iamamiwhoami: How This Audio/Visual Artist Brought Mystery Back To Art
It’s entirely likely that you have never heard of the audio/visual artist ‘iamamiwhoami’. Like many new artists in the 21st century, using a unique viral-like unraveling internet mystery is one of the few ways to get recognized from the endless ocean of candidates all clawing for a spot in the much sought after headlines of major internet publications (because lets face it, how many of us still read the newspaper?) That’s why, at least initially, publications turned their heads when a mysterious YouTube channel with zero information other than its username ‘iamamiwhoami’ began uploading 1-minute clips of extremely well produced visuals tied together with strange, ambient / electro beats with distant, heavily distorted vocals, and a female singer consistently visually distorted as to not reveal her identity – all back in December 2009. They even caught the attention of MTV when ‘iamamiwhoami’ sent a package directly to one of their writers containing a lock of human hair, and mysterious drawings of various animals that had appeared in the videos. As far as mysterious viral artists go, this was cream of the crop, and various publications were foaming at the mouth to be the one to say ‘I totally reported on them before they revealed everything about the project’.
Well the thing is…months went by. More short clips were uploaded, and soon full songs with complete music videos followed. Each one with only a single letter as their title (B O U1 U2 N T Y). Everyone was inching forward on their seats…waiting for the big reveal…the big ‘man behind the curtain’ moment. But, it soon became clear that there would be no big reveal. These mysterious videos WERE the project. Soon the powers of the internet uncovered that Swedish folk/pop singer Jonna Lee was the woman distorted in the videos and the front-woman of the project. With that, music publications shrugged off the project, and went back to updating us on what Best Coast said on Twitter about the Lou Reed / Metallica collaboration (I’m looking at YOU Pitchfork).
The reveal of who was behind this all actually proved to really not be the driving force of the all the mystery, because the videos kept on coming with no explanation behind them. If you watch the videos in chronological order, Jonna becomes more and more easily identifiable, so I’m sure she realized it was only a matter of time before people figured this out. The true shock is that still to this day Jonna Lee has never officially stated she’s involved with the project, or who else is.
Maybe to some, that could seem like a disappointment. That these veils of mystery distract from the art. But I would have to argue that something as carefully constructed, heavily layered, and well-planned is innovation on a level unseen before. Ironically, something this mysterious can ONLY have legs to stand on with the help of the Internet, despite the Internet seemingly representing the over-indulgence in information that the project rebels from.
It’s simple to call something like this ‘gimmicky’ but there is no denying its bravery. In an age built on instant gratification, and almost COMPLETE lack of mystery (go ahead and google the answer to anything you’ve ever wanted to know), the ‘iamamiwhoami’ project is choosing to provide that mystery. ZERO interviews, ZERO promotion, and ZERO explanation of all the many layers of symbolism that fans have discovered trace back to outlandish source material like mandragora folklore. Its worth noting this choice goes against just about every typical ‘rise to fame’ move you could pull. If you think we’re ever gonna see an ‘iamamiwhoami’ song in a Coke commercial, I would suggest not holding your breath.
This project has brilliantly accomplished the unthinkable in The Age of Information: gain a rabid loyal fan base by doing absolutely nothing beyond putting their art on a tray for the taking. If you are a fan of ‘iamamiwhoami’ its because you are a fan of the art itself, simply because there is NO other aspect to the project.
I would be lying if I said this project has gotten no recognition, but it is the way that the artists behind this have handled the recognition and praise that is truly worth noting. At the 2011 Swedish Grammis Awards, ‘iamamiwhoami’ won for “Innovator of the Year”. How did they accept this award? An anonymous woman approached the stage with an envelope that she was told to open in the event they won. Inside the envelope: a blank piece of paper. Before leaving the stage the woman said ‘Thank you. That’s all I am allowed to say.” This unrelenting commitment to not break character is something to respect, especially considering the projects marriage to mystery.
There is a reason the project has such a dedicated fan-base. The rewards of the unknown, and the sense of surprise the project offers is something that many from my generation lack. The convenience of having everything at your fingertips comes at the price of losing the wonder of discovery. It’s no surprise that people have such a strong reaction to the project. ‘iamamiwhoami’ is providing what for many has been lost. In this Digital Age, that’s a little bit of magic.
Watch the latest video from ‘iamamiwhoami’ titled ‘sever’ below, which is the first video in the next chapter for the project: a full-length audio-visual album titled ‘kin’ which is to be released on June 11th 2012.