The discourse which often accompanies the selection of work is, as Fargier says,
"shifting, yet pertinent." His desire to find the voice of video, its effective domain, its
'lieu,' in the first-person pronoun 'I', is an attempt to let the work define itself, to establish
its own parameters.
Each documentary must, in some respects, be about documentary; each narrative
must include an element of suspicion about narrative itself. That is not to say that there
are no more stories -- just that nothing can be taken for granted. Doubt is cast on the
overriding social/cultural values. An awareness of these values reveals the relative nature
of 'truth' and makes something like truth once again possible.
Video's consciousness (the "self-consciousness" which is missing in television) is
about its relation to the spectator, its relation to our socially-constructed perception, and
its potential to engage in or go beyond contemporary and historical art discourse. The
desire to "demonstrate the limitations of received ideas and of common perceptions" -- this
enlightening project -- is seldom the main function of work which is self-conscious or even
ironic; it is merely one function. Steininger's documentaries-as-breech-of-documentary
create a space in which various rich tales can be told. They must, in all good conscience,
be partly about documentary in order to begin to clearly establish the relationship between
the viewer and the work, but this is simply one requirement of fervid artists today, a
demonstration of their conceptual credentials, a way of showing the audience that they
know what they are doing and that the audience will be investing wisely in the
contemplation of their work.
Steininger is able to see the tapes she has chosen as parts of an on-going
continuum of development: of documentary and of video art. The need to revolutionize
documentary is a need which has always existed and the connections to authenticity date
back to the earliest days of video art, days full of hopes that were never quite fulfilled.
Turim also looks back into the history of video art and even beyond into the influences of
Modernism and post-modernism. Of course, she stresses that this is less a reproduction
and more an intertextual development, filled with differences and similarities to the
The curators have selected work pertinent to their specific engagement with the
medium, underscoring some of the different relationships video can assume in its function
as art. Each work is placed in a context by the curator and the other works they have
selected. And each context is subject to examination, discussion and appraisal. In this
way, the curation itself becomes a focus of significant cultural debate.
We mean to show that video, which continues to float across and between the
diverse cultural stances of art, media and technology, is not easily quantifiable. The
heterogeneous nature of video art as it is practised in Canada and around the world,
demands a heterogeneity of curatorial approaches. The more conceptually distant the
origins of the work, the greater the need for divergent curatorial practices. Every culture,
as Gagnon points out, is fraught with preconceptions and expectations, and if we are
going to be able to hear the voices of those who speak from outside the realm of our
familiar experience, we are going to have to encourage those whose job it is to search out,
identify and present video art to be as adventurous, open-minded and prolific as possible.
Return to: Table of Contents
Video: Je /Voix
One can't repeat it often enough: video is not a new adventure for the eye but an
unprecedented positioning of the voice.
When we insist on searching vainly for a visual, and solely visual, specificity in
video, it is because we have still not realized that there are two types of video: one which
reproduces, magnetically, the tics and codes of film, and the other, the real one, which
aggravates the foundations of television.
In the first case nothing differentiates video from film. Everything that
electronics allows to be done with great ease, M lies has already done with astonishing
ingenuity. The modern epigones of M lies go faster than he did, executing feats which
last longer, linking up more fantastic transformations, but still, they don't come from the
palace of M lies. The palace of M lies is a silent temple. When M lies and the makers of
electronic magic are at work, no voice is taken into account in their sleights-of-hand. And
for M lies, this is not because the cinema does not yet speak, but because, fundamentally,
the effect of reality which distills cinema acts on the eyes and only the eyes. Cinema, as
McLuhan has shown, is the supreme stage of an evolution which started in the 15th
century with the invention of printing and the refining of perspective, and which resulted
in giving preference to sight to the detriment of all the other senses. Silent or talking,
cinema is addressed first to the act of seeing. The fact that cinema talks is basically almost
always secondary. The type of voice it assumes does not put in question the imperialism of
seeing. Talking films do not create any new positionings of the voice. We are at the
theatre instead of being at a pantomime. A certain type of video is nothing other than a
prolonged version of cinema. It ignores the fact that 'video' can be translated as something
other than 'I see.'
When video is able to say 'je voix' (I speak/voice) and not only 'Je Vois' (I see) it
is then that it has found its real path. Its real path crosses television where it does its
apprenticeship in what 'je voix' means. That which establishes the specificity of video
follows from that of television: the immediacy of representation. Television is the only
medium which allows us to see, in images, an action at the moment in which it is taking
place. But how can we know that what we see on the screen is really taking place at that
moment? Verification presupposes evidence. And this evidence cannot be silent. To be
certain that the representation before our eyes is indeed concomitant with the event it
represents, a voice must be involved. The specific effect of live -- the impression of
simultaneity -- cannot be fully accomplished without an intervening word. The word of
someone, specifically, who gives us his word (of honour?). If you are waiting on a subway
platform for the arrival of a train in front of a security monitor, your eyes can verify that
the train which enters the image is indeed the same one which emerges from the tunnel. If
you are in front of your television screen watching a live event which is taking place
thousands of miles or a few kilometers away from your eyes, it is a voice which proves the
simultaneity of the action and its representation, not your eyes, not the image. Every
image is a trompe l'oeil. Because a word interferes, it is evidence. There is false evidence,
but giving false evidence is also an act of speech.
Well before television, radio started to inform the process of the real in live form.
There was no temptation of the visible. We believe what we are told. "Piantoni passes the
ball to Kopa who shoots towards Fontaine who . . a goal!" There it is. Three to zero. No
doubt about the results. With television, we have, in addition, the image of the goal. The
spectacle increases. Doubt sets in. A goal was scored, sure, our eyes saw the ball enter the
net. But when? Precisely at the very instant that our eyes saw it; the image is live. What
proves it? The voice which speaks in the image and states that this is so and that we, the
television viewers, share the moment with the spectators in the stands. All television
works on this model. We believe a voice -- we have to. Confidence reigns. Mistrust also.
One does not go without the other. To combat this mistrust, television strives to multiply,
in image and sound, indications of being live, the means of dating the moment. This is the
intention behind a clock placed in the scene; it is a view of the sky at a precise time
(nightfall, the setting sun, rose-coloured dawn); it is the claim of a fresh day just off the
press; it is, above all, the verbal statement: "At the moment I am speaking to you, the first
light of dawn, as you can see, is starting to disclose the site of the carnage which, all night
long . . ."
The voice -- master of the real; at the heart of a visual device. There is a new,
unheard of positioning in the history of representation. Television does not adopt the same
position to the real as that which includes painting, the printed book, photography,
cinema. It gives a knowledge of reality while not asking solely for sight. It brings the
other senses into play, primarily hearing. To describe this difference, McLuhan invented
the concept of audio-tactile. Television is audio-tactile. Audio, after what has been said, is
obvious enough. But tactile? When we have a remote control at our fingertips we realize,
without hesitation, that's it. The television screen puts the world at hand. Television is
But does television know this? No. Television has no self-knowledge. The self-
knowledge of television is video. Television is. Is there at that instant. Is there in instinct.
Video comes; comes like an after-shock; the after-shock of live. It knows, therefore, that
television is voice; and, therefore, it must be voice.
To become a voice, video says 'I'. It's normal. There is no voice without me. The
me of television is an alienated me, censored, a ceaseless you which is destroyed; the me
of video, on the other hand, will be an exaggerated, glorious me: reborn, reaffirmed.
