Students will create a performance video that translates / reinacts / remixes a personal or cultural text (broadly defined). This could mean a diary entry, a song, a film, an essay, a common comment you might recieve from strangers, etc.
For this assignment students will create a 3-dimensional (broadly defined) site-specific work that engages reflexively about a place. What are the political, formal, historical qualities? Who uses the space? Who doesn’t use the space?
Your work can be an formal or political intervention, a reflection, a sculpture, an ephemeral sculpture, a temporary monument, etc. Your piece should help us view your site in a new, more profound way. Keep in mind that documentation will be important so plan accordingly.
For you second video you are to create a 3-5 minute personal video (broadly defined) which utilizes strategies of montage, juxtaposition, and the creation of relationships between various footage captured by you. You will also create the sound design for your video the majority of which should be recorded by you.
In groups or individually, students will produce three static 1 minute videos. Plan several shots that you believe will be compelling. Consider composition, movement, time, rhythm, etc.
Building on your first series of videos, create a soundscape for each video. Re-shoot your videos if necessary. One will use diegetic sound, one will use non-diegetic sound, one with both. Student should use audio recorders to capture audio as well as the video recorder.
This is meant to help you with some basic skill building and intro to video language, software, and audio.
As suggested by Horsfield, video emerged with the Sony Portapak in 1965. The Portapak was the first “affordable” and portable video camera available to consumers. Because the Portapak was still expensive ($1,000 – 3,000 in 1967, compared to $10 – 20,000 TV cameras) many groups of artist and activists bought a camera collectively and shared it for their multiple projects, and commonly worked collaboratively.
It is important to understand that the entrance of the Portapak into the market and the emergence of video art corresponded with a groundswell of cultural and political activism contemporaneous with the Vietnam War and what many deemed as US Imperialism, racism, the beginnings of a resurgent feminist movement, and a vibrant counter-culture. In short, there were several massive social movements. As of part of this cultural shift, particularly with young people, it is hard to underestimate the influence of Television on Americans in the mid-60s, which approximately 90% of households owned. With only three network channels, the political spectrum presented was often narrow, which was cause for great concern for many early adopters of video and the Portapak. In this light we can begin to understand how many young activists saw Television as the primary means through which information was being disseminated, and thus to create their own content was, in a way, to also take control of the means of production in one aspect of culture. These activists wanted to be producers of content rather than spectators of Television, and create a different, more grassroots narrative of what was happening on the ground. Thus we begin to see collectives forming like the People’s Video Theater and Videofreex. These collectives were the first to take the camera into the streets, interviewing participants of social movements, demonstrations, and marches. It would not be a stretch to say these collectives created a style of Television we would later call “on the scene,” (they preferred “Guerilla TV”) now even more common post-internet and post cell-phone cameras. The point was to democratize video, for the spectators to begin authors in their own right.
Below is the trailer for Here Comes the Videofreex, which will help you get a sense of the climate these activists were stepping into, their style of shooting video, and their goals.
Below you can get a sense of the kinds of video Videofreex were producing and how they attempted to create content of social and political significance. This an interview with Fred Hampton, leader of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party, a few weeks before he was murdered by the FBI in 1969. Notice the intimacy of the recording and the willingness of the videographer to be open to Hampton’s thoughts. To offer the Black Panthers a platform on a video form was extremely uncommon in 1969.
Videofreex interview Fred Hampton, 1969
Artist were also using video to explore power, although in a quite different fashion. Horsfield cites Vito Acconci’s Prying, (18m, 1971). Note the use of the body and time to affect the viewers attraction / repulsion to the video. This is common with Acconci, and illustrates one of the strategies time-based media will use frequently in the years following. Of course, to not discuss gender in relation to power with this video is impossible. That a masculine performer (VIto Acconci) is attempting to trespass the feminine performer’s (Kathy Dillon) bodily space is significant. Here is the description from the distributor, EAI:
“A documentation of a live performance at New York University, Pryings is a graphic exploration of the physical and psychological dynamics of male/female interaction, a study in control, violation and resistance. The camera focuses tightly on Kathy Dillon’s face, as Acconci tries to pry open her closed eyes. Dillon resists, at times protecting her face or fighting to get away. Locked in a silent embrace, the couple’s struggle is violent, passionate; Acconci’s sadistic coercion is tinged with a sinister tenderness. The body is a vehicle for a literal enactment of the desire for and resistance against intimate contact.
