No more identity crisis for video art

While use of video equipment to capture the three dimensional sculpture, it has gone well beyond that of mere documentation - but has entrenched itself in a category of video sculpture.

Video art has long struggled for a distinctive identity,

Unlike other art forms video suffers from a superficial resemblance to a number of other media. Given that it's an audio-visual time based medium, it has inevitably invited comparison with film, or worst a "poor relation to film". Similarly give that video art is often displayed on a monitor, it also bear a resemblance to two other smalls screen media, television and computing. Although both these media have been readily embraced by most video artist, t hey have nevertheless functioned to blur the identity of video art. Furthermore, for many people TV, computers and video are more readily categorised as communications technologies than they are as art forms.

Nor as mention as earlier, it not site specific, it has no clearly associated with a single viewing space.

And further, those who practised in the field have come from such a variety of backgrounds in sculpture, performance, conceptual art, sculpture, photography, and the artists are seen as simply extending on from a more established fine art tradition.

Or as a parallel to their continuing work in painting and sculpture or conceptual practices, for example such major video artist of the sixties as Vito Acconci, Dan Graham, Bruce Nauman, and Lawrence Weiner.

These has even been with the notion that access to such equipment is open to the general public, and in some way the skill level of operating a video camera is somehow not on the same level of painting or sculpturing. And certainly doesn't carry the financial burdens o f filmmaking.

With all this in mind ,it is little wonder that rather than attempting to narrow a definition or seek an outright identity to video art, there is real case to expanding the term.

Knight, Julia (ed) In Search of an Identity: Distribution, Exhibition and the Process of British Video Art, University of Luton Press, Luton, 1996, p221

Video established itself firmly as a valid practice of representation-production. From

Since then however the use of video technology has become the central production tool for younger generation of artists, many of whom have had no background I the traditional academic disciplines of art a t all but come directly out of film,, TV studies, dramatic arts, even architecture.

While some involved in earlier work could have produced the same results with film equipment, other such as Dan Graham, Bruce Nauman, and Richard Serra were explicitly involved in a "phenomenological analysis of the viewers' relationship to the sculptural construct and to the surrounding architectural container were successful in employing video technology in its most essential and specific capacities of simultaneous recording and reproduction, feedback of image and sound, duration and delay of temporal experience in the context of a sculptural installation."

They deliberately ignored the technologies origin and containment in the mass cultural industry of TV. Gadget Video to Agit Video: Some Notes on Four Recent Video Works, P217, Benjamin H D Buchloh, Art Journal, Fall, 1985.



Video art started in the early sixties, with the use of television monitors and their broadcast image by both Wolf Vostell and Nam June Paik. Paik's early experiments involved placing magnets against he monitor to distort the broadcast image, essentially "foregrounding the mechanics of reproduction" in an attempt to reclaim or atleast throw stone at television. Cubitt, Sean, Videography: Video Media as Art and Culture, MacMillan Education Ltd., London, 1993. p32.

Video art has been defined as everything from reel-to-reel pieces that explored the nature of the image to question modes of perception and work produced via the manipulation of video's electrical signal in a TV studio, through narrative based work using U-Matic, Betacam or SVHS formats to address questions of representation and explorations of the personal or the self, to edit based format of Scratch and work that draws on digital imaging or special effects technology. The term is also use to described both single screen work and all the possible permutation of multi-screen, video sculpture and installation work." Knight, Julia (ed), Diverse Practices: A Critical Reader on British Video Art, University of Luton Press, Luton, 1996. p7. (Angela).

The artists who pioneered the development of video as an art form, Nan June Paik, Wolf Vostell, Bruce Nauman, Vito Acconci, Richard Serra, Nacy Holt, Peter Campus , Juan Downey, Frank Gillette, Ira Schneider, among others came to the medium from other fields such as music, performance, dance, and sculpture.

