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Video Art

Started: 1965

Video Art Timeline

Quotes

"When you're making video you're giving structure to time, which is what a composer does."
Bill Viola
"For the purposes of art, video's theoretical and practical possibilities are so inconceivably vast, its versatility so immeasurably profound and of such perplexing unorthodoxy, that even after a quarter of a century, the medium's defenders are still struck with vertiginous awe as if glimpsing the sublime."
Mark Meyer, Being And Time: The Emergence of Video Projection
"TV has been attacking us all our lives, now we can attack it back."
Nam June Paik
"Someday artists will work with capacitors, resistors and semi-conductors as they work today with brushes, violins and junk."
Nam June Paik, Manifesto, 1965
"Recording something, I feel, is not so much capturing an existing thing, as capturing a new one."
Bill Viola
"Video art, as a genre of activity by artists, has been pushed around and roughed up by technological evolution from the earliest days."
Tom Sherman, The Nine Lives of Video Art
"This remarkable medium...has moved from brief showings on tiny screens in alternative art spaces to dominance in international exhibitions, in which vast video installations occupy factory-sized buildings and video projections take over the walls of an entire city block..."
Michael Rush
"Video installation is... undoubtedly the most complex artform in contemporary culture"
Margaret Morse

KEY ARTISTS

Nam June PaikNam June Paik
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VALIE EXPORTVALIE EXPORT
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Gary HillGary Hill
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Bruce NaumanBruce Nauman
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John BaldessariJohn Baldessari
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Wolf VostellWolf Vostell
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"The fundamental aspect of video is not the image, even though you can stand in amazement at what can be done electronically, how images can be manipulated and the really extraordinary creative possibilities. For me the essential basis of video is the movement - something that exists at the moment and changes in the next moment."

Bill Viola Signature

Synopsis

Video became an excitingly immediate medium for artists after its introduction in the early 1960s. The expensive technology, which had been available prior only within the corporate broadcasting arena, experienced an advent when Sony first created an economical consumer piece of equipment that allowed everyday people access to vast new possibilities in documentation. Understandably, this produced huge interest for the more experimental artists of the time, especially those involved with concurrent movements in Conceptual art, Performance and experimental film. It provided a cheap way of recording and representation through a dynamic new avenue, shattering an art world where forms such as painting, photography, and sculpture had been the long-held norm. This expanded the potential of individual creative voice and challenged artists to stretch toward new plateaus in their careers. It has also birthed an unmistakable population of artists who may never have entered the fine art field if stifled by the constraints of utilizing traditional mediums. With warp speed over the last half century, video has become accessible by the populous, spawning a continual evolution of its use; we live in an age where even your everyday smartphone has the ability to create high caliber works of art through the use of an ever increasing assortment of applications.

We now consider Video art to be a valid means of artistic creation with its own set of conventions and history. Taking a variety of forms - from gallery installations and sculptures that incorporate television sets, projectors, or computer peripherals to recordings of performance art to works created specifically to be encountered via distribution on tape, DVD or digital file - video is now considered in rank equal to other mediums. It is considered a genre rather than a movement in the traditional sense and is not to be confused with theatrical cinema, or artists' (or experimental) film. Although the mediums may sometimes appear interchangeable, their different origins cause art historians to consider them distinct from each other. So popular a medium, many art schools now offer video as a specialized art major.

