This artist turned chopping up pop culture videos into a career

Key Points
  • Elisa Kreisinger is an artist whose work consists of taking pop culture moments and re-editing them to reflect her reality
  • She focuses on women's and LGBT portrayals in media, as well as protecting artists' rights to use existing source material
  • She now works for Refinery29 on the "Strong Opinions Loosely Held" podcast and Facebook series
Elisa Kreisinger
Source: Refinery29

Elisa Kreisinger didn't like the way media she saw was portraying women and LGBT individuals — so she took the videos she saw and turned them into something that reflected her reality.

"I found regular pop culture wasn't reflective of bold women and the queer community," said Kreisinger. "I wanted to take the language of popular culture and remix it, mash it up, and make it more reflective of the women in my society."

Thus Kreisinger — also known as the "Pop Culture Pirate" — became a digital artist.

Kreisinger is best known for her video mashups where she edits popular footage to change its meaning. She cut moments from "Mad Men" to show sexual tension between man characters Don Draper and Roger Sterling. She's edited footage from Jay-Z's "Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film" to the tune of "I'm 22," which shows the "edgy" performance is as bubblegum pop as the Taylor Swift song. She also re-envisioned "Sex and the City" as if it was a queer romantic comedy.

Re-purposing clips can often draw attention from copyright alert systems, even though Kreisinger's work should have fallen into the category of fair use. To respond to the threats of her work being pulled down, she painted a picture capturing the exact moment she got flagged for copyright infringement — and set up an art gallery in New York. It also doubled up as a way for her to sell her artwork, since it's hard to put a price on widely disseminated viral clips.

"It was a commentary of what we think of art," she said. "You wouldn't go into an art gallery and put something off the wall, and call it copyright infringement."

Her projects included creating a Twitter bot to respond to misogynistic tweets with feminist pop song lyrics, which she did as part of being a technology fellow at the NYU Tanton School of Engineering in 2014. Keisinger also testified in 2012 to the U.S. Copyright Office in order to give artists exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Kreisinger currently uses her penchant for remixing pop culture moments at Refinery29, where she works as an executive producer. She hosts the women's culture podcast "Strong Opinions Loosely Held." The podcast, which is in partnership with NPR One, was nominated for a 2017 Webby.

It's also spun-off its own Facebook video series of the same name, which often employs similar mashup techniques among others. One video, titled "Serena Williams is Pregnant" has been viewed over 5.4 million times. Another video "Republican or The Handmaid's Tale," where Kreisinger asks people if quotes came from politicians or the Margaret Atwood novel, was seen more than 1.2 million times.

"The ability to comment, critique, pay homage or be critical of the media is a really important tenant of free speech, and free speech is an important part of democracy," she said. "And, there's no better time to remember that like now."