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.
Since 1981, Negativland and an evolving cast of characters have operated “Over The Edge,” a weekly radio show on KPFA FM in Berkeley, California. “Over The Edge” continues to broadcast three hours of live, found sound mixing every Thursday at midnight, West Coast time, with online access. In 1995 they released a 270-page book with 72-minute CD entitled “Fair Use: The Story of the Letter U and the Numeral 2.” This book documented their infamous four-year long legal battle over their 1991 release of an audio piece entitled “U2″. They were the subjects of Craig Baldwin’s 1995 feature documentary “Sonic Outlaws” and created the soundtrack and sound design for Harold Boihem’s 1997 documentary film “The Ad And The Ego,” an excellent in-depth look into the hidden agendas of the corporate ad world and the ways that we are affected by advertising.
In 2004 Negativland worked with Creative Commons to write the Creative Commons Sampling License, an alternative to existing copyrights that is now in widespread use by many artists, writers, musicians, film makers, and websites. In 2005, they released the elaborately packaged“No Business” (with CD, 15,000 word essay, and custom made whoopie cushion), and debuted“Negativlandland” – a large visual art show of over 80 piece’s of their “fine art” works, video, and home-made electronic devices, at New York City’s Gigantic Art Space. That exhibit continues to travel and appear around the country. More recently Negativland have been touring a new performance piece called “Its’ All In Your Head FM,” a two-hour-long audio cut-up mix about monotheism, the supernatural God concept, and the all-important role played by the human brain in our beliefs. Christianity and Islam are the featured religions, as Negativland asks it’s audience to contemplate some complex, serious, ridiculous, and challenging ideas about human belief in a show best described as “documentary collage.”
In 2007 Negativland released “Our Favorite Things,” a feature-length DVD collection of their many collaborative film and video projects, and was invited to joined the advisory board of a progressive Washington DC-based intellectual property lobbying group called digitalfreedom.org.
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.