The best proof is, without doubt, the portrait of Jean-Christophe Averty which
Pierre Trividic, one of his old assistants, traced with a masterful hand, while, at the same
time, drawing his own self-portrait: Treize Brouillons Pour un Portrait d'Averty. Murder
of the father? Of course, since Trividic learned television at Averty's school. Murder by
inverting the sense of the lesson. The student now teaches his old master that one can go
much further in the art which he passed on to him. Not the art of decorative pranks,
truncated images, kaleidoscopic shots, but the art of the electronic 'I'. Because Averty, as
well as being the genial visualizer of the most interesting texts of our literature (Jarry,
Apollinaire, Cocteau, Roussel, le Douanier, Rousseau, Rabelais, even Hugo) and of all
sorts of songs (making music videos before everyone else), tried in the course of his
broadcasts, to say 'I' from time to time. It was necessarily polemical. His first enticements,
Les Raisins Verts, having aroused violent reactions from the public and from critics, he
invented the personality of 'Averty' in order to reply to his detractors. Speaking of him in
the third person, he put himself in the scene on the audio tape. You heard him spewing
insults at the critics, atrocious advice to television viewers. He also surfaced, at times, in
the picture to stick out his tongue at the public. It was his way of saying 'I'. Trividic, in his
portrait, recalls all of this. Averty plays the game, he comes back to do a trick. He talks,
talks, talks. He gives voice. Trividic lets him talk. About everything. About death, about
balls, about television, about Shakespeare. But in doing this, at the pretext of having
doubts about the path to take, Trividic intermingles his own voice with that of his master
_ filtered through an actor. Ah! the third person, an old trick. . . A character, Troop, who
serves as a mask. But it is he, in person, who embodies the image. Troop-Trividic,
searching for inspiration, sucks on a pen while raising his eyes to the sky where the
remains of Averty float: an eminently post-Avertien spectacle. Stuck on Averty? Yes. But
wait, look at how, and on what ground. Averty is beaten, not with further special effects,
but with a skillful orchestration of the voice. The 'I' of Trividic wins out over the 'I' of
Averty's old game.
A woman writes words dictated by another woman. The voice which dictates -- in
French -- is a voice marked by an accent. It's the voice of a foreigner. The woman who
writes is not a foreigner. The foreigner has asked her (the request is at the beginning of
the tape, so the request is set up even if what follows is not) to help correct a text which
she has just written in French, a language which she has not completely mastered. And
what do we see? As the dictation unfolds we see a reversal of positions: little by little the
one who writes becomes more and more a foreigner to that which she is writing, as if she
did not understand her own language. While the one who dictates reveals herself as closer
and closer to the words she has borrowed from a language other than her maternal one.
Moreover, it is maternity -- failed, aborted -- and not by chance, which deals with the text
of the dictation. The personal catastrophe she recounts takes on the weight of a tangible
reality: horrible and yet already transmuted into a scene by the telling, placed at a distance
by the fact of its written transfer. This game of roles is La Dict e (The Dictation), one of
the first videos by Esti, which was soon to be followed by Les Fous (The Crazy), her
Esti is a painter. Esti makes videos. In video as in painting, she uses many words.
Should we speak of her subject as 'video-painting?' No, but . . . she has a certain touch,
that's clear. All of her videos are similar, similar to her -- Esti. All of her videos are self-
portraits. In all of her videos you see her, you hear her. She smiles at the camera, balances
her sentences on the microphone. When she listens to others, you would say she listens to
herself speaking. The 'I' who says 'I' in front of the camera (Caroline in l'Apr -midi de
Caroline; the crazy, francophile Turk in Les Fous; Ivo Malec in R p titions Zagreb)
are, without knowing it, Esti; and she knows it well. She knows because she controls
everything. Controls everything thanks to her touch.
There is an Esti touch. Tremulous, hazy, sliding, rhapsodic. It is thought,
weighed, raised, balanced, counter balanced. Always too close to her subject. Forcing her
to divide it in two. Sounds rush, overlap; there's too much to cut. The jumps in the sound
divide up the distances between the bodies; the desire to merge, then to separate. The
music starts, restarts, fades and fuses. It's perfect, orchestrated -- the Esti-Woman
Orchestra. Her conductor's baton? Her voice, which is at every turn. Her touch is audible
as well as visible. Audio-tactile, then. There we go.
Les Fous originates in a return. Return to a native country; return to the hospital
Esti knew 15 years earlier, as a patient; return to touch also. She returns (the director
recognizes her, greets her, "Good Morning, Esti.") to touch, with the tip of her camera, a
tip from her past, she begins to take her own distances with her. To cut herself from her
past by interposing another person. She loves herself through the mad Turk who sings the
Marseillaise and the couple he forms with the woman who loves him. A little corner of
paradise. They kiss. They touch. They are touching. She cuts his toenails.
Esti knows where she places her feet. They have told her: You must create.
Therapy. Esti has created beyond therapy. She knows it. She comes back to state it by
taking therapy as her subject.
One can leave the hospital. She did. The proof: she returns there to film it in
complete freedom. But can one get out of this other mad-house which is Israel? Esti poses
the question abruptly at the end. And everything balances (what class!); in one minute of
insane images and mad sounds, Esti sums up the reality of a crazy country. The crazy
have a right to live.
Esti winks, the mouth serious, the eye laughing. Happy end. It's the smile of an
actress at the end of a story. When someone says: cut!
The sculptures of Giacometti. The paintings of On Kawara, a New York Japanese
who only paints dates on small canvases. What have these two practices in common to
justify grouping them, first in one exhibition (entitled: Conscience) then in a video
(similarly titled)? Perhaps a concrete concept of time: a concept which, on one hand,
would take the body, in statue form, no longer the eternity of a person (the immutable
aspect), but the atoms, in movement, for a fraction of a second of its life (the bodies of
Giacometti evoke photos where the subject has moved) and which, on the other hand,
would take on the appearance of the pages of a calendar, reflecting a life forever cut up,
unreconstitutable. Because there was a body to paint it (for example, on a blue
background, SEPT. 30, 1982, or, on a black background, OCT. 12, 1988) and to say that
on that day he was still on earth ("I AM STILL ALIVE," On Kawara often wrote on
postcards sent to his friends, or from one airport, "I GOT UP AT 8:24 AM," dated and
signed, a dispatch he considered an artistic act).
Cesar Vayssie brings us to think that (or something else, but, in any case, to
think) with slow movements by which he connects objects with one another and relocates
them in space. At each new juncture, we are surprised that there can exist another way of
seeing things we thought we had seen and seen well. It's because Vayssie applies to
Giacometti and to Kawara the system, which he perhaps learned from them, of an infinite
cutting of time, a cutting which he brings about by light. Vayssie uses all the lights
possible, in particular that of a high window which multiplies shadows, compares subjects
under the same light, still and in motion, and above all, varies the lighting which projects
on them the phosphorous of words.
The film seizes you instantly, from the first tracking shot to the forefronting of
text (in the third person) and music. The text (of Proust, one discovers in the credits at the
end, if one has not guessed) speaks of music, of the subtle rapport someone has with such
a piece of music. It invites us to compare this rapport with the rapport the camera (and the
person behind it) establishes with the works on display. Another voice, in the first person,
questions itself on the problems of seeing and placing in the memory these events which
we call exhibitions. (This is done by a conjunction of certain works in certain spaces, in
this case, The Consortium, a gallery in Dijon.)
It is because it submits without taking its eyes off the crossfire of two voices that
the video of Cesar Vayssie will be looked at for a long time, for years, as the exact trace of
a fleeting moment in the life of art, and therefore, of the world. Because there is no
memory possible without words. Take away from this knowing and sensual course, the
discourse which surrounds and enlightens it (shifting, yet pertinent) and you have nothing
but a visual tenacity (so common in 'films on art') which crumbles by insisting.
The diary of a young girl. The account of her first kiss. Twenty years later, or
maybe 25, the actors in the scene are reunited. She has set a trap for him, pretending to
interview him (he is somewhat famous in his field -- the sciences). Does he remember her?