Paik's prepared televisions were his first video sculptures. They displayed the residues of use and were readily transformed into sculptural objects." Hanhardt, John, Expanded Forms, Notes Toward a History, Art and Design, v8, n7/8, July/August, 1993.

Or as artist Steina Vasulka said, "as soon as I had a video camera in my hand - as soon as I had the majestic flow of time in my control - I knew I had my medium". Vasulka, Steina, My Love Affair with Art: Video and Installation Work, Leonardo, v28, 1. P15.

In Corridor Installation (1970) Bruce Nauman line up six long corridors, as if offering a traveller a choice of realms to explore.

In Nam June Paik's installation TV Buddha (1974) a video camera capture a sculpture of the Buddha and transmits the live image to a monitor. Or his Family of Robots, Or Dan Graham's Present Continuous Pasts (1974).

"Each video installation is an experiment in the design of the apparatus that represents our city to itself, a new disposition of machines." Video Installation Art: The body, the image, and the Space in between, Margaret Morse, p155.

While its relationship with television was murky until the eighties with movements such as Scratch video and the early work of artist such as Dara Birnbaum show video art moving away from television and questioning the need to define video art in term of TV at all.

This dilemma of video art - of a need to be defined by more established art practises, has long been dragged behind by video art, and at time video has suffered under the weight.

Vito Acconci's Red Tapes allowed the artist to maintain an "intimate one-to-one electronic communication with a viewer" which borders on live performance or stream of consciousness, using the camera as a pen. Mona Da Vinci Video: The art of the Observable Dreams, New Artists Video, p18.

This interactivity between viewer and the piece is something espouse earlier on by Paik who thought of it in terms of "participation TV".

Vito Acconci in his essay c, Furniture and Sculpture, was keen to emphasis

while he enjoyed the apparent sinister

as Acconci said video art as sculpture as a very traditional if sinister base- that of the relationship between television and furniture or architecture.

The introduction of television into the family home was done in such a manner to have a "sameness of furniture, the sameness of clothing and fashion, a sign of comfort and equality".

He said in the early days, the TV set took inside those, the position f specialised furniture, the position of sculpture". 128 and all the "uselessness one associates with art".

While states that one of the areas that is a drawback in that association is that unlike sculpture television can only be view from the front, sculpture is still often viewed frontally only , because it is viewed from art books. Photographs of the works have been taken from the front.

Vito Acconci is an artist who built installation such as Bade Dream House 2 (1988), Face of the Earth (1984) and Garden of Columns ((1987) where there is not video monitor in sight. 6/67

"Television is science turned into a pet." 129

This relationship spills over into the context of the gallery, when video art is exhibit into the museum gallery space.

"Video is brought into the museum and display as an artefact of the twentieth century - the way period furniture, is displayed elsewhere in the museum." 131

"This type of sensibility, in a time before video would have turned, probably, toward sculpture; tis sensibility needs a space to be in, needs something tangible to grab on to.

"This sculpture sensibility begins by having a tendency to go outside, where it could have the space of town and country to work in."131

He adds to preserve that sensibility, the work might have to resort to the term of paradoxical terms " of video installation" when installation conjures up notion of site specificity and video is by its nature "placeless". 132

"Sculpture I in order to be experienced has to be preserved, it has to exist the way a city exist, long enough to be taken for granted. The sculptor then whatever other intention he 'she might claim to have is always engage in an act of conservatism.

