions which have become sources and subjects for much of their work. Negativland covets insightful humor and wackiness from anywhere, low-tech approaches whenever possible, and vital social targets of any kind. Foregoing ideological preaching, but interested in side effects, Negativland is like a subliminal cultural sampling service concerned with making art about everything we aren’t supposed to notice.