He has completely forgotten her. She reads him some words from her diary. He recognizes
the names of the places, the name of the dog, but his memory refuses to recall that instant.
It was not his first kiss. It was hers. Which she still remembers. But would her memory
have been as precise if she had not noted the event in its smallest details (smell of the
pullover, taste of the tongue, some music)?
Mon Tout Premier Baiser (My Very First Kiss) by Danielle Jaeggi creates an
unavoidable trap, not only for the male surprised in a flagrant act of forgetfulness, which,
the protagonists agree is not all that serious, but also for the image, which is, perhaps,
more damning. Here the image is reduced to nothing. The camera stays at a distance from
the scene, except for one or two close-ups. The image resembles a waiting room for other
images. And all of a sudden, this comes: it fills up, during the reading of the diary, with
all the images of this 'film' taken a quarter-of-a-century ago by the stylo-camera (and not
camera-stylo) of a young girl (who already wanted to make films and later would). The
magic of words riveted by the chemistry of feelings, the magic of the voice finding once
again the words for a last projection. We see what this voice sees and has seen. The image
_ black and white, as detached as that of a surveillance camera -- plays its role and effaces
itself, because in effacing itself it records something other than the visible: the
superimposition of two 'I's, 20 years apart. One imagines the voice the young girl must
have had, the accent of her seducer. One sets out to hear further voices. It's a live show
with a difference. Done!
J'ai la Tete Qui Tourne (I Have a Spinning Head) -- who could say that, today,
literally, except a VCR which is recording? Jacques Louis Nyst and his wife Daniele, in
this comedy which they co-authored, share the roles of the different parts of a recording
device which suddenly have things to say to one another, a desire to speak to one another.
This, of course, gives a dialogue of the deaf. Between the sound and the image, a current
flows, but it's only electric. They want to "move the world, the night, into a little grey
corner," and they don't agree on the method. Of course. Who will do what? transport what
and how? The grey corner waits at the bottom of the screen. It starts by acquiring a
comma, that which separates the world and the night, another subject of discussion. How
to start? The sky or the night? They come to terms. Those who want to move the planet --
who transform the whole world into representation -- never stop asking themselves
questions. The affair is quite big enough, nothing less than a Genesis, inside out.
God said: Let there be light, and light there was, remember? Here it is more or
less the same thing, except there are two to offer the creating words. In J'ai la Tete Qui
Tourne, as in the Gnose, creation occurs from the co-operation between a Demiurge and a
Creator. But who is which? With the Nysts, and with the technical principles they are
acting out? Who is sound? Who is image? Jacques Louis slips in with authority, from the
beginning to the end of the story, without ever appearing as an image: he is the sound,
without a doubt, and it is he, of course, who is the Creator. The Demiurge is she, the
image, the role Daniele assumes. The play between the Demiurge and the Creator is not
equal. The Creator is stronger than the Demiurge. But at the same time he cannot do
anything without her. Neither can the sound without image. And yet it is she who takes
the lead from him, not the reverse.
The Nysts here express in a fable the fundamental myth of Videography. No
longer that of a cave full of shadows, by which Plato had invented television, but that of a
pair of gloves. Big, yellow gloves like those movers use. The point is to transfer, as we
said, the whole world into a little grey corner, the metaphor for a place capable of
absorbing all representation. In this metamorphic transport, what are the metaphoric
gloves for? Well, to make noise. . . noise which alone operates the transport. The gloves
do not lay hold of the objects to transport to the corner of grey sky (an elephant, the moon,
a bird, stones, stars, stairs); they knock slowly on a table. And things appear, one after
another, knock after knock, in obedience to the sound which orders them to appear. The
transfer is immediate, exemplary. The I/see I/voice of video resounds like a big bang.
Myth becomes concept.
Return to: Table of Contents
Feints and Fictions
"...the purpose of asking questions may be two fold. One may ask a question for
the purpose of obtaining an answer containing the desired content, so that the more one
questions, the deeper and more meaningful becomes the answer; or one may ask a
question, not in the interest of obtaining an answer, but to suck out the apparent content
with a question and leave only an emptiness remaining. The first method naturally
presupposes a content, the second an emptiness; the first is the speculative, the second the
The subject of irony, particularly in recent Canadian Studies2, is intensely
complex and cannot be fully explored here. But I would like to introduce this theme in the
context of speculation on the relations of the artist, the curator, and art itself, to the notion
of community. In Canada we tend to define ourselves in terms of socio-cultural identity --
ethnic or sexual -- but I would like to examine instead, the constant negotiation of the
individual consciousness with the context provided by culture and society. Irony appears
as a stance of the individual (the artist in this case) to throw off the burden of a strictly
asserted or claimed identity, or one imposed from outside by governmental politics.
The ironic nature of the videotapes and installation gathered here displays a
primary characteristic of irony which rests "on the ambiguity of Appearances, always
halfway between Being and Non-being."3 In this way, irony reveals the "duplicity of
consciousness" itself, the disjunction between the mind and the signs of the mind, between
the apparent and the perceived. Because we never perceive things purely and simply,
immediately, we must perceive them through language, signs and preconceived images
which themselves come from the culture. Consequently, irony is a play on signs and it
articulates the intersection of individual consciousness and its culture: "still like a game,
irony implies the dialectic struggle, return and mediation."4
The ironic play in the three works that I have chosen requires that a
differentiation be made between Fiction and Feint, the first residing in art, the second in
artifice -- the one which is the oeuvre and the other which is the manoeuver. There are
many ways for art to struggle with fiction or narrative, with verisimilitude and realism;
there are those who succumb, such as in commercial film and television, and those who
avoid it like the plague, who bring us so-called experimental works. But between these
two extremes exist infinite and subtle variations. Lynn Hershman and Robert Morin use
certain feints to question the truthfulness or verisimilitude of fiction itself, while in
contrast, Daniel Dion has no narrative intentions and irony for him, plays on the position
of the spectator facing the images.
Within the body of Robert Morin's work, La Reception (1989) is certainly where
the strategies of irony are used most consistently, in the form of the subjective camera. In
all of his earlier work, Morin watched people or created characters who were in transition,
in transformation, and they all shared the characteristic of being misfits, abnormal
characters, deviants, eccentrics. In La Reception it is the subjective point-of-view, the
subjective camera, which is dominating the entire tape by its posture of subjectivity of the
romantic type. There, where subjectivity affirms itself, irony is at work. This strategy also
calls into question the position of the viewer in relation to the story being told, and near
the end, when the cameraman is in turn shot and the only survivor is the camera, it is
narrative authority itself which is being questioned. Doubt is cast on the truthfulness of
fiction. It is an irony which surpasses romantic irony because here the serious aspects of
fiction are disarmed.
Longshot (1990) by Lynn Hershman provides another impulse to question
appearances and the authenticity of fiction. With Hershman, the question of authenticity
is, however, posed in relation to the media world in which we live. In this video, she
establishes an equation between the camera, a revolver and pornography. The duplicity of
the young woman, Lian Amber, is evident throughout the tape and the inability of the
media to go beyond appearances creates a fascination with death, which is also the logic
of pornography and has its logical conclusion in the snuff-film.
In Hershman's work, as in Morin's, we find the same calling into doubt of
"truth": truth of people or of characters, truth of the society in which we live, truth of the
mediating media. Truth, like reality, is dependent on values which determine it, and
language which formulates it. The role of the ironist is rather to fracture the values
without resolution. The viewer, confronted with these works, may no longer sleep in the
world of their preconceptions.
