Practice in Context – Video

Tuesday 22nd November 2016

Following my theme of Migration and Refugees, I have been investigating Migration Routes and have decided to use this video module to begin to explore this subject furt her.

I have been investigating Migration Routes and have decided to use this video module to begin to explore this subject furt her.

This week I collected some source footage using my iPhone that shows traffic along the A55, the nearest arterial route to my home.

Initial Research

There are several reasons why video art is underexposed. Part of it has to do with the hard-to-shake reputation that video art is just too campy and esoteric — an opinion espoused by Jack Donaghy and anyone else who believes that art is exclusively paintings of men on horses. Another reason is the attitude that of a lot of influential, opinionated video artists share: they simply aren’t comfortable offering their wares to just anyone, and would rather sell the things they’ve made on glitzy-looking DVDs to a few collectors and museums, as they would a painting or a sculpture.

Still other video artists are concerned that their work might be misidentified as films. This anxiety leads them to seek out venues for their work (warehouse art galleries and hard-to-find back-room viewing rooms) that will grant them the power to have it appreciated on its own terms. Artists may care about a disembodied feel of a projected work in a more open-air setting, or they may want to take advantage of the sculptural qualities of placing one or many TV monitors in the gallery space. For genuine aesthetic reasons, many great works of video art are not meant to be seen on someone’s TV or laptop at home.

Gillian Wearing

One of the most fascinating video artists working today is Gillian Wearing, whose trademark approach involves creating hyper-realistic masks for her subjects, often shuffling them so that their voices and mannerisms take on antithetical identities to the people we see on the screen. People are really honest when they speak to Wearing and her camera, and in the above example, the resulting anecdotes about filial cruelty can be as heartbreaking as they are weird and original.

Peter Campus

Three Transitions is one of the seminal works in video art. It was conceived in the decade of Peter Campus’ greatest creative intensity and thanks to its pioneering nature it has become one of his most widely known works. The video consists of three short exercises or “transitions” in which Campus employs different visual and spatial effects. Throughout the video, the artist displaces and superimposes takes of his own body, which he makes interact with each other using chromo-key techniques. Three Transitions set up many of the paradigms used recurringly by Campus from that point forward, particularly his self-absorbed position as subject and object of the image, and also the use of video resources to contemplate perception and self. The making of the video coincided with Campus’ visit to Boston as an artist in residence of the experimental program New Television Workshop, sponsored by the public broadcasting network WGBH. The innovative philosophy of WGBH led it to develop a policy of active support for visual experimentation by artists of the first generation of video art.

Many people forget that many of the effects that were appropriated by mainstream television (e.g. cuts, titling, and graphic animation), came from the minds of video artists like Peter Campus, who developed distortion and layering effects for this early video.

Pippilotti Rist

Pipilotti Rist, the Swiss artist from whose overflowing mind and cameras these images came, finally got up and walked around, and so did everyone else on her creative team, a group that functions like a close-knit family, with Rist as the cool but fiercely involved mother. They had been in Brazil for almost two weeks at that point, installing what amounted to a mini-retrospective of Rist’s career in two small contemporary art spaces in São Paulo, one of which was this small, scrappy museum housed in a handsome white Modernist building that was once a private house.

CRITICISM OF RIST’S work, to the degree that there has been much, has usually focused on the concern that it is too colorful and friendly, especially in the realm of video art, whose roots lie mostly in using television-like images as a cudgel to knock people out of the trance largely fostered by television itself. (Take, for example, “Think,” Bruce Nauman’s 1993 wickedly simple work, which consists of images of his head bouncing toward each other like basketballs on two stacked monitors as he shouts “Think!” over and over at the viewer.)

Over the course of her career, Rist’s work has been defined less by small, single-screen works than by giant, room-sized installations. The immersive effect is designed to overwhelm the viewer, which can be hard to reproduce on a computer screen. This is nevertheless a decent-quality example.

Christian Marclay

The most famous work of video art in the world right now is Marclay’s The Clock (2010), a montage of recognizable moments from TV and movies that feature clocks or watches, which Marclay and his assistants pasted together to create a fairly accurate timepiece that could run continuously for 24 hours. Many historians have read Telephones as a harbinger of this kind of a supercut tribute to the history of cinema.

Gary Hill

Gary Hill’s work in video has been highly ambitious, and uncommonly eager to exploit as many different new media as possible. His pieces are long, richly produced, and regularly employ digital music compositions using an array of digital, analog, and acoustic instruments. Adding to this sophistication are written source material for Hill’s videos. For Incidence of Catastrophe, 1987-88,  Hill chose Maurice Blanchot’s Thomas the Obscure, a novel whose intermingling of visual “dialogue” and verbal storytelling was attractive to his own sensibilities.

Lisa Steele

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