Key Ideas

With the introduction of the television set in the second half of the twentieth century, people gained a new all-consuming pastime. Many artists of the era used video to make works that highlighted what they saw as TV's encroaching and progressively insidious power by producing parodies of advertising and television programs. They pointed provocative fingers at the way society had become (passively) entranced with television or had succumbed to its seductive illusions. By co-opting the technologies of this medium, artists brought their own perspectives to the table, rounding out the brave new world of broadcasting ability to include creative, idiosyncratic, and individualized contributions.
Some artists have used video to make us think more critically about, and oftentimes look to dissect, Hollywood film conventions. By eschewing the typical templates of formulaic narration, or by presenting intensely personal and taboo subjects on screen as works of art, or by jostling our ideas about how a film should look and feel, these artists use the canvas borrowed from the cinema to eradicate preconceived ideas of what is suitable, palatable, or focus-group-friendly.
Looking beyond video's recording capabilities, many artists use it as a medium for its intrinsic properties with work that mimics more traditional forms of art like painting, sculpture, collage, or abstraction. This might emerge as a series of blurred, spliced scenes composed as a visual image. It may take the shape of a recording of performance meant as a reflection on movement or the perception of space. It may consist of actual video equipment and its output as objects in a work. Finally, it may be a work that could not exist without the video component such as art pieces that utilize video signals, distortion and dissonance, or other audiovisual manipulations.
Because Video art was radically new for its time, some artists who were trying to push limits in contemporary society felt video an ideal format for their own work. This can be seen in the Feminist art movement in which many women, who hoped to distance and distinguish themselves from their male artist forebears, chose the medium for its newness, its sense of progression, and its opportunities that had not been widely tapped or established yet. We saw this politically, too, as many artists with a cause began using video as a means to spread their message. It appeared socially as well, as many people working to expose or spread important, underexposed information, felt the medium was conducive to both grass roots affordability and yet very broad distribution capabilities.

Most Important Art

Video Art Famous Art

Sun In Your Head - Television Décollage (1963)

Artist: Wolf Vostell
For Sun In Your Head - Television Décollage, German artist Wolf Vostell distorted and played with various single frames that he'd sourced from film and television of the time (such as a smiling woman; words such as "Silence Please! Genius At Work!" or an embracing couple, for example). The resulting piece is a fast-paced, flickering mish-mash of televisual images that veer from flashing, abstracted shapes to recognizable forms. The work was shown as part of Vostell's nine-part 'happening' - 9 Decollagen - which took place in Wuppertal, Germany in 1963. As no video playback technology was available at the time, Vostell recorded the images from a television set using a film camera, allowing him to edit the piece and play it back on a projector.

With its highly experimental technique and subversive form, Sun In Your Head was one of the first works to examine the possibilities of television as a medium in its own right. It employs his innovative use of the decollage technique, first associated with the French Nouveau Realisme movement who used the term to describe their ripping, erasing, and reworking of Parisian posters to create new information. Vostell used it to refer to the re-mixing and layering of image and sound he employed to create a new artistic language in his Video art. A pioneer of the European branches of the Fluxus and Happening movements, Vostell is considered one of the most influential early Video artists - he was also the first to use a television as an object in an artwork in 1958.
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Video Art Artworks in Focus:

Beginnings

Although artists have been creating moving images in some form since the early 20th century, the first works to be widely labeled as 'Video art' are from the 1960s. The first nationalities to pick up on the Portapak as an artistic tool - and therefore those who made the earliest pieces of Video art - were, unsurprisingly, from those countries where it first became commercially available (the US and the UK were the early practitioners).

Nam June Paik - 'The Father Of Video Art'

In the same way that the 'father of conceptual art' Marcel Duchamp had declared an ordinary urinal to be a work of art when he created his first and most infamous readymade in 1917, the 'father of Video art' Nam June Paik first established video as a credible artistic medium in 1965, when he claimed his footage of the Pope's visit to New York to be a serious artwork. When Korean-American Fluxus artist Nam June Paik, glimpsed the pontiff by chance while sitting in traffic, he recorded it on his Portapak, and presented the grainy, barely edited result later that evening at a screening at the Cafe A Go Go in Greenwich Village (though some art historians have disputed Paik's claim that it was indeed the Portapak that he used, asserting that Sony did not release it until 1968.) What is not disputed is that this work, along with Paik's 1963 Fluxus exhibition at Galerie Parnass in Paris - where he showed his first reworked television sculptures - were some of the first pieces of art made using the newly accessible medium of video.