The play of irony in Daniel Dion's work is different. Quadrilogues de l'Arbre /
Tree Quadrilogues (1991) presents, on first reading, a mystical approach inspired by
Buddhism and the symbolism of the number four. But the mystical contemplation of the
work by the viewer is denied since they must continually be moving in order to see the
images which are distributed over four small screens. The mystical search for unity is
frustrated by that device of the installation which prevents the viewer from setting
themselves up as the centre of perception, as a perceptive unity. The irony here is
precisely in the contradiction which is established between the mystical search for unity --
represented by the number four and the mandala -- and the impossibility of the viewer
finding this unity or even being able to fall into the tranquillity of contemplation.
If irony presupposes a set of common values in order to be understood, it
nevertheless generates rupture of the community. The community, the common sense, is
what the ironist is here to de-stabilize in order to demonstrate the limitations of received
ideas and of common perceptions. The art of the ironist is paradoxical and it is by their
paradoxes that they sweep away the horizons of expectation established in the community
and in the minds of the receivers of the work.
1 Soren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Irony, Indiana University Press,
Bloomington, 1968, p.73.
2 See Linda Hutcheon, Splitting Images, Contemporary Canadian Irony, Oxford
University Press, 1991.
3 Vladimir Jankelevich, L'ironie, Flammarion, coll. champs, 1964, p.53.
4 ibid. p.56.
Return to: Table of Contents
The Oscillating Document
John Adams (GB, 1985)
This video is divided into six chapters, each beginning with a fragment of text
from an academic discourse around copyright. While the text situates the institution of
copyright in the tangle of capitalist economy and the bourgeois art market, the video itself
explores the relation of image, copy and reality. Almost the whole repertoire of images is
introduced in the first chapter and is then newly combined in the following chapters with
different voice-over narrations. Only towards the end of the video is it possible for the
viewer to combine the separate narrations and characters: Have they been unwitting actors
in the (film)story of someone else? Those who really want to know will have to work their
way through the video again, as detectives.
LE REGARD EBLOUI
Jacques Deschamps (F, 1987)
The camera of Jacques Deschamps accompanies the blind photographer, Evgen
Bavcar, through his Slovenia, his homeland and the only country that he, before the age of
11, experienced through sight. The landscape around Ljubljana not only remains as an
accurate memory, but also serves him as an absolute point of reference for his visual
imaginings. Bavcar leads and directs the camera to those sites -- meadows, paths, caves,
parts of streets, houses -- and explains the function of the memorized images in his
seemingly paradoxical manner of perception and production. Where time did not change
Bavcar's sites, the camera is successful in showing what Bavcar describes. Where the
memorized and the actual images do not coincide anymore, the superimposition of those
gazes steps into the foreground, structuring the video in a subtle and complex way and
letting it become a meeting place between the visible and the invisible.
WHO'S GOING TO PAY FOR THESE DONUTS, ANYWAY?
Janice Tanaka (USA, 1993)
This video is the uncompromisingly personal reconstruction -- as well as
construction -- of the author's and her family's history. At the same time it is a chapter of
recent American history. Tanaka decides, after the death of her mother, to search for her
father, whom she last saw when she was three years old. At the beginning of the
American-Japanese War, he refused the choice of staying in a camp for Japanese citizens
of America. That resulted in years of involuntary internment and shock therapy. Tanaka's
investigations are not directed by an historical-political interest, but by the effect of her
father's story on her own socialization, including the attempt to understand why he, rather
than his siblings, had to act in that way. The video starts in the unknown and also ends
there, because the process which the family engaged in -- initiated by doing the video --
Sophie Calle & Gregory Shephard (USA, 1992)
"In her premiere videotape, (French) conceptual artist Sophie Calle joins with
artist Gregory Shephard to create a tour de force with Double Blind. Armed with
camcorders, Calle and her collaborator/partner Shephard head west in his Cadillac
convertible to produce and document a real-life narrative. With Americana as the
backdrop for this unconventional coast-to-coast road movie, the protagonists precariously
explore the elusive landscapes of human relations wrestling to reconcile self and sexuality
with gender and desire.
"In chronicling this adventure, Calle and Shephard each narrate and record a
personal account of the journey, presenting strikingly different versions of the narrative /
relationship. Calle's desire and Shephard's ambivalence propel this conflicted yet
compassionate couple through a daunting experiment in courtship and marriage. Aiming
their dueling camcorders, these 'lovers' beseech frankness but expose vulnerability.
'Truths' are only disclosed in furtive whispers to the mutually toted camera.
"Compelled by the gripping uncertainty of the unfolding events, the viewer is
challenged to consider and reconsider the roles imposed by gender. Sexuality and sexual
difference; power and the imbalances of power; love and the need for love; tradition and
the in/observance of tradition all converge to write this tragically romantic tale."
(Description of Double Blind by the distributor, Electronic Arts Intermix.)
At first glance, the works in this program have nothing in common. They are
neither clearly classed within a common genre nor do they have a similar methodology. I
made the selection without being concerned about the connection of the individual
contributions to each other. My only criterion for the selection was the connection of each
video to a documentary method that either was no longer linked to the genre of
documentary films/videos or reflected it in a special way. In relation to video, the
documentary style -- the documentary 'gesture' -- had a precarious status at its very
It was precarious, on one level, through the technology. The formerly privileged
relation of the documentary to the real, which the classic documentary film could claim
for itself, was mainly based on a then-commonly accepted analogy of the iconic sign to the
extra-pictorial and on linguistic styles of address which, in their dominance over the
image, seemed to originate from pre-filmic, spoken reality. Video belongs to that category
of technology that can short-circuit image and referent, not only imaginarily but
technically, or can produce realistic moving images without an origin in reality.
The precarious status was present on another level in the cultural-historical
context of video art, especially the subsequence of video to television. Questions about the
representation of the real had already begun to shift. With the background of an
essentially mediated culture, the division into filmic and pre-filmic cannot be produced
through the disjunction of real and mediated alone, it needs differentiation in the 'mass
memory of universal audio vision' itself. Nowadays, it is less about the relationship to
reality (through 'reality effects' like immediacy, directness, or authenticity) than about
questions of the discourse, the narrative structure and ways of addressing. It is less about
the relation between film/video and reality, and more about the relation between
film/video and spectator. The concept that the image is 'transparent,' that as a sign, it
would rescind in favor of the thing represented, is replaced by the idea of reflection, the
idea of a self-referential presentation. It was especially feminist critique that made
'objective representation' recognizable as an ideological form of representation and
insisted on the necessity of questioning the realistic codes themselves.
The video Intellectual Properties creates a labyrinth, whose ramifications consist
of tensions and transitions between reality-based and imaginary productivity. "Copyright
is a method of linking the world of intellectual ideas with the commercial world. That's
why we expect from copyright that it has answers, even for a series of other fundamental
questions: What is the best way to advertise an intellectual product? How can the
subsistence of the author or artist be guaranteed? How is he integrated into the social and
economical life?" etc. Copyright itself is a symbolic production that effects the social. At
the beginning of each chapter the image of a video monitor depicting arbitrarily selected
passages from a lecture, is a direct quote of the super-realistic icon of the 'television
announcer.' The breaking into chapters, the titling of the chapters, together with the
formal repetition of the lecture module, create in Intellectual Properties a documentary
expectation, but at the same time, through the arbitrary nature of these devices, the video
reveals an ultimately abstract pattern of order.
