Magazine article School Arts

Video Art

Magazine article School Arts

Video Art

Article excerpt


Video art

The "idiot box"...the "boob tube"...could it be the source of art, the subject of theoretical writing and criticism, the content of museum exhibitions around the world? Video, a relative newcomer to the world of art, has much to offer. It challenges traditional aesthetics and conveys a grasp of reality that many other art forms cannot claim.

The evolution of an art form

Crossing all the media boundaries, video attracted painters, theatre directors and writers, sculptors, architects and musicians. A long awaited alternative to the previously commercially monopolized form of communication had arrived. In the hands of these artists it would prove to be a new vehicle for artistic expression as well as a forever altered communication tool.

An art form not even three decades old, video art is enjoying the world's renewed interest. Artists are being offered large, prestigious exhibitions sometimes resulting in museum as well as private purchases.

Video technology

All video systems are essentially magnetic memory storing of picture and sound. The process works through a camera or other transmitter which encodes a magnetic impulse onto a coated tape (similar to audio tape). The signals are recorded immediately without any chemical processing and are ready for replay via a television or video monitor--hence the term, "real time technology."

Prior to the late 1960s, video equipment was too expensive and cumbersome to excite significant interest into television as an art form. In the summer of 1968, Sony of Japan began the American marketing of low-cost portable video equipment, thus providing tools for artists who were waiting for an opportunity to respond to, manipulate and advance the commercially entrenched television medium. Portable video is to television technology what the copy machine is to the Gutenberg press.

"Happenings" and DaDa-related experiments of the sixties helped set the stage for a new generation of artists who were at work producing an ongoing commentary, and sometimes rejection, of academic museum and critics' positions on contemporary art. Noted visual artists who were creating video works during this period include Vito Acconci, Lynda Benglis, Les Levine, Bruce Navman, Tony Ramos, William Wegman and Nam June Paik.

Looking carefully

Nam June Paik's unique perspective on the technology, combined with his humor and goals of demystification and deconstruction, are all evident in the robot sculptures of 1986--Family of Robot. Representing generations and change, these "art-machines"/sculptures include grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles and children. Each piece was created by an assemblage of television sets and radio cabinets into robot form. Vintage sets and contemporary models were used, but all old electronic hardware was replaced with new components and fed with imagery from multiple sources. Family of Robot seems to contemplate the past while humorously commenting on the future. Paik makes a personal statement about viewer passivity and the prediction for a world culture of TV robots based on the industry's offerings of simulated reality.

In the 70s, Paik began to plan "global video events." These events would link the world via satellites and produce cross-cultural exchanges. Family of Robot and the world-wide satellite broadcasts propose an alternative--a culture that uses the versatility, immediacy and ubiquity of video technology to further understanding between cultures.


Opposition to the industry's offerings has been taken up by many other video artists. Dara Birnbaum, who came to video with degrees in both architecture and painting, uses the form to investigate and criticize commercial broadcast television. Birnbaum's videotapes use the very material in question to make her comments.

With re-edited, re-ordered images from commercially broadcast series like Wonder Woman, PM Magazine and Laverne and Shirley, Birnbaum proposes reexamination of the form, its inherent biases, power structures and messages sent to viewers. …

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