Video Art

Started: 1965
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.

Summary of Video Art

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 & Accomplishments

Key Artists

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Progression of Art

1963

Sun In Your Head - Television Décollage

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.

16mm film transferred to video - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

1963

Sleep

Artist: Andy Warhol

In Sleep, Andy Warhol filmed his close friend and occasional lover John Giorno sleeping for five hours and twenty minutes. The piece's length means few people have watched it from beginning to end (two of the nine people who attended its premiere at The Gramercy Theater in New York left during its opening hour), and it is considered one of the first and most important works of durational art. Sleep looks at themes of intimacy, repetition, and duration, and is one of the first examples of what Warhol called his 'anti-films', in which he used hugely long, single takes to record his everyday experience and that of his friends. Although Sleep is a film rather than a video, Warhol's use of the camera, in which he just switched it on and walked away, make it stylistically much closer to art then film since he is clearly looking to bash Hollywood's conventions of narrative and the strategic manipulation of real time through editing.

The artist's use of such epic duration has been exceptionally influential, inspiring many contemporary film and video artists working today. Sam Taylor-Wood's hour-long film of David Beckham sleeping in 2004 directly referenced Warhol's piece. Christian Marclay's 24 hour-long epic Clock and Douglas Gordon's slowed version of Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece, 24 Hour Psycho, were also made in the same tradition.

Black and white film - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

1964

TV Cello

Artist: Nam June Paik

Fluxus artist Nam June Pak was one of the first artists to break the barriers between art and technology. TV Cello is a seminal example, specifically created for use in performance by the avant-garde cellist Charlotte Moorman. The work consisted of three television sets piled on top of each other, all showing different moving images - a film of Moorman performing live, a collaged video of other cellists and an intercepted broadcast feed. Ingeniously, the whole sculpture was also a fully operational cello, designed to be played with a bow to create a series of raw, electronic notes that reverberated through the space.

By appropriating the domestic television set as an art object in this way, Paik became one of the first artists to establish video as a serious artistic medium. By taking the television out of its normal setting and using it in such subversive performances, he wanted to question its increasingly dominant role in shaping public opinion.

Video tubes, TV Chassis, Electronics, Wiring - Walker Art Center, Minnesota

1967-68

Art Make-Up

Artist: Bruce Nauman

Art Make-Up consists of a series of four films set in Nauman's studio in which the artist slowly and ritualistically applies individual layers of color - white in the first, then pink, green and finally black - to his naked torso. The title refers simultaneously to the substance the artist is using, to the idea that he is "making himself up" for the viewer, and to the question "What is an artist made of?". Nauman was exploring the boundaries between disguise, masquerade, and reality by presenting these four versions of himself, none of which can be said to be the 'real' Bruce Nauman. Each ten-minute section was originally intended to show on four separate screens on the walls of one square room, with the viewer never witnessing the artist without a colored mask.

Bruce Nauman was one of the first video artists to work with the single take, fixed-camera technique that's demonstrated in Art Make-Up - a method in which the scene is shot from one perspective in one sitting. This created a sense of authenticity to the work, which, in its refusal of editing or fluctuating shots, allowed for a denial of the normal cinematic fluff-and-preen convention, an important distinction to many of these artists. These artists looked to the new medium to document and extend ideas around live performance - an approach that would influence generations of artists, including the so-called 'father of Chinese Video art' Zhang Peili and contemporary US conceptual artist Martine Syms. Along with his groundbreaking use of video to push the possibilities of art making to new limits, the work is also a prime example of Nauman's use of his own body as a tool for artistic exploration.

16mm film - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

1971

Facing A Family

Artist: Valie Export

In Facing A Family, Austrian feminist performance artist Valie Export filmed a family watching the camera as if it was a television set in their living room. Labeled a 'TV action' by the artist, the footage lasts for almost five minutes, during which time the viewer becomes more aware of the piece's mirror-like quality and the passing of time - it is as if the viewer and the family are gazing at each other.

The work was originally broadcast on Austrian television in 1971, ironically viewed by a large portion of the country's TV-consuming families. Export wanted viewers to reflect on the passive role they took on while being entertained, and to think about how we construe the contents of our television screen (fantasy versus reality). It was considered especially pioneering at the time, produced just as TV was becoming ever more dominant in lives of the public and concerns were being voiced about its increasing power.

Black and White Film - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

1972

Vertical Roll

Artist: Joan Jonas

Named after a type of television malfunction, Vertical Roll is a disrupted recording of Joan Jonas rehearsing for a performance in her studio as her masked alter ego, Organic Honey. As the image on the screen constantly rolls to a steady rhythm (which Jonas/Honey taps out, first with a spoon then a length of wood), we see various parts of the performer's body - her masked face; her wheeling legs; her rotating, corset-clad torso; and a shadow of her hand holding the spoon. All are shot from a dizzying variety of angles, abstracting many of the body parts so they appear strange and unfamiliar. Jonas also plays with and moves around the video's frame throughout the piece, highlighting the difference between her live activity and its videoed portrayal.