The actual focal point of Intellectual Properties lies in the treatment of the
relation between the spectator and the video. By outwitting him, through the ever-
puzzling play between documentary and fictitious presentation, the viewer is made
conscious of the act of his own positionings, in an almost sensual way. In the first chapter,
a motion and observation space in an urban setting is revealed. Within it are a couple of
people, who appear repeatedly. Music. One sequence shows a lively street, the camera
right in its midst. There is no reference that anything here was staged. The second chapter
shows us the same street scene, first with the off-camera explanations of a director about
which takes should be shot at this location. The street sequence is adapted to the
explanations by the use of slow motion and freeze-frame. The second time, the off-camera
sound locates the sequence in the actual film-shooting. Was this staged or merely re-
written? The off-camera sound changes with the last freeze frame of that lively street:
"Lost in the crowd? If you want to get away, fly with us." The suggestive-flattering voice
of a commercial.
The readiness of the viewer to follow the video's signification process, even when
it is clearly a game, invites reflection in a double way because repetitive re-writing
happens, not only on the linear-narrative level, but also through a complex generation of
temporal discontinuities inherent in different techniques of mediated representation.
A jogger 'runs through' different representation methods: a black and white
amateur format; he becomes the image-object of a Nikon camera; he is represented in
colour motion picture; etc.
Intellectual Properties demonstrates by means of commonplace video-effects how
video can deviate from analog time and photographic codes through destruction and
recomposition and can come to a plan of audio-visual design that deconstructs its relation
to real auditive or optic referents.
In Le Regard bloui the theme and the reflexive method fuse in the reality of
blindness which the not-sighted photographer Bavcar transforms into the metaphor of the
blind gaze. When Bavcar handles the photo camera or video camera and the spectator
watches the uncoupling of these apparatuses from a subjective gaze, something absolutely
strange breaks into the film text. This absence of the gaze, which is phenomenologically
outside of photographic representation, becomes the source for the camera
communicating, at every instant, its point-of-view. Furthermore, the incidental
conversations of Bavcar and Deschamps reinforce the effect of becoming aware of the eyes
behind the camera. In one part of Evgen Bavcar's writing, which appears sometimes as
text on the screen and gains its own fragmented continuity, he says: "Photography allows
me to pervert the way of perception that became established between the sighted and the
non-sighted." Deschamps' video makes it possible for the spectators to perceive their
perception in the intersection of multiple gazes as an additional gaze, one that belongs to
them. The 'immediacy' of video results from its technical mobility and allows Deschamps
this closeness to Bavcar. The myth of video-specific spontaneity and directness is often
uncritically equated with the traditional documentary criteria of authenticity. Deschamps
uses it for the representation of a more subtle exchange, from which the spectator cannot
exclude himself. There is no possibility of any spectacular exploitation, and none of the
belief which too many documentaries have about their legitimacy being due to the
particularity of their content. The self-reflexivity of Le Regard bloui is strongly linked to
the use of the handheld camera. In my selection it is the only video that can be classed
within the genre 'documentary' and can be seen as an example of those changes which
video can bring to the documentary style -- changes which are part of the tradition of the
(cinematographic) documentary film.
Five years later, Who's Going to Pay for These Donuts, Anyway? and Double
Blind were shot using handheld cameras, which now have a name: the handycam. Neither
of these videos try to subsequently erase those origins. Here the handycam is not the
'armament of the eye,' it is the mediation of the perceiving. Both videos made me think of
the history of video art itself, all its different programs and concepts combined with
expectations and hopes, which somehow were never fulfilled. McLuhan, Tretjakov,
Krauss. The "extension of man" as an engraving of the force of the means themselves, of
the tools, which are not only objects of usage but, because of their structure and function,
allow only a fixed usage and therefore already determine the style of engagement and life.
In Europe, McLuhan's optimism was not carried as far as in the United States, because
there it was received more in connection with a growing, critical, media theory. The
liberal dreams of interactive television were linked to Tretjakov's art conception: "A real
'art for everyone' cannot at all consist in transforming everyone into a spectator but the
opposite: that everyone appropriates the qualities and capabilities for the construction and
organization of the raw material, qualities which have been the particular characteristic of
the art specialists." (in Videokunst in Deutschland, p.120.) In contradiction to them is the
early aesthetic theory of video art developed by Rosalind Krauss, of video as an essentially
narcissistic art. My spontaneous video historical 'memories,' triggered by the two works,
are nothing less than a question about changes which happened between the introduction
of the portapak and the general spread of consumer video equipment.
Who's Going to Pay for These Donuts, Anyway? starts with Janice Tanaka's off-
camera narration in which she explains her personal motives for the search for her father
which are identical with the work on this video. "I'd hoped to restore family history and,
through the process, perhaps a part of myself on a deeper level, unconscious to me then. I
thought by finding him I'd find parental comfort and the key to making sense of my own
life. Instead a murky distance separated me from the man I met and the man I wished
Much later -- the video condenses probably a four year process and becomes
temporally diffuse, but nevertheless chronological -- she talks about the psychological
burdens that the new situation created for all the family members and which they directed
at each other. Tanaka ends the narration with: "Observing the effects of the past could
only be dealt with from behind the distancing lens of the camera." But with this text, we
see a small monitor on a table; the room seems empty, more like a source of light than
something to live in. On the monitor: an extreme close-up of the father, which we have
seen several times before. The camera she is talking about is the camera which not only
has a lens but also the function of playback. The first conversation with her father, partly
recorded on video, reveals such a difference in their knowledge about each other that it
has to be replayed to create room for reaction, for which there was no time during the
Who's Going to Pay for These Donuts, Anyway? has a complex videographic
montage -- transitions, keying, slow motion, crawling text -- which in image and sound
and their relationship create a self-reflexive text, whose documentary function is shifted:
the text is not so much the instance anymore that intercedes between the viewer and the
video but rather between Tanaka's radically subjective interests and the facts and realities
of the family history and the familial interaction. Viewers do not have to investigate the
plausibility of facts and events; instead, they are the observers of a dynamic of
communication. The 'image' of this communication is in the pictures from the handycam,
which are less significant in terms of their 'framing' than through their constant
'deframing.' How important the handycam style is in this tape finally becomes
understandable through those parts of the video which, if this were some other tape, would
probably be done in another camera style: such as the archival material and family photos.
According to the credits at the end of the tape the handycam was handled by 18 different
people -- a collective camera style in which the handwriting of the individual disappears.
It seems as if the apparatus on the border between its two functions, recording and
playback, causes a third 'unconscious' function to emerge, which has to do with the
inscription of the projection onto perception. The video artist, Janice Tanaka, has set this
third function, which belongs to the apparatus itself, into motion and through the
procedural construction of the whole project, gave this function the right to become --
together with her own voice -- the actual significant centre of the video. The voice and this
inscription of the projection are two autonomous instances which mediate themselves,
exchange, correspond or complement, but never try to subjugate each other. Tanaka's talk,
which moves forward through self-analytical questions, corresponds to the tactile quality
of the camera which is not merely scanning surfaces but brushing against and pushing off
surfaces, getting caught in surfaces. The images from the handycam explore the distance,
the relation between stability and instability, between knowledge and the visible, in a
process of interaction.
In Double Blind the two handycams and the two people (Calle, Shephard) are no
longer separate 'entities.' They start to oscillate because there is no time-based delay
anymore between presentation and reception. If Sophie Calle points her camera at
Shephard, or vice versa, we do not see a reproduction in a common sense. The
performance -- as I would call this project of auto-traveling across the United States -- was
arranged so that the difference between real human beings and their electronic appearance
cannot be traced back to a differentiation between the original and the representation of
the performance. The interaction is "electrorganic." 'Documentation' here is losing its
actual function of spanning the difference between real and represented. The documentary
becomes an immediate effect in a circular system of electro-organic couplings.
