HISTORY OF VIDEO ART by Aaron Ross
In re: Television Delivers People by Richard Serra
Hold My Life by The Replacements
The distinction made between "video art" and
"guerilla TV" is one that has its uses, but should not
be considered definitive. There are few, if any,
"avant-garde" videotapes that could truly fall within
one of these categories. Rather, most video makers integrate both
socio-political and aesthetic issues in their work. This should
demonstrate that "art" and "activism" are not
two opposing impulses, but simply words given to specific forms of
creative expression within the medium. They refer to certain
aspects of independent video productions, and serve to place
these works within a generalized interpretive framework, but
they are not antithetical nor mutually exclusive concepts.
This seems so obvious as to cause one to wonder how this false
dichotomy arose. No doubt it was due to the political agendas of
the individuals who first began working with the new medium. They
specifically abdicated their status as "artists" -- at
least in name. This was done to remove the work from the context
of the "art world," with all of its ties to commerce and
government. Thus, independent video makers could be liberated from
the constraints of the Establishment, and so set about to
However, this was an exercise in self-deception. These people were
artists, and they were engaging in creative activity, regardless
of what they called it. The mere fact that this work was
immediately absorbed into the art establishment illustrates
its true nature. One can say "This is not art" until
one is blue in the face, but if the work ends up being studied
in a college art history class, the claim appears completely
Of course, the first people to make this mistake were the Dadas.
They, however, can be forgiven, considering the novelty of the
idea at the time of its initial exposition, and the overall
historical context. Dada was a necessary phase in the development
of modern art: the belated assassination of social conventions
and academic restraints. It enabled artists to start afresh, to
explore hitherto inaccessible realms of expression.
Unfortunately, the Fluxus movement, as well as those
"guerilla" people (who claimed not to be artists at all)
merely resurrected an art form which was no longer valid. This
derivative approach was the first sign of the degeneration of
the arts, later to be canonized as "postmodernism."
The art/activism polarization also disintegrates when one
considers guerilla actions undertaken by "established"
artists, who willingly operate within the systems of state and
commerce. Surely among the most radical of acts was Richard
Serra's broadcast of Television Delivers People
a well-known sculptor has chosen to brazenly display
anti-establishment sentiments within the context of corporate
broadcast TV. (How did he get away with this???) There can be no
doubt that Serra considers himself an artist. He has used that
status to infiltrate the System to attempt to effect revolutionary
change in mass consciousness. This is true activism, even though
it was placed in an aesthetic context from the outset.
The lines get even more blurry when those activist messages are
finally co-opted by the very industries they seek to criticize.
For example, the music video for "Hold My Life" by The
Replacements has a somewhat radical character in that it violates
the conventions of "commercial art." However, one cannot
consider it "fine art," because despite its superficial
overtones of consumer alienation, it remains a product to be
parlayed solely for customer gratification. (It seems paradoxical
that alienation is now a commodity, but a quick review of the punk
rock movement shows that rebellion is easily bought and sold by
multinational corporations.) Nor is "Hold My Life"
effective as a guerilla action, and for the same reasons.
Ultimately, the video reinforces the status quo, and does not
threaten the capitalistic structures which sustain it. It is
infinitely significant to note that the only intelligible text
in the piece other than the chorus line, "Hold my life,"
is the copyright message at the end. After three minutes of
ersatz political rhetoric, the viewer is given a glimpse at the
true underlying meaning of the piece ...
"(c) 1986 Sire Records, Inc."
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In re: The Rays by Raindance Corporation
"Tell us about the Rays, man."
These are the invisible projections of the unconscious upon
external reality. They are the inevitable distortions of that
reality due to the mere act of perception. The Rays are also
the evil media transmissions designed to hypnotize and control
the mass audience. And, the Rays are the mysterious forces
which some believe connect all people and things in a vast,
unknowable, metaphysical unity.
What in the universe do these "Rays" have to do with
guerilla television? Next to nothing, and more than everything.
These are the hallucinogenic ramblings of Michael Shamberg and
his cronies on the beach in 1970. Yet from these LSD-induced
revelations came an entirely new way of utilizing the medium of
television, one that has shown great promise for the future of
culture in the technological oligarchy we live in. While it's
true that the vague notions of psycho-cybernetic revolution
(á la Gene Youngblood's book Expanded Cinema
which developed in the 60's and 70's now appear somewhat
naïve, this is no reason to give up the fight.
In fact, with the eventual (grudging) dissemination of technology
throughout the culture, there will be no way to control the flow
of information. Youngblood couldn't conceive of computer hacking
and cyberpunk, but science fiction writer William Gibson did.
This is the true cybernetic revolution, and despite the FBI's
attempts to quash the mischievous precursors of the movement, it
is unavoidable. What can the government do, recall all modems?
IBM has kept computer science a small, elite priesthood for 30
years. Unfortunately for the multinationals, people are beginning
to turn the "Rays" against them. Workers of the world,
In re: Janice Tanaka
Two statements Janice Tanaka made on the night she visited CalArts
will stick in my brain until I die. Sad to say, my reaction to
these words was not positive, because I genuinely like her early
work, particularly Ontogenesis
(what a great title!).