Nam June Paik famous TV-Buddha video installation (1974)
Nam June Paik famous TV-Buddha video installation (1974)

After his seminal 1965 screening, Paik wrote a short manifesto encouraging artists and activists to use video as a tool for empowerment to fight back against the establishment, especially what he called 'one-way' broadcast television companies - a utopian mission he would continue to pursue throughout his long career. He also predicted that 'as collage replaced oil paint, the cathode ray tube will replace the canvas' He would go on to pioneer the use of broadcast, video installation, live events, and artists' screenings, all of which are modes practiced by artists today.

Broader Adoption of Video

It was in the 1970s that many of the key figures in Video art started to make their most important works. Many of these early practitioners were, like Paik, eager to explore the impermanent and transient qualities of the medium. It was adopted notably early by American artists such as John Baldessari, Joan Jonas, and Bruce Nauman to further their conceptual agendas. In the UK, David Hall campaigned vigorously for video to be accepted as a valid art form and wrote widely about it as a medium, as well as producing important works of his own.

An interest in video as a tool for activism arose in the 1970s as well. It allowed for documentation, which to some activists offered an opportunity to prove the injustices they sought to change; or, it allowed for a presentation of their message in a boldly, undeniable way. A powerful example of this was Videofreex's Davidson's Jail Tape (1971). After getting arrested at the 1971 May Day events in Washington D.C., a Videofreex member films rarely seen raw footage of his ride on the bus to jail, his detainment in the cell, and an up close and personal look at the inmates.

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Video Art Overview Continues

Technology Dictating Art

As technologies such as color television, special effects, thermal imaging, consumer electronics, surveillance cameras and video projection were introduced and developed, their impact was seen in the work of video artists. The toolkit available in the 1980s became immeasurably larger than the prior decade and allowed artists to produce more spectacular works. Laurie Anderson often played with voice distortion, most memorably when she created The Clone, a digitally altered male version of herself. Bill Viola became known for his use of extreme slow motion. Gary Hill would go on to experiment widely with electronic sound and language, creating his own "electronic linguistics."

Additionally, some of the most prominent experimental filmmakers became intrigued with video and later developed highly regarded Video art practices that sat alongside and were informed by their cinema-based work. Chris Marker, for example, made a number of well-known pieces of Video art in the 1990s, including Zapping Zones (1992), featuring a mixture of his previous film and television works in an immersive gallery installation, and an interactive 'multimedia memoire' on CD-ROM called Immemory in 1998.

Concepts and Styles

Video allowed artists from various movements to expand their existing toolkit and get their diverse ideas across in an unprecedentedly immediate way. Video's portability and ease of use allowed practitioners to record their actions or performances in a way previously unimaginable. These artists all used video to produce extraordinarily direct and personal artworks that hadn't been possible with any other medium. Thus, the innovation of the technology equaled an evolution in artistic possibility.

The Power of Television

The growing popularity of broadcast television had a strong influence on early Video art practitioners in particular. Artists such as Wolf Vostell and Martha Rosler sought to highlight what they saw as TV's progressively insidious power by producing parodies of advertising and television programs. Some feminists used video to showcase society's sexism via popular culture. Dara Birnbaum, for instance, often deconstructed popular television programs, like Wonder Woman, with key female characters, which she then compiled as moving visual images that questioned stereotype and objectification. Still others, like Nam June Paik and Brian Hoey, challenged viewers to think about their own passive role in television's domination by using live video feeds in their installations to reflect audience images back at themselves. Paik was also inspired by the question of how television and its relationship to modern technology vis-a-vis contemporary man might affect the profound and the spiritual vis-a-vis ancient man. His work Buddha Watching TV (1974-1997) became a twenty-three year meditation on this question; a stone head of a Buddha contemplating a television set reflective of Paik's sentiment. Many of these works represented a desire by artists to morph the television experience into a redefined impetus of focusing on the unique, the personal, the political and the non-commercial.