Return to: Table of Contents
The Image of Art in Video
From Steina and Woody Vasulka's Golden Voyage, (1973), to Juan Downey's
The Looking Glass, (1981), to Mary Lucier's Ohio at Giverny, (1983), to more recent
works, including those in which the reference to painting and photography is less direct
and more implicit, video has taken diverse views of art. What constitutes the attraction of
the already-recognized structure (e.g., a well-known painting) for those attempting to
define video as itself an art or as a discursive practice? This essay will look at several
invocations of visual art in video to explore the theoretical implications of this reimaging.
The artists in my selection seem to be exploring concepts parallel to recent theoretical art
historical writing. Video works become a way of inscribing ideas about art, the image and
Sometimes the reference in a video work is to an artist whose works seem to
prefigure video. Steina and Woody Vasulka have looked to the work of Magritte as a
precursor of videography, seeing in his paintings the type of collage, juxtaposition and
image manipulation that current video techniques afford.
The Vasulka's homage to Magritte is most direct in their tape Golden Voyage.
This work acts as a re-imaging of past aesthetics, implicitly claiming that those principles
can be found in a painting, La Legende Dore (The Golden Legend, sometimes translated
as The Gilt Legend, 1958), that was already pre-videographic in the same way certain
devices and images have been called pre-cinematic. The painting depicts loaves of French
bread, in front of a landscape and evening sky, framed by a gray stone wall on the left and
bottom edges of the canvas. Steina, explaining the video's genesis, has said, "We were
looking at this picture and joking about how many cameras we would need to reproduce it.
Of course three. One camera would be on the frame, one on the landscape, and one on the
One way to consider this project is, as this quote suggests, as reproduction. The
impulse to reproduce a modern painting and its means of transforming spatial and
temporal representation, signals an attempt to define videography as prefigured in modern
art. Mechanisms of multiple camera setups, horizontal drift, colourizing, and keying allow
one to reproduce effects of modernist representation.
In an earlier article, "Video Art; A Theory for the Future," I suggested the limits
of such aspirations, though as is clear from that article as it develops, I by no means
wished to foreclose this area of video exploration, only force what could be merely
reproduction to be pursued as intertextuality, difference and development:
"The artist must move beyond video versions of image redefinition that have
already been accomplished by artists working with non-electronic craft (. . .) the added
factor of temporality is not enough to justify the reworking of cubism per se (. . .) the same
is true of Futurism, Impressionism, etc. The risk here is that video art will limit itself to
kitsch citation, with no new imagination."3
The Vasulka's Golden Voyage always looked less like an effort at reproduction or
even citation, and more like a drifting beyond the fixity of the Magritte image, to an
elaborately different project of temporal and spatial transformation.
The tape's duration, 29 minutes, expands the purview of the original painting as
the "Loaves of French bread embark on a journey. They travel across various backgrounds
_ a mesa, a beach, a building, as well as a nude woman."4 This voyage beyond the space
of the original tableau through different scenes, engaging a symbolic, even a surrealist
displacement, invites a look at this work as meta-discourse on painting and video, if one
made playfully, visually. Though the Vasulka tape never insists upon its theoretical
implications, it allows spectators to reconsider the complex intertextuality and reference
already inscribed in the Magritte image.
The potential for artistic use of digital deconstruction and collage is displayed by
Simon Biggs' A New Life, (1989), The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1990) and Luis F.
Camino's Velazquez Digital (1989). Biggs uses digital manipulations to rearrange shapes
in paintings and to exchange motifs between paintings, adding his own motifs to the ever-
changing collage. In A New Life, selected devotional works of Andrea Mantegna are the
subject of this graphic play. The central figure and the column of Mantegna's two St.
Sebastian panels are presented on either side of the frame. The St. Sebastian of about
1459, (now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) is on the left, while the St.
Sebastian of about 1480 (now in the Louvre) is on the right, though inverted left to right.
This inversion causes the fragmented arches behind each figure, and the three-quarter
profile and directed eyeline in each depiction of the Saint to strive to connect to each other
across the centre. Arrows like those that crisscross the Saint's body in each panel are
animated in video flight across the whole of the image. Although the background of both
St. Sebastian Panels is eliminated in the video, those who know the original images are
privy to an added humorous irony, as these Mantegna compositions depend on similar
fragments, such as the broken Greek statues scattered about in what might appear a
seemingly incongruous conjunction until it is read as symbolic construction.
Such humorous treatment of Renaissance space does not obscure that each
transformation of a composition hints at a knowledge, virtually lost except among Art
Historians, of how to decipher and appreciate the complexities of this space and the
shifting historical forms of representation.5 The tape reshapes the use of architectural
elements, for example as significant, internal, framing devices. It uses the motifs of the
heart and a scientific beaker to wrest its own alchemical melange of Christian imagery
and computer science. It ends by isolating the sky in a frame that recalls the symbolic
weight given the sky in Renaissance painting.6 There is much humour in the play between
computer generation and Renaissance composition, so that, for example, figures of three
top panels of the San Zeno alterpiece (1456-9) appear divorced from the panel's
background and overlaid on a different one. The columns which demarcate the panels
float into and out of the image, while the figures shuffle their positions several times. We
see elements of Death of the Virgin (c. 1460) as the Virgin floats down to her bier and up
again, while the river scene framed by columns behind her becomes a video window for
the collage of other motifs. The play in all these instances is so comic, and so reminiscent
of filmic animation collage used primarily for humour, that one has to underscore that
such moves also can be seen as delineating the sharp planar representation of Mantegna
and its connotations of insistence on and faith in presence within representation. The
moves Biggs make deconstruct that absolute, creating a more 'virtual' space.
Similarly, Biggs' The Temptation of Saint Anthony plays with the reshaping of
Marcel Duchamp's The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, even, (The Large Glass)
(1915-1923), The Chocolate Grinder, No.2 (1914) and other elements, as a meditation on
the image and Duchamp's abandonment of the pictorial and painterly image for his
virtual, imaginary machines.7 The Duchamp images are not directly represented here, but
mimicked with similar shape objects collaged into a construction with similar design.
Throughout the tape elements are surrealistically collaged together. This tape, with its
emphasis on metamorphosis, is an homage to Duchamp's transformative project, in
addition to being an extension (begged by its title) of the work on the meanings of
techniques of representation begun in A New Life. If A New Life could be mistaken as
merely a reinscription of religious spirituality rather than a more ironic commentary on an
age that wrote and rewrote the spiritual from the vantage point of an age which can't
possibly simply rewrite that spirituality, The Temptation of Saint Anthony leaves us no
Camino performs a similar act of disassembly, which he combines with collage
and montage. Velazquez Digital, too, has a light side, but is also an attempt by the Latin
American video artist to comment on his Hispanic heritage. The tape begins with
Velazquez's Las Meninas (1651), with the progressive removal of each of the figures in
the painting, beginning with the onlooker on the stairs and ending with the enfanta. Each
evacuation is punctuated by a single tone of music, and the space behind the missing
figure is immediately filled in, as if they had left, not a painting, but a space that remained
behind them upon departure. Then figures from other Velazquez paintings fill the vacated
space, first the workers from the genre pictures, then Venus and her Mirror. After this
game of substituting the commoners and the mythological for the court, the space of the
room is rendered with increasing abstraction, minimizing its detail, retaining only the
lines of its perspective and rear doorway. This is then collaged and transformed into
modern painterly surfaces, yielding to abstract collages that interweave textures, broken
letters, rope, and occasionally photographs, revisited by the figures from Velazquez's
paintings. At the tape's end, there is a process of reassembling Las Meninas, starting with
the introduction of the gilt frame into which the portrait of king and queen emerge in
close up. When this recedes to the back wall, the figures of Las Meninas reappear one by
one, until the image is complete, except that now one of the abstract paintings from the
tape's mid-section occupies one of the spaces on the back wall. The tape resonates with
much of the theoretical speculation Las Meninas and the whole of oeuvre has inspired,
particularly as concerns the tension between court painting and genre aspirations as the
collected images trace the painter's own will and desire.8
In a different strategic move, the pedagogic view of video looking directly at art
is taken to task by Juan Downey's videotape, The Looking Glass. A riff on the tradition of
the art documentary, the tape looks at artworks including Velazquez's Las Meninas and
Venus with her Mirror, Holbein's The Ambassadors, (1537), Picaes Lieux de Video
Mirror and Versailles, Fontainebleau and the John Sloane house, linking these
thematically with the mirror and the narcissus myth. The tape collages fragments of
interviews with three art historians, an erudite mirror salesman and a tour guide,
interspersed with theatrically performed scenes such as stealing the famous tableaux in
question. Video re-imaging techniques are used as supplements to create echoes and
repetitions in the image.