"The sculptor who tried to thicken this plot...who import video in the installatoin, might be a person who's afraid of being outdate, a person embarrassed about c so hard to the past." 1/134

This difficulty in disassociating the video installation and the home TV set was picked up my Margaret Morse in her essay Video Installation Art, " the physical arrangement of TV monitors into sculptural objects continues to be significant in installation video, though when an artist whishes to suppress the immediate reference to the primordial American video installation - the home TV set - that TV and even video monitors inevitably bring to mind, then how to make or distract the visitor ... become a problem. Then various housings and sculptural enclosures for monitors are part of a strategy for allowing other apparatuses to emerge. 2/162

Developing the parameter of video installation beyond the monitor image/object itself, video sculpture can present an act of inverting what is inside to the outside. She cites the Shigeko Kubota's video sculpture Three Mountain (1976-79), it is as if the TV image of mountain were emptied out, its content taking geometrical shape in the pyramids surround the monitor. These pyramids are no longer imitation of mountains, but processed through our image culture and offered as image ghosts and mental appertain in three dimensions." 3/162

There is no distinguishing of the two for artist Shigeko Kubota who describes her work as video sculpture. Her at time colossal works such as Three Mountains or Meat-Marcel: Window of 1976-77, with its image of video snow.

The galleries have often had the same difficulty in separating the two. Nam June Paik, which dates back to the mid sixties, was one of the fir to use to use the television set as sculpture element, Magnet TV (1965). This and his Vy-ramid (1983), one of Paik's large scale works fashioned out of out of television, both of which are part of the Whitney Museum's Permanent Collection in Painting and Sculpture. These not only exploit the use of physical space but "metaphorical space"

Also a real space and time as a central property of the video medium is its ability to see in real time what the camera is recording.

Artist have use this to manipulate point of view with a structure or space.

For Bill Viola, Nam June Paik, Peter Campus and other such manipulation became an aesthetic strategy in project informed by the process and conceptual art of the 1970's.4/437

A conspicuous example of video art as sculpture in terms of real time is Douglas Gordon's 24 hour Psycho (1993) in which the speed of Hitchcock's film is slowed down to take 24 hours to run tis course and is projected onto a huge 15ft screen, suspended so that it appears to float within the gallery space.

"By slowing down the film, he forces a refusal of narrative progression in the eyes of the view and in a film about voyeurism, we are thrown headlong into the detail of the gaze and how this constructs space.

The mechanics of the gaze are objectified not just through the works sheer monumentally but through the conjunction of its size with the stilling down o the screen's gaze in the face e of the viewer's response: a point of view which in itself reverses the controlling spectacular space of cinema". 5/86

Or more conceptual sculptures such as Bruce Nauman's Fall, Pratfalls and Sleights of Hand where time is being showcased as much as the subject.

His five image are projected, consisting of two clowns falling and three close up shots of sleigh of hand. The hands, shot on high speed video tape, stree the time gap and meaning of a card trick, normally based on speed. But even in such slow motion it is impossible to understand what's really happening. The result is a different point of view on the same reality, although not at all clearer. 7/106, Bonami, Francesco, Spotlight, Le Witt, Nauman, Turrell, Flash Art, 106

An area that hasn't been touched on its the interactivity of the video which has created another space and time for the viewer.

Such as Peter Campus's installation , Mem, where the viewer is captured by a camera and projected up the wall. When in a position to see the projection, the viewer is out of range of the camera. When in range, the viewer is unable to see their image project.

"The overall effect of Campus's work is to force the viewer to participate in a very physical way in a different kind of space than that which his kinaesthetic sense informs him he is occupying." Wiegand, Ingrid, Varieties of the Video Installation, New Artists Video, 184.

The problematic nature of video art's falling into video installation is a recognised one. Chris Boicos said because the "installation is the most acceptable form of video art in museums and exhibitions spaces". Boicos, Chris, Where Can Video Art Go Now?, Art International, Winter 90, p31.

"As a result artists such as Paik, Bill Viola and Gary Hill are the biggest name in video art with their exposure being ensured by their installation work.

It has also been assured because of the lack of exposure on the opposing video broadcast. The difficulties of getting video art broadcast has meant that the association of video art with TV has lessened, though has not disappeared in much work is still viewed on a monitor, thereby maintaining the link.

The association between the two has since the 1980's generally been on of the medium as a critique of TV, a definition of video art that has remained since it s first use by artists." (Angela)

In continuance of this time and space is a subject used by a video artist, Chris Marker, who has long been concerned with time and memory and used video technology as a "camera-pen".