Defying Film Conventions

When Video art was in its birthing stages, film had already been widely established as a credible means of entertainment, a medium for telling stories, and a widespread, mainstream choice in encountering the multitude of human experience, once removed from self. But artists working with video were quick to give themselves permission to ignore Hollywood's conventions, even ignore rules of narration, and to experiment with presenting moving pictures and sound according to their own terms. This meant work that defied expected notions of plot or character establishment, but instead put forth pictures (sometimes with sound) that denoted an artist's emotion, statement, or snapshot). In some cases, Video offered no real explanation, but was intended merely for the viewer to experience a feeling, reflect on a theme, or get a glimpse into the artist's mind, as chaotic or calm that might be. With no tight weave from beginning to end, these works were impact-established and went against everything film was supposed to mean. In some way, this defiance can be said about almost all Video artists from the 1960s through now - in particular, Andy Warhol slashed cinema's ideas of presenting long stories in condensed spaces by producing videos such as Andy Warhol's Sleep, (1971) which is nothing more than an hours long glimpse at a sleeping man. And, in Joan Jonas' Vertical Roll (1972), we find a gradual unfolding of the self portrait of the artist through random images of her body interspersed with other objects and elements - a distinctly non-narrative collage, radical in its non-linearity or logical make-up.

Video as Medium

Video is an electronic signal that can be manipulated, distorted, amplified, and transformed. For many video artists, an interest in video for these inherent qualities was akin to an abstract painter's interest in oils, brushes, shapes, and structure. Some artists produced works that played with the medium itself and as technologies have improved, the opportunities in using video for its material qualities have also vastly evolved. A prominent example in this category is artist Peer Bode, who has been enacting this type of mechanical collaboration since the '70s. In his Flute with Shift, (1979) we see an image on screen of a man playing the flute, which shifts in brightness according to the controlled analog synthesizer parameter of the live flute sounds. Video Free America Founder Skip Sweeney was known for installations that played with video feedback, abstract image processing, and synthesis. Bill Viola has always regularly tweaked video to achieve multi-layered effects in ways that visually collude with his investigations into spirituality, humanity, the body's place within the context of space, experience and time, and other probes into our existence.

Installation Art

The early works of Paik and Vostell that presented televisions as sculptural elements laid the foundation for later 'video installation' works. Contemporary Video art shown in a gallery can be classified as either 'single-channel' (one screen) or 'installation' works (those that are designed specifically to be projected into an exhibition space, potentially with more than one image and including additional components such as props or sculpture.) Artists such as Gary Hill, Bill Viola, and Joan Jonas are considered pioneers of video installation as an art form, taking full advantage of the architectural features in a gallery, for example, to fully involve their work within the space. Again, the development of display technologies has had a huge impact on the kind of work being produced. US artist Peter Campus, for example, projected viewers' own images onto their shadows in his 1974 work Shadow Projection, while multimedia artist Tony Oursler started making his immersive environments featuring projections of faces onto sculptures in the early 1980s.

Installation Art Movement Page

Video Recordings of Events and Performances

Video also became an invaluable tool for artists such as Paik, the Viennese Actionists, Robert Smithson, and Marina Abramovic to make a permanent record of their live art events. This type of Video art is more about preserving a piece for perpetuity than a work in its own right, though some pieces (such as Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty (1970)) are often installed and shown in galleries as artworks rather than mere documentation. Four of Abramovic's performances at the Galerie Mike Steiner in Berlin from 1975-76 can be found online. Each of the events made history and are written about widely, yet their impact surely may have been diffused had they not continued to exist in video form for future generations to witness as an important historical part of the performance genre. Similarly, with Vito Acconci's Sounding Board (1970) performance in which he lay naked on a pair of speakers to virtually feel the music pulsate through his body while a collaborator massaged him in accordance with the beats. What makes these pieces of Video art so important is that they reach not only audiences in the years in which they were spawned, but they continue to be seen by future generations on such mass-accessible means as YouTube and social media, remaining important remnants of the overall art canon.

Performance Art Movement Page

Later Developments

Nam June Paik's early prediction on the dominance of video has become, at least partially, true. Although Video art has by no means replaced the more traditional mediums in the contemporary art world, it has become an exhaustive field which certainly complements them.

