Publications: Diderot

DIDEROT #4 functioned as a catalogue for UMAS's international video art exhibition: Les Lieux de Video. It consists of a 70 page printed book and a one-hour video which contains excerpts from all of the artists' works, as well as discussions with the curators and organizers. What follows is the entire printed text component of this issue.

For information on ordering any issue of DIDEROT:


Les Lieux de Video

An Exhibition of International Video Art

Table of Contents

Program - Videotapes and Installation
Foreword - Geoffrey Shea & Ilse Gassinger
Video : Je /Voix - Jean-Paul Fargier
Feints & Fictions - Jean Gagnon
The Oscillating Document - Anna Steininger
The Image of Art in Video - Maureen Turim
Background - United Media Arts Studies
Coliphon and Acknowledgements

Return to: Table of Contents

Exhibition Program
Videotapes and Installations

J'ai La Tete Qui Tourne by Jacques Louis Nyst (1984, 16:00, Belgium)

Mon Tout Premier Baiser by Danielle Jaeggi (1983, 15:00, France)

Treize Brouillons Pour Un Portrait D'Averty by Pierre Trividic (1991, 13:00, France)

Les Fous by Esti (1991, 11:00, Israel/France)

Double Blind by Sophie Calle & Greg Shephard (1992, 76:00, USA)

Golden Voyage by Woody & Steina Vasulka (1973, 12:15, USA)

Quadrilogues de l'Arbre/Tree Quadrilogues by Daniel Dion (1991, Installation, Canada)

Longshot by Lynn Hershman (1990, 58:00, USA)

Who's Going to Pay for These Donuts Anyway? by Janice Tanaka (1993, 58:00, USA)

Le Regard Ebouli by Jacques Deschamp (1987, 50:00, France)

People in Buildings by Doug Hall (18:10, USA)

Intellectual Properties by John Adams (1995, 60:00, Britain)

Ohio to Giverny: Memory of Light by Mary Lucier (1993, 19:00, USA)

Valazquez Digital by Luis Camino (1989, 8:00, Mexico)

Conscience by Cesar Vayssie (1991, 12:00, France)

La Reception by Robert Morin (1989, 77:00, Canada)

The Temptation of St Anthony by Simon Biggs (1990, 4:20, Britain)

A New Life by Simon Bigss (1989, 4:08, Britain)

In the Land of the Elevator Girls by Steina Vasulka (1989, 4:15, USA)

The Looking Glass by Juan Downey (1981, 28:49, USA)

Return to: Table of Contents

Geoffrey Shea & Ilse Gassinger

Les Lieux de Video. The place(s) of video. The positions it adopts; the sites it explores. Where it intersects with our lives, our cultures, our reality. These were the issues we were considering when we initiated this project. The answers, of course, are not to be found in a single exhibition, in a single location, in a single publication. UMAS invited four guest curators to assemble this program. Each is familiar with a large and active video community; each lives in a different country, works in a different context, and has an identifiably different cultural agenda. We hoped that they would, intentionally or otherwise, reveal the differences in their respective engagements with video art and, through the diversity of their programs, shed light on our own conceptions and preconceptions.

Curation is, by nature, a process of exclusion (this exhibition no less than others) and this process is perhaps nowhere more evident than in video art's relationship to museums. We invited Jean Gagnon because we felt that his position as the Video Curator at the National Gallery in Ottawa would allow him to represent one instance of a museum that has some commitment to the collection and exhibition of video. Questions of value, status and parity with the other visual arts remain a point of contention for artists working with video. The aura created by installations notwithstanding, the absence of videotapes from the art marketplace and the insistence of many video artists on working in the margins, creates a narrow window of exhibition opportunity for a wide range of activity. Anna Steininger's perspective, in contrast to the museological one, is from the front lines of documentary. Her involvement with collective groups in Europe has given her analysis of the documentary process a poignant and concrete foundation. At the same time, her positions as the director of an artist-run centre and the video programmer of the Austrian Film Festival have made her very aware of the need for rigorous scrutiny of the forms, ideas and underlying intentions in video art. Her analysis of documentary work goes far beyond the immediate social goals of issue-oriented video and encompasses a deeper, perceptual evolution.

Along with museums and the politics of documentary, the other huge institution which looms over video art is Television. With its reliance on novelty, technological industries, and mass appeal, television has always tempted (actively or passively) video artists. Because the successes, or even the attempts, to find a common ground between the two in Canada have been few and far between, our video art 'take' on television has generally been from the point of view of an outsider. French television and video art producer Jean-Paul Fargier has identified that distance as precisely the point which defines video and gives it its voice.

The final context that we are probing with this exhibition and the invitation of the curators is that of art history and the various ways that it intersects with video. Maureen Turim has done much to establish a critical history of video art itself, as it is perceived in America. Her influential essay, "The Cultural Logic of Video" (in Illuminating Video, Doug Hall and Sally Jo Fifer, eds. 1991) outlines a basis for extending video art beyond the qualifications of a 'contemporary' art form and begins to speak about it in historical terms. But in her selection of tapes for this program Turim has inverted that investigation and focused on video artworks which take art history itself as their subject.

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 original.

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
Jean-Paul Fargier

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 Braille.

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 masterpiece.

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
Jean Gagnon

"...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 ironic."1

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
Anna Steininger

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.

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.

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 -- continues.

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 beginning.

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 would be."

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 shooting.

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
Maureen Turim

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 aesthetic perception.1

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 bread."2

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 doubt.

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 discourse.

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 and exciting.

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 its difference.

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 categorize.

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 Press, 1991.
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. 38-39.
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.)
Return to: Table of Contents