Marker futurist enigmatic work - his films, travel book, imaginary film scripts, videos, installation - constitute a highly subjective voyage across the world and its Borgesian labyrinthine features of faces, landscapes, objects and animals in memory, time and space.

Conomos paints him as a flaneur wandering the world recording his impressions on video forcing a sculpture of linguistics. Conomos, John The Movement of Shadows, Video as Electric Writing, Art and Design, v10, p39, Nov/Dec, 1995.

This is an area not lost on Gary Hill whose work in the nineties has developed in relation to the role of and meaning of language (linguistics, semiotics, and discourse formations) as it inflect within text and contexts. His reality of sculptural space has been created with language and image (particularly the human body) such as I Believe It is an Image in Light of the Other (1991-92). Gary Hill, Heny Art Gallery Association, 1994.

While there is obvious architectural elements to work such as DIG (1987-92). Billed as one of his imposing piece it call "our associations with drilling sites or archaeological digs"

A former sculptor who dealt in steel , Hill used moved into video because it all owed him to "the possibility to think out loud. Here was process immediately accessible and seemingly much closer parallel to thinking".

"Time is the central to video, and it's intrinsic principal is feedback." Gary Hill, Interviewed Interview, pg 65, Art and Design, v8, n7/8, July/August, 1993.

This notion of the public Barrett-Lennard baulks at any one definition. It is however not one particular site or location, rather a process where the public come into being, a discursive realm. He argues it cannot be left as some homogenised sloth and is itself both collective and plural, where difference and variation must be accepted as opposed to some striving for a blanket of unity.

The second reader, Michael North’s The Public as Sculpture: From Heavenly City to Mass Ornament, North taken an even more ethereal approach to public art. He wants artists to go beyond the constraints of the pedestal, the gallery and even art itself.

He sees consequence of this as being a shift in the role of the audience, from passive to active.

As the aesthetic focus shifts from the experience it provokes, the relationship of the two goes beyond mere implications, the public becomes the sculpture ... the view in effect becomes the subject of the art". (P 10)

"The gap between art and audience is closed by bringing the audience into the art, by making spatial experience the very subject of the art." (11)

It is an activation of different kind for Nam June Paik tries to create a space of activity for the viewer. It is a view he shares with German playwright Bertolt Brecht, the destructive nature of the one-way, passive delivery system for electronic media. In a letter to John Cage in 1972, he wrote that his work for up until then had only been an extension of an evening performance in Darmstadt in 1958. He was referring to Fluxus concert/performance works which culminated with his Etude for Pianoforte where he introduced the notion of physical danger into a piano work. The performance ended in an assault of audience members including Cage. "Not out of antagonism, it was a gesture designed to involved the otherwise passive audience." David A Ross, Nam June Paik's Videotapes, John Hanhardt (ed), Nam June Paik, NY, Whitney Museum, 1982.

In the end video art has surpassed sculpture and in fact art forms such as computer graphics, multi-media, digital editing suites and the like are vying for space on its terms.




1. (Ed) Doug Hall and Sally Jo Fifer, Vito Acconci, Illuminating video, An Essential Guide to Video Art, Aperture in Association with the Bay Area video Coalition, 1990

2. (Ed) Doug Hall and Sally Jo Fifer, , Illuminating video, An Essential Guide to Video Art, Aperture in Association with the Bay Area video Coalition, 1990

3. (Ed) Doug Hall and Sally Jo Fifer, , Illuminating video, An Essential Guide to Video Art, Aperture in Association with the Bay Area video Coalition, 1990

4. Hanhardt, John G, Art/Science Forum, Video Art: Expanded Forms, Leonardo, v23, no 4,

5. Wilson, Andrew, Spatialised Time, Unchecked Duration, Film and Video Work by Contemporary British Artists, Art and Design, v11, July, August, 1996