Contemporary Video art practices continue to expand in both form and content, allowing artists to experiment with new ideas and new technologies. The growth of high definition digital video over the last decade, for example, has enabled artists to produce work of expanded clarity. The humorous mock-documentaries of American performance artist Alex Bag, complex animations of British Ed Atkins and French artist Laure Provoust's detailed projections are all made to an extremely high production value far removed from the grainy, scratchy videos made in the 1960s. This technology is now available through a wide proliferation of intuitive and DIY software programs easily adaptable across computers, tablets, cameras, smartphones and the Internet. This has opened the context of how and where art can be shown as well.

Today's video artists build upon inspiration from early Video art pioneers yet bring an enhanced knowledge of the constantly transforming technology to the table. Some examples are more true to video's origin much like the large, highly atmospheric projections of French artist Phillippe Parreno, or the ever more elaborate, architecturally-scaled video installations of Swiss Pipilotti Rist - both of whom use modern projectors and special effects to push the medium in ever more visually impressive and conceptually complex directions. One can find hints of Warhol's love of real time footage with doses of the video collagist in Christian Marclay's The Clock (2010), which ran for 24 hours and featured a mash up of images of clocks from iconic movie scenes. Additionally, Andrew Thomas Huang gained worldwide attention in 2007 with his video Doll Face; a critique on the influence television has on our self-image. Ryan Trecartin is noted for bringing a gay male angle to Video art by interjecting oftentimes garishly presented stereotypes into otherwise normative images and video clips.

Some video artists tote signs of the post-millennial age with cutting edge video works. Revolutionary post-Internet artist, Cory Archangel's most famous piece Super Mario Clouds (2002) featured hacked, pixelated images of the popular video game sailing across blue skies on a website, which can still be seen on YouTube. Although the original launch of the piece took place in a gallery on various screens of different heights and sizes to create a fully immersive experience, the online video is now all that remains. Incredibly smart British artist Hannah Black usually sources online imagery by typing in search terms to find pieces that will eventually inform her themed collage videos. In her piece My Bodies (2014), she Googled "CEO" and "executive" to compile images of white men upon which she overlaid audio tracks of black recording artists such as Rihanna. As more video artists look to the Internet as a platform, and the current methodology continues to morph toward the use of webcams, virtual reality, and interactive animation, the field that has consistently burgeoned like a self-feeding mushroom, will no doubt continue to expound upon itself at a rapid pace.


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Useful Resources on Video Art

Videos

Books

Websites

Articles

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
Video Art: A Guided Tour (2005) Recomended resource

By Catherine Elwes
An index of Video Art artists and the history of that artmaking practice

A History of Video Art: The Development of Form and Function (2006)

By Chris Meigh-Andrews
Comprehensive history on Video Art practices

artists

Nam June Paik: Global Visionary (2013) Recomended resource

Image-based collection of prominent Paik works

Bill Viola (2015) Recomended resource

Compilation of notable Bill Viola works accompanied by explanations of the works

More Interesting Books about Video Art
National Gallery of Art: Nam June Paik Recomended resource

Museum page for the artist

Bruce Nauman Art21 Feature Page Recomended resource

Featured artist page includes videos and background on the artist

Joan Jonas Art21 Feature Page

Featured artist page includes videos and background on the artist

Back to the Future: 50 Years of Video Art at the Broad Art Museum, MSU Recomended resource

By Barbara Pollack
Art News
February, 12, 2016

Has Video Art Become Obsolete?

By Jonathan Jones
The Guardian
January 23, 2013

Nam June Paik: The Father of Contemporary Video Art

By C.A Xuan Mai Ardia
Culture Trip

Nam June Paik - Becoming Robot / Asia Society Museum NY Recomended resource

Video of the 2014 exhibition

Charlotte Moorman performs with Paik's 'TV Cello'

Video of performance / installation

Nam June Paik - Venus

Exhibition view of installation/ sculpture with brief curatorial discussion

Art21 - Bruce Nauman: "Poke in the Eye / Ear / Nose" Recomended resource

Bruce Nauman discussing one of his video works

More Interesting Videos about Video Art
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