Video art is video made by visual artists. It originated in 1965, when the Korean-born Fluxus artist Nam June Paik made his first tapes on the new portable Sony camera and showed them a few hours later at Cafe à Go Go in New York’s Greenwich Village.
Video is a medium, not a style. Artists use video technology in remarkably varied ways. Some (including Paul Kos, Mary Lucier, Jill Scott, and Bill Viola) make videotapes to be used in Performance art or in installations. Others (such as Les Levine, Martha Rosler, and the Vasulkas) create videotapes to be screened on video monitors in art museums or galleries. Still others (including Skip Sweeney and Joanne Kelly, Edin Velez, and the Yonemotos) prefer to broadcast or cable-cast their videotapes on television, a modus operandi that requires conforming to the costly technical standards and corporate values of the networks and independent channels. For many video artists, the unresolved relationship of art video and television remains a perennial issue.
The best way to suggest the astonishing variety of video art is to cite a few examples. Frank Gillette’s six-monitor video installation Aransas: Axis of Observation (1978) created a portrait of the swampy Aransas landscape that literally surrounded viewers. The German artist Michael Klier’s Der Riese (The Giant, 1983) is a collage of “found” video footage from surveillance cameras. Joan Jonas’s Organic Honey’s Vertical Roll (1973) used the rolling images of poorly adjusted video monitors as an expressive distortion. Ant Farm and T. R. Uthco’s Eternal Frame (1976) re-creates John Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas and raises disturbing questions about our increasingly mediated—or indirect, media-derived experience—of reality. For Leaving the Twentieth Century (1982), Max Almy utilized the latest computer-based technology to create special effects rarely seen before in artists’ video.
As in Performance art, video’s Conceptual art–oriented first generation has given way to a second, postmodern generation. Almy is typical of that generation, creating works attuned to popular culture rather than critical of it. Leaving the twentieth century’s high-tech imagery synched to rock music seemed to anticipate the MTV style of music videos, which appeared soon after the release of her tape.
Extracts from 'Artspeak' by Robert Atkins (copyright (©) 1990, 1997 by Robert Atkins) reproduced by permission of Abbeville Press, Inc.