Acconci writes, ‘The performer will not come to terms, she shuts herself off, inside the box(monitor), my attempt is to force her to face out, fit into the performer’s role, come out in the open.’”
Please be aware this video is very hard to watch, particularly for those sensitive to depictions of violence. TRIGGER WARNING.
Joan Jonas’ Vertical Roll (1972) is a “performance piece re-scanned from an image on a monitor on the vertical roll control that was set off kilter. The effect is of an image continuously rolling vertically out of the frame that deliberately interferes with the visual pleasure of watching a woman on camera.” But Jonas is also altering the reliability of the televisual signal. One way to read this action — destablilizing the signal — is an act of power, to destabilize the medium of television, particularly as it intersect with a reinforcement of patriarchal values. To put it another way, Jonas doubles her critique by simultaneously showing the instability of form of television while disrupting the common representations of women-as-objects, disrupting our ability to view women as objects of pleasure. The video refuses the viewing an opportunity to participate in voyeuristic viewing of the woman’s body, and refuses a pleasurable viewing experience. In this way, Jonas deploys an antagonistic strategy toward the viewer, another strategy artists will employ in various ways.
One could view Vertical Roll as a structural critique of the form of video, of television. To disrupt the structure of something is it make note of the ideological foundations that support a given form. In Jonas’ case, it was both the form of television/video as well as representations of women in popular media. Rosler will take employ strategy by writing a performance and series of actions that uses mimicry to destabilize perceptions of white, domestic, femininity. Horsfield notes that Rosler’s important video could be read as strategically deconstructing feminine signifiers “the securely understood signs of domestic industry and food production erupt into anger and violence. In this alphabet of kitchen implements, states Rosler, “when the woman speaks, she names her own oppression.” (EAI description) As Angelica said eloquently in class, the subtleties of Rosler’s bodily movements — how she holds her body, her posture, her gestures — as well as actions (the stabbing of the fork, the slashing of the knife) suggest her strength, power, and a subversion of how we commonly understand feminine characteristics; her strong body, her unwillingness to smile or perform for the camera, he sharp, violent movements with the kitchen objects, all subvert the domestic space and femininity as a space of service and instead a site of power, subversion, and violent temperament boiling just beneath the surface.
Martha Rosler, Semiotics of the Kitchen, 1975
Dara Birnbaum invokes similar strategies political strategies as Rosler in analyzing and pointing to common gendered gestures on a popular television show, Wonder Woman. Notice how post-production becomes more important for Birnbaum, who incorporates more effects to emphasize particular aspects the video. In terms of the history of video technology, this corresponds with more affordable post-production equipment, which accounts for less editing and post production with early video art. Repetition, cuts, and montage become significant strategies in Birnbaum’s work unlike what we’ve seen before in video. Technology / Transformation is also an early use of appropriation, which will make use of popular media in order to deconstruct and subvert its’ gendered messaging.
Birnbaum points to the not-so-subtle sexism in the shows framing. Birnbaum writes: “The abbreviated narrative — running, spinning, saving a man — allows the underlying theme to surface: psychological transformation versus television product. Real becomes Wonder in order to “do good” (be moral) in an (a) or (im)moral society.” In post-production Birnbaum makes use of repetition and effects to emphasize the “real” woman who transforms into Wonderwoman and the ways Television’s code can gloss its ideological meaning. Finally, Birnbaum points us to the explicit sexualized lyrics of the theme song, hammering home her
Through storytelling and role play Pindell both offers a personal narrative of what it means for her to be black as well as an analysis of whiteness — its common understandings, phrases, and dismissals — of black experience. Pindell’s double-character could be read as an attempt to take some unsympathetic viewers words right out their mouth, while cynically point out the common and tired narrative many white folks reiterate in the face of black experience. Pindell simultaneously brings us into her world, sharing her experiences. Pindell also uses mimicry and strategies of deconstruction to articulate and thus destabilize common rhetorical strategies to de-legitimize her black experience. Note how Pindell used storytelling, a time-based strategy, to bring us into her world.
Pindell also eloquently speaks to the art historical canon in stating that her work, as a black woman, will not be recognized unless it uses white symbols. As the “white” performer/antagonist says: “Your art isn’t political, either. You’re experiences have to be in your art in a way that we consider valid. If your symbols aren’t used in a way that we use them, then, we won’t acknowledge them.” Here Pindell makes powerful commentary on the ways the art world can often deligitimate modes of expression that fall outside of the accepted modes of making and expression. Pindell reinforces that what is accepted as a legitimate mode of artistic expression is often a highly racialized one.
