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Video art.


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. Her exhibition pieces are photographic enlargment panels of scenes from the broadcast source material, with one or more video monitors set into the panels. The accompanying artwork by Ms. Birnbaum isolates a video image that combines a strong black-and-white composition within a pop-cultural context.

Through "global hook-ups" and cultural exchanges and the work of scores of video artists, the revisioning of video technology continues. Paik once stated that "hardware is power" and prizes his eclectic and immense collection of hundreds of TV sets, vintage and new, tape recorders and audio equipment--a virtual arsenal to be used in his global redefinition of video.


* Video art combines the photographic reproduction capabilities of the camera, the motion capabilities of film and the instantaneous transmission properties of the telephone. * Artists' videos often reject the features and content of commercial television. * Video art has its own aesthetic, which may include the size and shape of a monitor, the accumulation, or lack, of images and the relationship of sound to image. * The lack of historical traditions and concerns presents video art with unlimited creative opportunities. * Video art is a natural expression of the electronic age we live in--a medium utilizing current electronic technology as tools for producing works of art.

Nam June Paik

Born in Seoul, Korea in 1932, the son of a manufacturing family, Paik studied musical composition both in Korea and then in Japan, when his family fled the Korean War. While in Japan, Paik studied music, art history, aesthetics and philosophy at the University of Tokyo.

Nam June Paik has been called a video pioneer. Early in his career, he expressed an interest in the theory and artistic potential of television and has proved to be the key figure in the discovery and development of video art. He advanced the form and enabled it to be a contender in the "global village" of information, communication and aesthetic exchanges. Paik was a revolutionary. He wanted to humanize and demystify the technology of television, while reducing or eliminating the passivity that is the outcome of most television viewing.

After attending the University of Tokyo, Paik began traveling the world in search of artists working in twentieth-century music and opportunities for his composition work. This pursuit took Paik to the University of Cologne (1958-61) where he worked at Westdeutsche Rundfunk's Studio for Electronic Music. Soon his explorations in music included video and Paik's prominent place in the history of video art was established. Once introduced to video technology, his musical interests were easily transferred and further developed by the incorporation of television. His passion for video is an intriguing extension of his work in electronic music. In some pieces Paik literally played television sets as musical instruments.

Paik's first one-man exhibition and the first exhibition of video art in the world, was in March, 1963, at Rolf Jahrling's Galerie Parnass in Wuppertal, West Germany. Requiring many rooms, the exhibit housed thirteen altered sets, three prepared pianos and noisemakers. This exhibit marked the beginning point in Paik's career of the incorporation of "altered" television sets.

Paik moved to New York in 1964 and once there became more involved in the "Fluxus" movement. The Fluxists platform called for a serendipitous exchange between artists and selected art elements, the result comprising the content of the artwork. The Fluxist's belief that the art historical categories and criteria placed on art forms was preventing creativity and stifling art was philosophically aligned with Paik's ideas and artistic pursuits. It was during this period that Paik presented many "action concerts." These events included what became known as his trademark: elements of music, recorded sound, altered pianos, noisemakers, televisions, manipulated imagery and collaborating artists.

From altered images to video sculpture

With Abe, Paik also constructed his first robot -- Robot K-456, a remote control "art machine" that walked, talked and performed. Later, Robot K-456 would be included in Robot Opera, a work Paik performed in 1964 for the "Second Annual New York Avant-Garde Festival." From 1964 to 1968, Paik worked on compositions and performances around the world. He also became an artist-in-residence at the State University of New York. Following the residency, he received a Rockefeller Foundation grant for video research.

The 70s saw Paik involved in video exhibitions, tape production and the beginnings of his plans for "global video events." The first global interactive use of a satellite telecast using international artists took place on New Year's Day, 1984, and Paik called it Good Morning, Mr. Orwell. It featured a hook-up between Paris and New York. In October of the same year, an even more elaborate transmission, Bye, Bye, Kipling, would connect South Korea to Japan, Japan to China, and China to the United States.

A long-time dream of Paik's was to create "walls" of video, floating oceans of abstracted images. His first video wall was created in Paris, for the Centre Georges Pompidou in 1982. Entitled Video Flag, it consisted of 384 television monitors with multiple tape sources forming the pattern of the French flag. All of Paik's work proposes a different way of using television technology. This is especially evident in the way he sculpts with television sets and images and in his use of abstracted imagery instead of the industry's repetitive narrative style.

Suggested activities

* If a camcorder is available, form production teams within the classroom to script, storyboard, direct, record and edit a short video narrative concerning the school, or the classroom, environment.

* Discuss popular broadcast television series and/or special cable or network productions. Analyze videotapes of these programs for messages, biases, narrative development, sound factors and visual/aesthetic quality.

* Investigate opportunities with your state's Arts Board, or local arts councils, to obtain a video artist-in-residence for your school or program.

* Contact the local cable access authority and discuss the possibility of cooperative group projects (documentaries, narratives, personal expressions, other art-oriented productions) that might be developed in/with your school.

* Use camcorders and VCRs to produce prototype "commercials" about community activities and opportunities. Emphasize creative solutions that will make the video more of an art form than an announcement or report.

* Contact the local university and explore opportunities to present or attend screenings of independent artists' works.

PHOTO : Dara Birnbaum, Damnation of Faust: will-o'-the-wisp, 1985. Video installation, 144" x 438"

PHOTO : (366 cm x 1112 cm). Museum purchase: gift of Mr. and Mrs. Milton Fine and the Carnegie

PHOTO : International Acquisition Fund, 86.7.

PHOTO : Nam June Paik, Family of Robot: Uncle, 1986. Video sculpture, 89 1/2" x 45" x 25" (227 cm

PHOTO : x 114 cm x 63 cm).

PHOTO : Nam June Paik, Family of Robot: Aunt, 1986. Video sculpture, 86 1/2" x 52" x 21 1/2" (227

PHOTO : cm x 114 cm x 63 cm).

PHOTO : Nam June Paik, Hanging TV "Fish Flies on Sky," 1975-80. Thirty color televisions.

PHOTO : Collection: the artist.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Davis Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Looking/Learning
Author:Tully, Pat
Publication:School Arts
Date:Dec 1, 1989
Previous Article:What are they doing with computers?
Next Article:The art teacher's new tool: the video camcorder.

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