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Video art

About this term

Source: Oxford University Press

Term used to describe art that uses both the apparatus and processes of television and video. It can take many forms: recordings that are broadcast, viewed in galleries or other venues, or distributed as tapes or discs; sculptural installations, which may incorporate one or more television receivers or monitors, displaying ‘live’ or recorded images and sound; and performances in which video representations are included. Occasionally, artists have devised events to be broadcast ‘live’ by cable, terrestrial or satellite transmission. Before video production facilities were available, some artists used television receivers and programmes as raw material, which they modified or placed in unexpected contexts. In 1959 the German artist Wolf Vostell included working television sets in three-dimensional collage works. In the same year nam june Paik began to experiment with broadcast pictures distorted by magnets. He acquired video recording equipment in 1965, after moving to New York, and began to produce tapes, performances and multi-monitor installations (e.g. Moon is the Oldest TV, 1965, reworked 1976 and 1985; Paris, Pompidou). Paik is generally acknowledged to be the single most important figure in the emergence of video art, but he was not alone in grasping the artistic potential of electronic media. Several American independent film makers, including Stan Vanderbeek (b 1927) and Scott Bartlett (b 1943), made use of video processes to develop new kinds of imagery, although the end result was usually a projected film. Others, such as Steina and Woody Vasulka, used electronic skills to produce elaborate transformations of television camera images on videotape.

By 1969, when the Howard Wise Gallery, New York, presented the landmark exhibition TV as a Creative Medium, a fascination with electronic effects and complex imagery had been joined by other concerns. With the rise of Conceptual Art, many artists who explored relationships between themselves, the physical world and other people used video as a convenient medium for recording events. Bruce Nauman employed both film and video for his explorations of the relationship between the body and the spaces of the room and screen, while William Wegman brought the form of the television comedy sketch into the service of his own distinctive sensibility. Terry Fox (b 1943) used household objects in close-up in Children’s Tapes (1974) in order to enact tiny melodramas demonstrating the laws of physics. Some artists engaged themselves with the specific qualities of video and the equipment involved, such as the camera, microphone and monitor. Joan Jonas made performance tapes in which the properties of video were made to interact with her own activity in front of the camera. Organic Honey’s Vertical Roll (1972) features the insistent rhythmic jump of her image on a ‘wrongly’ adjusted monitor.

In Europe, until c. 1970, when video recorders became available outside commercial and scientific institutions, artists’ concern with video was largely either theoretical and speculative or dependent on broadcast television as a foil and means of production. In the former Federal Republic of Germany, Gerry Schum (d 1974) developed the notion of a ‘Gallery on TV’, in which avant-garde artists could present their work in purely televisual terms, free from the distractions of physical artefacts or of programme narration or interpretation. The artists performed or directed activity for the camera, keeping in mind the eventual context of the television screen, creating not a film about the artist but a work by him or her. Schum produced two ‘TV Gallery’ compilations, Land Art (1968) and Identifications (1969). In 1970 he established the Videogalerie Schum in Düsseldorf, where he made and sold video-art tapes. In 1971 David Hall’s Seven TV Pieces appeared on Scottish Television, interrupting regular programmes without announcement or explanation. In each, the filmed event emphasized the physical presence of the television set with which it was viewed, as when the set appeared to fill with water, which then drained away at a totally unexpected angle. In subsequent video installations and tapes, Hall drew attention to the illusory nature of television images, placing video art in confrontation with broadcast television.

In the 1970s a number of artists in Europe and the USA shared a commitment to video art as an autonomous form, rather than as documentation or a source of abstract imagery. An aesthetic evolved associated with conceptual art, which was concerned with ideas as well as images: it was characterized by real rather than edited timescales and by the use of closed-circuit, multi-monitor installations. This tendency, typified by the installation of dan Graham, was prominent in the exhibitions Projekt ’74 at Cologne; The Video Show (1975) at the Serpentine Gallery, London; a show at the Tate Gallery, London (1976); and at the Kassel Documenta of 1977.

In the late 1970s work by Bill Viola (b 1951), Kit Fitzgerald and John Sanborn suggested a reaction against the self-referential tendency, accompanied by an advance in video production techniques. Their tapes often deployed broadcast facilities provided by television companies and demonstrated a sophistication in the montage of image and sound that would become standard during the next decade. Dara Birnbaum, with her use of edited fragments of ‘found’ television material combined with rock music soundtracks, influenced the later British genre of ‘Scratch Video’, a style made popular by George Barber and the Duvet Brothers and quickly appropriated by directors of television programmes and popular music videos.

During the 1980s video art established its own context of production, exhibition and criticism, with organizations emerging in North America and western Europe to support and promote ‘video culture’. Television producers began to buy and commission work from artists, and specialist venues, festivals, courses and workshops for video proliferated. Many artists made work addressing social, sexual and racial issues, renewing links with what survived of the ‘community video’ movement of the 1970s. By 1990 video installations had featured in several large international exhibitions and were a familiar presence in galleries and museums, assuming fresh authority through the work of such artists as Gary Hill ( ) and marie-jo Lafontaine. Artists making single-screen work exhibited increasingly on television, and the medium of video was merging with that of the computer. Video art, no longer novel nor wholly dependent on a gallery context, had become part of an increasingly elaborate network of electronic communication.

Mick Hartney
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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