Downey attempts humour alongside theory; though brushing with serious notions
of subject positioning historically and covering a terrain mined by such theorists as
Foucault and Lacan (though Downey's reference point from the French is to Roland
Barthes), The Looking Glass insists on its playful speculation. If The Looking Glass uses
discursive strategies and juxtaposition for analytical ends, if it calls into question the
history of art and theories of visual representation, it refuses the seriousness that it frankly
mocks in the scholars it sets up, who either appear to read images too reductively, without
pleasure and multivalence, or as snake-oil salesmen for formal analyses presented as
elaborate games. These caricatures are unfair to the contributions of Eunice Lipton and
Leo Sternberg, whose writings on the paintings in question made suggestive contributions;
however, Downey's interpretation of video as form or expression demands the
foregrounding of video collage, which he does audaciously. Montage is not to be taken for
granted when art history is in question or at any other time.
To visibly construct the playful argument is part of his effort at foregrounding
video not as the invisible documentary tool of art, but as the artistic reinvention of
As such, Downey calls the question on the tendency of video art to lace its
imagery with homages to the past of art. If Downey belongs among those video artists who
"deconstruct. . .existing constructions of communication technologies and industries," this
discursive gesture on his part seems to take place in awe and mourning of aesthetic
experience in the past. The Looking Glass seems nostalgic, wistful, and therefore unable
to align itself entirely with the art historical discourses of critical theory; Downey's own
voice-over confession of his experience before Las Meninas in the Prado turns his
aesthetic arousal into a self-consciously "dirty" joke, of the schoolyard variety. Yet if he is
irreverent, it is as a measure of reverence, like his visit to the site where Roland Barthes
was "crushed by a laundry truck." He doesn't know where to stand to look in this age of
post-modern trafficking and the ambivalence of this uncertain desire; except, that is, as a
site of contradictory impulses.
Mary Lucier and Doug Hall have images tell of their concept of a video artist's
relationship to painting. As Americans, they approach the art of continental Europe as a
distant echo of its thunder, yet resonating nonetheless, brilliantly. A pursuit of auto-
biographical memory images spurs Mary Lucier to return to her birthplace in rural Ohio
at the opening of Ohio at Giverny. The views, though anecdotally subjective, are rendered
as framed camera images whose mode ranges from the subjective to the objective, to the
ambiguous; rather than narrate this return directly, she does so obliquely, letting the
image composition bear the weight of memory. The transition to France moves the image
out the window of the two-story, wood-frame farmhouse with Victorian accents in rural
southern Ohio, as a white light overpowers the landscape beyond. This is joined by a fade-
in to images taken from a train. This gives way to a montage of French landscapes,
monuments and streets. The exploration of Monet's Giverny house and the garden he
established there, which he subsequently painted as his only late subject, then parallels the
Ohio Victorian farmhouse.
Lucier's installation alternates images which create temporal and spatial
displacements. Tableaux are multiplied in a sculptural space. Here the preoccupation with
light and its inscription of her earlier burn tapes becomes a fixation of the light and space
of Monet, as remembered from childhood, perhaps well before the reference to the
Giverny paintings was known to her. The tape makes the connection as a journey across
images as one site bleeds over into images at the other. Distinctly, precisely presented
images repeat in patterns of symmetry and asymmetry from monitor to monitor and
moment to moment. Slow motion or rapid motion, sometimes in conjunction with blurred
focus, vary the textures of the imagery, creating a rhythm of enunciation that is thoughtful
Lucier's installation acts as a reframing. She claims for video an impressionist
palette, a subtlety of colour, as well as the relationship between the pixels and the
fragmentation of the coloured brush stroke. The critical reception, mainly in response to
the inclusion of the installation in the 1993 Whitney Biennial, marked this conjuncture.
Grace Glueck in The New York Times called it "a stunning paean to Monet. . .which
orchestrates beautifully a brilliant melange of images in what is certainly the Biennial's
most beautiful display," while Victor Ancona in Videography called it "a unified, poetic,
narrative structure that rarely surfaces with such acumen in contemporary art," and Ann-
Sargent Wooster in The Village Voice said, "Her studies of skies, reflections, and pure
radiant light build on Monet's paintings and in certain instances surpasses them."9 While
critics recognized and praised the work's shared aesthetics with its Monet reference, most
left aside the meaning and consequences of Lucier's strategic borrowing, or simply
presented them as an aesthetic tautology, as in Paul Groot's praise of "the aesthetically
balanced work of a fine artist." Bruce Jenkins, in his notes to the Walker exhibit, posits
the consequence also in terms of "enduring terms of western art," though he sees it as part
of a more recent subset of those values, based on a "phenomenology of artistic perception,
the act of seeing that pictorializes the world and reworks it into art."10
Despite, or perhaps even due to Monet's posthumous popularity as an artist,
recent art historical work has relegated Monet's art to the "beautiful." This work does not
ignore the fact that reception of Monet's work at first was not by any means uniformly
favourable; in its own way the exploration of light, pigment and brush stroke challenged
the reigning aesthetic and was embraced only by those critics who were able to appreciate
If the critics in New York termed Lucier's work beautiful, they must have been
aware that the adjective could be seen as a condemnation in many circles, at the very least
connoting the trivial, at worst, connoting the old-fashioned, the escapist, the reactionary.
In a sense, Lucier's montage means to take on just such connotations, reworking and
commenting on them intelligently.
Mary Lucier, when asked in an interview Peter Doroshenko whether her
connection with landscape imagery was closer to the ideas of Casper David Friedrich or
Robert Smithson, took the opportunity to point out the dialectic between romantic and
conceptual sensibilities, that allows her an affinity to both.11 For her the sublime
reemerges in Smithson's and her own pragmatic, intellectual way of ordering things, their
interest in process and materials and the moment when the response is 'visceral.'
Carl David Friedrich figures again in Doug Hall's work, as does this same
problematic. In his article, "Storm and Stress: Thoughts on Landscapes in Nature and
Industry," Hall speaks of the pre-romantic Sturm und Drang of 19th century Germany, as
well as of contemporary landscape painters who represent a new relationship drawn
between landscape painting and abstract expression:
"As one part of me revels in the awe that one feels when in the presence of
violent weather and technology -- this is the Wagnerian side which I try to keep in
abeyance since the dangerous romantic lurks there -- the other is more distanced and is
fascinated by the language of images, their sign system. I am attracted to the powerful
image not just on the visceral level (the aesthetic experience transmitted through the
bowels) but, more importantly, I am curious about the nature of these images; the means
by which they're transmitted, and, once received, by their ability to affect (us)."12
Different moments of people isolated within the dwarfing glistening machinery
of power plants and other industrial assemblages prefigure Hall's tape, People in
Buildings, which explores conceptually this architectonic relation of humans in the spaces
they have built. The positioning of these figures with their backs to the video camera
echoes the dominant composition of figures in Friedrich's paintings.