First, while describing her first foray into the School of the Art
Institute of Chicago's "Video Area" (that's what they
call it, don't ask me why), she mentioned that she saw a lot of
people doing video feedback. As I recall, she said, "The
feedback looked pretty good, but it felt kind of empty."
The room nodded its approval. Inside, I was a raging torrent of
emotion. Empty! It's the FULL emptiness, the PLEROMA, the
SHUNYATA, the CLEAR LIGHT OF THE VOID!!! It is chaos in motion,
the very dynamical recursive chaos that gave rise to life,
consciousness, and the very fucking universe ITSELF!
(These are not the ravings of a madman. Do not attempt to adjust
Then, later, after I had forgotten this lapse of sanity on the
part of all concerned, Michael Scroggins and I took Janice down
to the Videographics Lab, home of numerous vintage analog video
processing devices akin to the famed Sandin Image Processor. When
we showed her the Pulfrich 3-D effect, she exclaimed, "Wow!
Remember when video used to be fun?"
FUN!!??!!?? If it ever stops being fun, it's time to hang up your
tweaker and head out for greener pastures. This is not a business,
it is serious play. If that element of fun is missing, the artwork
will suffer and eventually die. I don't want to hear any requiem
for fun. Let's keep growing, exploring, finding new ways to
channel our creativity. Otherwise, we may as well work at
Burger King or Merrill Lynch.
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In re: Made in Hollywood by Bruce and Norman
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Do the Yonemotos really think they can have
their cake and eat it, too? Sure, it'd be nice to inject some
personal vision back into the stale formulas of Hollywood cinema,
but to loudly proclaim that as sole purpose for artmaking smacks
of superficiality. Maybe I have a bad attitude, but I have
infinitely more respect for a truly talented "commercial"
filmmaker like Scorcese or Kubrick than I do for someone whose
greatest ambition is to play both sides of the fence.
This is not to say that Made in Hollywood
entertaining to watch. There are some interesting games
being played here, especially regarding cinematic conventions
and clichés. But when all is said and done, do the Yonemotos
make good on their promise to provide "a deliverance from
the tyranny of the Hollywood myth"? I think not. No,
that's just the sales pitch to the art community.
Incidentally, it'd be interesting to hear the pitch to the
Hollywood company boys. It's probably not very different. After
all, both Hollywood and the art world are equally self-serving.
In re: Granny's Is by David Larcher
Does technology make the man? For me, the answer is
unequivocally "no." After all, look at the U.S.
military. They've had the newest latest greatest whizbang
stuff since World War II. And what do they do with it? You
guessed it: genocide.
David Larcher is hardly shooting for global domination, but
the attitude seems essentially the same: hit 'em with everything
ya got. When I first heard about Granny's Is
, I was
told that the gratuitous use of digital effects in the piece
was conscious and intentional, and served the purpose of
parodying mass media TV graphic techniques. Unfortunately,
I have to disagree. Granny's Is
seems to me a pure
case of technological fetishism and self-indulgence.
Not that there's anything particularly wrong with either of
those two characteristics, but there is definitely a
communication gap set up when such a piece runs overlong.
The viewer eventually loses interest, and begins to wonder
why he or she is bothering to decipher the meaning of the
piece. This is the failure of Granny's Is
. If the
work had been half as long, it would have been effective.
If it were cut to 15 minutes, it would have been simply amazing.
What a shame that the art world is so prone to fads and fashions,
especially when it denies the existence of those tendencies.
The only reason Granny's Is
got produced is because
re-integrates commercial techniques into "high art,"
much in the same way as Made in Hollywood
. This is,
of course, very hot, hip, and fashionable (in a postmodern
kinda way). Woe be it to he who dares to think for himself!
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In re: No Rights Implied by Nell Lundy
[This piece documents the flag-on-the-floor crisis at
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1989.]
OK, here we go.
1. I was there, and this was an fairly accurate account of
2. Who cares?
3. There's a glut of documentary TV and video; do we really
need to be told what to think? What about painting? Does
anybody remember music? Hey, I just got a great idea! Let's
make art while we're spending $12,000 a year at art school!!!
In re: Why Does Everything Get in A Muddle
(Come On Petunia) by Gary Hill
This was an interesting piece, with a fairly good
"gimmick." The only real problem was the
lack of expression in the actor's faces; perhaps they could
have had a little coaching. Then again, maybe it was intended
to be deadpan.
Particularly effective were the moments when the backward
continuity of the piece was violated. The segments of
straightforward delivery were needed to provide a contrast
with the relentless weirdness of the main body of the narrative.
My favorite moment, however, came when the Daddy read aloud
from his book while the camera rotated on its Z axis. Suddenly,
the video player which had been running backward began to rock
back and forth, forward and back, over the same few seconds of
monologue. We got to hear the Daddy recite seeming nonsense which
was, of course, his speech written out backward phonetically.
This was a Zen moment for me. A somewhat intellectual Zen moment,
but a memorable one just the same.
I've been experimenting with backward audio tape techniques for
years, and always wanted to try it with video. I never have had
the technology at my disposal, and now I guess it's too late to
really grab anybody's attention with it. Maybe I should make a
piece called Gary Hill Stole My Thunder
Or should that be Rednuht Ym Elots Llih Yrag?
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