Paper Tiger Television, founded in 1981 and based in New York City was “an early innovator in video art and public access television of the early 80’s, PTTV developed a unique, handmade, irreverent aesthetic that experimented with the television medium by combining art, academics, politics, performance and live television.” It is important to remember that public access (as pioneered by collectives like Videofreex, discussed above) was one of only a few channels, likely three or four. Below is a live performance for PTTV in which “Rosler deconstructs the messages in Vogue and its advertising. Rosler looks at the institutional slants of the magazine industry and the fashion industry’s reliance on sweatshops.” (ubu.com) Rosler will employs many of the strategies we’ve also discussed — critique, deconstruction, and subversion — in an explicit and direct manner while flipping through the pages of Vogue. Significantly, Rosler also connects gender to issues of class and economics, specifically capitalism, by drawing connections between content of the magazine, its owners, and its advertisements. Finally, it is important to emphasize that do-it-yourself nature of PTTV, which views itself autonomous from the network television and working directly against it using the same medium (TV). Understanding the DIY ethics of PTTV is essential to understanding their significance as well as their artistic and political project.
Pipilloti Rist’s I’m Not the Girl Who Misses Much is the last video we’ll view here, although obviously the “history of video art” is much more profound, complex, and does end in 1986! I elected to show this video because I think is illustrates how, technically speaking, video began to shift with the technology that became available. Rist’s use of post-production foreshadows many strategies arts can and will use in the future thanks to technology, which include audio manipulation, screen transitions, etc.
“Rist’s classic video takes on rock music with its own tools, pushing pop’s repetitive strategies and representations of women to absurd lengths. Footage of the artist chanting the piece’s title (a line adapted from The Beatles’ song Happiness is a Warm Gun) is replayed at high and low speeds, with obscuring video effects, blurring into an almost painterly procession of images. Rist’s manipulation renders her voice into a parody of female hysteria and her body into a grotesquely dancing doll. Through obsessive mimesis Rist exhausts any possible legibility of the words, only to finally deliver John Lennon singing the “real” song.” (EAI description)
Each student will choose an artist from the course website (under “Very Incomplete list of artists to check out”) and give a 10-minute presentation to the class. Artists not included on the website are acceptable, but must be cleared with the instructor first. Additionally, you will complete a 2-3 page research paper on the artist OR a 2-3 page analysis of 1-2 works (by the artist). 1-2 students present each class, which means your presentations will be due on different days throughout the semester. All research papers are due the day of your presentation (typed and printed). We’ll sign up for dates on week three after you all have a chance to look at your schedules. Guidelines: 12 pt, Times New Roman, double-spaced
This assignment is meant to help develop your research, writing, and speaking skills about artworks — all centrally important to artists and writers alike. You should consider while researching: contemporary issues artists may engage in, who their audience is, if they are successful in the goals they set for themselves as artists, how you respond to their work, what the value of the work is, any relevant topics to your artists (i.e. ‘feminism,’ ‘technology,’ ‘race’, etc). Additionally this will help all of us get a better understanding of contemporary art.
If you have never written about art before, start with the basics: What do you see? What are the formal elements of the artwork and what to they signify for you? For example a desolate landscape with a singular figure may represent loneliness; a shopping mall suggests consumerism; the dinner table might suggest a space for meeting or breaking bread. Consider how the artwork makes you feel, what is makes you think about, what it reminds of you, etc. These are all great starting points for interrogating a work of art. Also consider the context of the work: where was it displayed? How does that affect your understanding of it? For example: an installation designed for a factory is different than one designed for a museum. Also part of context are when and where the piece was made — artwork made about America might be significantly different before and after 9/11, just as artwork made by an Iraqi artist may be different than that of an American artist.
This introductory studio course explores video and it’s relationship to art, technology and contemporary culture. Designed to provide a workshop environment for students to develop their artistic practice, the course focuses on individual production, group projects and critical discussion. Students become familiar with the unique capabilities of video and sound through screenings, technical workshops, readings, projects, class discussions and critiques of work. While students learn the basic technical skills associated with video and sound, the class is first and foremost designed to challenge students to think critically as artists.