In summary, what I have attempted to explore here are some of the specifics of a
visual intertextuality between video and painting. If artworks are in some sense cited by
such texts, they are also displaced. They are moved into the spatial and temporal
parameters that define video and that video, in turn, helps reconceptualize. How does
displacement operate in such texts? Between the immediacy of visual perception and the
self-conscious inscription of art as signifier of a reified history, several tensions operate.
Videos that reference artworks stress those tensions. One implication of a video artist
citing a painting is a dissection of the compound phrase 'video art' through an
investigation of video's relationship to all the graphic arts which preceded it. Nam June
Paik asserted this early on: "As collage technique replaced oil paint, so the cathode-ray
tube will replace canvas" and imagined shaping video "as precisely as Leonardo, as freely
as Picasso, as colourfully as Renoir, as profoundly as Mondrian, as violently as Pollock
and as lyrically as Jasper Johns."13
Taken in its most extended sense of film or video citing Modernist and especially
Post-Modernist painting or sculpture, references and interactions between the avant-
gardes and movements are constant and ongoing. The sense in which Gary Hill's videos
are conceptual or image-text art done in video form is the sense in which the boundaries
of a medium might have long ago disappeared, except for our institutional need to
The history of one artform citing another is well-established and is certainly
charged with significance and burdened by detractors, those that find such citation tedious
or beside the point. This is particularly true of 'new' artforms, as can be seen by the way
photography and lithography in their own manner and historical perspective found
themselves indebted to and obsessed with earlier pictorial art. The recent work of video
that looks at or refers to the history of the graphic arts is particularly contentious in that
video is unsure of its proper place and purpose. While often displayed in museums, it is
after all linked to the communications apparati and functioning of television and film. In
the museum context of the works it cites, these citations must still be seen as more than
just a desire to be considered beautiful, important, culturally valuable. If the reference to
art is to be meaningful, it is its function as part of a larger project of the visual signifiers
of video, that will make it so. Ultimately it is the import of one art inscribing our looking
at the other arts, by which emphasis I mean that the process asks for new attention to the
spectator and to the techniques which inscribe our observation.14 The artists I have
looked at in this essay bring to their video imagery more than a simple debt to that history,
rather, they articulate their engagement in that history .
1 The complete version of this essay will appear as a chapter in Resolutions,
forthcoming from University of Minnesota Press.
2 Furlong, Lucinda, "Notes Toward a History of Image Processed Video: Steina
and Woody Vasulka," Afterimage, December, 1983. p. 15.
3 Turim, Maureen. "Video Art: A Theory for the Future." Regarding Television
Critical Approaches -- An Anthology. The American Film Institute Monograph Series,
Vol. 11. University Publications of America, Los Angeles. 1983. pp. 132-141. Reprinted
in Esthetics Contemporary. ed. Kostelanetz. Prometheus, Buffalo. 1989. pp. 398-404.
4 Furlong, p. 15.
5 Pierre Francastel, Le Figure et le lieu: L'ordre visuel du Quatrocento. Paris,
Editions Gallimard, 1967.
6 Hubert Damisch, Theorie du nuage: Pour une histoire de la peinture. Paris,
Editions du Seuil , 1972.
7 See Thierry de Duve, Pictorial nominalism: On Marcel Duchamp's Passage from
Painting to the Ready-made, trans. Dana Polan. Minneapolis, Minnesota, University
8 One famous instance of this discussion is Michel Foucault's opening chapter of
Les Mots et les choses, 1966, translated as The Order of Things: An Archeology of the
Human Sciences. New York, Vintage, 1973.
9 Grace Glueck in The New York Times, April 24,1983, Victor Ancona in
Videography , May, 1983, Ann-Sargent Wooster in The Village Voice, May 25, 1983.
10 Bruce Jenkins, notes to the Walker Art Center exhibit, Viewpoints: Paul Kos,
Mary Lucier, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1987.
11 Mary Lucier, interview with Peter Doroshenko, Journal of Contemporary Art,
Vol. 3.2, pp. 85-86.
12 Doug Hall, "Storm and Stress: Thoughts on Landscapes in Nature and Industry,"
Resolution: A Critique of Video Art, ed. by Patti Podesta. Los Angeles, LACE, 1986, pp.
13 Nam June Paik, Video 'n Technology, ed. Judson Rosebush, (Syracuse, Everson
Museum, 1974), as cited in Ann-Sargeant Wooster, "Why Don't They Shoot Stories Like
They Used To?" Art Journal, Fall 1985, p. 204
14 Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the
Nineteeth Century. Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press, 1990.
Return to: Table of Contents
United Media Arts Studies
Ten years ago a group of artists who were working in video stepped back to
survey the scene and realized that there were small and diminishing opportunities for
artists working in video. There was little dialogue with the visual arts community or with
other video art centres-of-activity around the world. It was these and other observations
which led that group of artists to create United Media Arts Studies (UMAS), a loosely
structured organization which would undertake projects designed to fill in the gaps left by
the existing artist-run and public institutions.
UMAS began in 1983 by commissioning artists to make videotapes. After it had
commissioned and produced a dozen works by artists, it started to publish and promote
them in a videotape anthology called DIDEROT. (DIDEROT is available on VHS for sale
to the public through art book retailers and its price is comparable to the price of a book.)
In 1986 UMAS, in collaboration with Trinity Square Video (Toronto), hosted a
symposium designed to analyse and challenge the relationship between video art
producers and television broadcasters. Representatives from mainstream television
broadcasters, regulatory agencies and alternative broadcasters such as CKLN, Global
Village and the Innuit Broadcasting Corporation, were on hand to discuss their policies
towards video art and independent producers, and to receive comments, criticisms and
suggestions from the many artists present.
More recently UMAS has begun to tackle the question of international dialogue
around the media arts. In 1991 it organized an exhibition of Canadian video art which
was shown at four museums and galleries in Europe, and UMAS now distributes
international video art to Canadian art colleges and universities.
UMAS also hosts an annual artist-in-residence program: Andrea van der Straeten
(Germany) and Jochen Traar (Austria) were invited to live and work in UMAS's studio for
two months during the summer of 1993; the Vasulkas and PRINZGAU/podgorschek will
be invited during the summer of 1994. UMAS's studio is located in an historic mill in
Durham, Ontario, two hours northwest of Toronto.
Return to: Table of Contents
Coliphon and Acknowledgements
Curators: Jean-Paul Fargier, Jean Gagnon, Anna Steininger, Maureen Turim
Exhibition Organizer: Ilse Gassinger
Locations: United Media Arts, Durham Art Gallery
Editors: Geoffrey Shea, Ilse Gassinger
Editorial Assistance: James Lorne Gillespie
Translation: Ilse Gassinger, Monica Shea, Geoffrey Shea
Audio & Video Recording: Michael Dyer, Tim Howe
Catalogue Design: Image Business
Cover Photography: Ilse Gassinger
Printing: King Print (Toronto)
Les Lieux de Video was supported by: The Canada Council, The Province of Ontario through The Ontario Arts Council and The Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Recreation, The Austrian Ministry of Education and Art, The Durham Art Gallery, Ed Video, The Ontario College of Art.
Special thanks to:
The Durham Art Gallery, The Ontario College of Art, V/Tape, Interforest, King Print,
Monica Shea and Ed Video.
Diderot - Les Lieux de Video was published on the occassion of the exhibition: Les Lieux de Video, October 1-31, 1993, by United Media Arts Studies, Durham, Ontario, Canada N0G 1R0.
Tel: (519) 369-3025 Fax: (519) 369-5831
© 1993 No part of this publication may be reproduced without permission. (The electronic version may be downloaded and printed out for personal use or research only.)
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