Saturday, December 20, 2014

Week Three: Performance and Video art (November 4-6)

I'm glad that we are covering the beginnings of video art in class this week because aside from painting, this is the medium that excites me the most. Video art has a lot of potential for me, I think, because it a) it's familiar to most of us who grew up watching television, and b) because it includes the visual languages of painting and performance, but also includes sound.
Video art deals with a language that most of us in the western world are intimately familiar with; television. It uses moving images on a screen but unlike film, the images can be broadcast in real time so there is an immediacy to it. In this way, it also has voyeuristic connotations (which Acconci explores in a work like Theme Song). There is an interesting tension created between the viewer and screen, and the artist and camera lens. The artist knows we will watch them at some point, but they have to perform the work with no audience creating an element of self-consciousness. As viewers, we become very aware of the camera as foreground to the work. This heightens the sense that perhaps we shouldn't be watching this or are watching this by accident because the artist forgot to hit pause on the recorder.
Video art uses sound. This makes it a more attractive medium than photography because it involves more of the senses (in a general sense). You can see the influence of Cage in using the ambient sounds present during the recording instead of overlaying a traditional musical score.
Video art also uses time. Moving images require space/time to move through and thus engages the viewer in a prescribed duration of time. Unlike a photograph which you can potentially scan in a few seconds, video art asks the viewer to spend some time with the work. These early pieces also do not use any editing so the duration of the piece is the same for the artist as it is for the viewer; a shared experience.
What I like about learning about the beginnings of Video art is to see how the artists were searching out the language of the medium: experimenting and seeing what would stick. Nauman moving through space, Baldassari lifting his arms, Serra grabbing pieces of lead that are dropping from above are all very minimal actions and may be boring for some viewers. I think it is because these actions are boring is what makes them significant. Using these simple actions enabled the artists to be free of resorting to a traditional narrative as in television or film. The viewer is left with the questions what are they doing?, what is going on here? In the tradition of minimalism, what you see is what you see, enabling the video art piece to become art.
The fact that these pieces are not edited makes them seem more real because there is no polishing done to them. I think this is an interesting point; a medium that relies on a pre-recorded sequence of images mediated through a screen seems more like our lives. Perhaps this is how we perceive the world?
My only criticism with Video art is that it relies too much on technology and gear. Photography shares this same problem. It will be interesting to learn more about how artists have tried to deal with this issue. I'm aware of the work of Mark Lewis, Bill Viola, and Douglas Gordon so it will be fascinating for me to see how this develops.
Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (in situ), Douglas Gordon

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