Vertical Roll is a prime example of Jonas's seminal video works of the 1970s that theatrically explored ideas of female identity. She often used her alter ego to investigate notions of masquerade and femininity, producing an elusive and disjointed self-portrait using what was, in the 1970s, a new and cutting-edge medium. She is considered a key figure in the history of both Performance and Video art, and has been enormously influential on many contemporary artists who use their bodies in performance to explore what it is to be female today, including Video artists Sarah Lasley and Amber Hawk Swanson.

Black and White Film - Video Data Bank

1972

Teaching A Plant The Alphabet

Artist: John Baldessari

Conceptual art pioneer John Baldessari made Teaching A Plant The Alphabet in direct response to Fluxus artist Joseph Beuys's innovative 1965 performance How To Explain Pictures To A Dead Hare. Described by Baldessari as "a perverse exercise in futility", the Portapak video consists of the artist's hand showing educational flashcards of the alphabet to a clearly unresponsive potted plant, repeating each letter slowly and deliberately, as if tutoring a small child. Like much of his work, the piece is full of irony and subtle humor, using everyday objects and a seemingly mundane task to explore broader philosophical concerns. In this case, those concerns are structuralist theories of the 1970s that presented language as a series of signs. Baldessari was also influenced by books published by members of the hippie movement, which encouraged people to communicate with their plants.

Teaching A Plant The Alphabet is one of the best-known examples of Baldessari's artistic exploration of ideas around language, dealt with using his characteristic sense of humor and offering a fresh, original perspective on what he called the 'pedantic' and uncompromisingly serious conceptual art of the day. The use of video allowed him to further his already quite established conceptual agenda by utilizing a brave new form to expand his ideas from a static space to a live one.

Black and White Film - Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC

1975

Semiotics of the Kitchen

Artist: Martha Rosler

In Semiotics of the Kitchen the artist walks into a kitchen, dons an apron, and proceeds to vocally identify kitchen objects in alphabetical order: a for apron, b for bowl, c for chopper, d for dish, etc. As she goes down the roster, she quickly demonstrates each object's use. For the last few letters u through z she simply makes the shape of the letter with broad sweeping gestures of her arms while holding a utensil in each hand. There is a violent force in the manner in which Rosler presents many of the objects, such as slamming down the meat tenderizer or jabbing violently with the ice pick, which contradicts society's image of the happy homemaker in a decidedly passive-aggressive fashion.

This work is an important example of how early Feminist artists co-opted the video medium to establish themselves as important new voices disembodied from the male art canon and its many years of more traditional artwork.

Video - Collection of Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York

1977-79

The Reflecting Pool

Artist: Bill Viola

The first in a series of tapes with the same name, The Reflecting Pool shows a man (Viola) approaching an artificial pool in the middle of a dense forest. As we hear trees rustling, water flowing and an airplane flying overhead, the man leaps into the air as if to jump into the pool, then remains frozen in mid-air, his image gradually fading into the foliage behind him. Eventually, he emerges from the pool as if reborn - Viola has said that he was portraying "the emergence of the individual into the natural world, a kind of baptism." He also used a simple masking effect to split the frame so that the human action above the water wasn't always reflected in it, turning the pool into a metaphor for the mystic and separating its strange world from the real one in the other half of the screen, while ensuring they remained united by the televisual frame.

This work marks the beginning of Viola's innovative use of special effects to explore notions of transcendence and spirituality. He wanted to use a medium that had previously been regarded as embodying the literal to explore invisible phenomena and examine the gap between the seen and the unseen. In subject as well as technique, Viola is seen as one of the most important artists working in video from the 1970s to the present day. His works have proved hugely influential on other, younger artists working in epic and immersive film and video such as Cremaster Cycle creator Matthew Barney, and Swiss video installation artist Pipilotti Rist.

Color video - The Art Institute of Chicago

1984

Why Do Things Get In A Muddle (Come On Petunia)

Artist: Gary Hill

In Why Do Things Get In A Muddle, Gary Hill constructs his own, twisted version of the classic literary nonsense story Alice In Wonderland. Hill had become fascinated with the concept of entropy - a term that refers to gradual descent into disorder - and wanted to explore it using video and sound. Most of the piece was performed and recorded backwards, including the exchange between the two characters (a childish woman called Cathy and her father), before being reversed again in the editing process. Their resulting confusing conversation about confusion itself was inspired by theoretician Gregory Bateson's definition of a 'metalogue', as quoted in the work's opening sequence: "When a conversation between people mirrors the problems themselves."

At thirty minutes long, this was the first video piece for which Hill wrote a full screenplay. Why Do Things Get In A Muddle was considered groundbreaking in its open, experimental approach to movement, sound and words, as well as the artist's inventive use of editing techniques to make a conceptual point. Contemporary artists who stretch the medium in similarly innovative ways include British artist Ed Atkins, who uses moving image, bodies and text in his subversive video installations. The work of US multimedia artist Adam Pendleton engages with language and meaning in ways that also owe a clear debt to Hill.

Color film - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Beginnings of Video Art

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.

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.

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.

Video Art: Concepts, Styles, and Trends

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 - After Video Art

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.

Similar Art

Cut Piece (1964)

How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (1965)

Un Chien Andalou (1929)

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