"What What (in the Butt)" Viral Video Inspires L.A. Art, Five Years Later

The iconic "What" zeppelin, projected onto MOCA downtown
The iconic "What" zeppelin, projected onto MOCA downtown
Special Entertainment

In 1972 Asco spray-painted their signatures onto the walls of LACMA, asserting themselves as active members of the art community despite the fact that LACMA wasn't yet willing to show their work.

Last Wednesday night, Milwaukee-based Special Entertainment, the partnership between artists Andrew Swant and Bobby Ciraldo, also inserted their signature into the L.A. art world. Swant and Ciraldo, creators of Samwell's "What What (In the Butt)" viral video, which has gotten 45 million views since it was posted to YouTube five years ago, projected the video's iconic zeppelin with the word "What" on it onto MOCA downtown, the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Scientology Center and various other cultural institutions and locations around Los Angeles.

Then, on Thursday, the duo presented video footage of the drive-by projection event at Nate Page's Machine Overnight Guerrilla Project at Storefront Plaza, hosted by Machine Project.

Special Entertainment's trip out West and its series of projections was organized in part by Sara Daleiden's MKE-LAX program, promoting artistic exchange between Milwaukee and L.A., fostered in celebration of the five-year anniversary of "What What (In the Butt)."

The pink zeppelin, as seen in the "What What" video
The pink zeppelin, as seen in the "What What" video

Upcoming Events

Special Entertainment was formed as a production partnership between members Swant and Ciraldo in 2003. The company has shown its projects -- including the films William Shatner's Gonzo Ballet and Modus Operandi, directed by Frankie Latina -- nationally in galleries and film festivals, as well as on YouTube.

Wide reception of its work -- which has gotten attention everywhere from the animated television series South Park to the journal Artforum -- shows that the duo encompasses mass appeal while maintaining some complex layers of meaning and form. The use of catchy songs like "What What (In the Butt)," brightly colored animation and humor provides an entree into more complex layers -- like projecting a thinly veiled sexual innuendo onto the side of the Scientology building, or Walt Disney Concert Hall.

The pink zeppelin projections transformed one kind of public experience -- YouTube -- to another, more tangible experience grounded in the space of the city.

The "What" zeppelin in another location on Wednesday night.
The "What" zeppelin in another location on Wednesday night.
Special Entertainment

The projections might not have left a mark in the same way that street art does, but the action was performed in a similar spirit. "Graffiti is open-source advertising. It's a private individual deciding to broadcast their message to the public," Ciraldo explains.

"The video for 'What What (In the Butt)' is essentially an advertisement for the song," he adds. "The blimp we projected onto the spaces around L.A., that was essentially advertising."

Advertising the video advertising the song. Advertising the event at Machine Project. Advertising their presence, outsiders to the L.A. art world creating a space for themselves within and upon it.

If only all advertising were this awesome
If only all advertising were this awesome
Special Entertainment

Thursday night's partnership between Special Entertainment and Machine Project's Page was particularly successful because of the way both practices bridge the experimentalism of art with the accessibility of entertainment, especially through the use of humor.

In a conversation with Page, he elaborates: "I grew up in an entertainment world -- that's how we got all of our information." Humor in particular acts as an access point, helping to merge entertainment and art. "It's like how jokes operate," Page continues. "They rewire something that you already know and make it operate in another way. We operate in that realm -- reconfiguring things you already know."

If you missed Special Entertainment's event at Machine Project, as I did, never fear. The video of the duo's parade around and inscription onto L.A.'s landscape will be uploaded to YouTube soon for your viewing pleasure.

And, if you haven't already watched the "What What (In the Butt)" video at least 10 times, you really need to. For your convenience:

More information on Special Entertainment's excursion in L.A. at specialentertainment.com

Nate Page's Machine Overnight Guerrilla Project at Storefront Plaza continues through February at Machine Project, 1200 D North Alvarado. (213) 483-8761, machineproject.com

Follow us on Twitter at @LAWeeklyArts and like us on Facebook.

Upcoming Events


Sponsor Content

Newsletters

All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories
    Send:

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >