Next week we plan to bring you a brief history of Video Art, replete with tips on talking about the difficult medium without feeling like a dope. To whet your appetite we reached out to a few video art makers and asked them to share some tips of the trade in less than 140 characters, or, the length of a tweet.
Andy Warhol first screened Empire , one of the earliest works of video art, in 1964.
The plot? Empire shows the Empire State building literally just existing between 8:06pm and 2:42am. Warhol famously and infamously described the point of watching the film as “to see time”—which will either inspire you or launch you into an epic rant.
Today, Video Art, a genre of artwork created with cameras, not paint, and exhibited using projectors and blank walls, is shown at major art institutions worldwide. Some words that you might hear people use when talking about video art are Postmodern. Erotic. Lexicon. Dichotomy. Deconstruction. Reconstruction. Marina Abramovic.
(The Onion Marina Abramovic)
But what is video art? What makes it different than a viral Youtube video or box office explosion? And, for that matter, why do museums even show art videos? In Part 1 of our two-part series Understanding Video Art, I approached two video artists for answers.
Howard Weinberg, the documentarian behind TV LAB: License to Create, wanted to create a film capturing an incredibly creative and experimental period in the history of American public television. Sipping on a cup of coffee at the Manhattan Diner, Howard - a writer, film director, and producer who had worked at Thirteen during most of the TV LAB era recalled conversations with the wondrous William Wegman and the legendary Nam June Paik, two groundbreaking artists whose work set the stage for amazing experimentation with new digital technologies in the 70's and beyond.
Weinberg recalled being drawn to very first video he saw by Paik, which featured a toy piano on fire and a bust of Beethoven being repeatedly punched by a boxing glove, even before Paik reached Thirteen. Eventually, Paik became one of the founding fathers of video art. Don't worry, Marina: you are up there with the founding mothers.
You may recognize William Wegman's work from his wonderful Sesame Street segments of Weimaraners (grey, long-faced dogs) completing human tasks like baking homemade bread.
I asked Weinberg for wisdom for newcomers to video art in 140 characters or less. He responded with four poetic Tweets which could all easily be mistaken for haiku:
Take off your shoes and wristwatch.
Immerse yourself in meditation.
Make Your Own Video Art:
Skype with a friend while you
walk around with your iPhone
Build a shrine or hearth
For your video art
Or hang it on a wall opposite a mirror
Or pretend it is a mirror and talk to it.
Install a surveillance camera.
After a month, edit the footage;
Replace video art
With observation of video art.
Dara Weinberg - no relation - a poet, Fulbright researcher, and theatre director, is currently one of the curators for the Parallel Octave chorus' second ANTHOLOGY film event, which will feature original videos set to tracks of poetry being read and performed by the Parallel Octave chorus . The collaborative film project screens in Baltimore on August 2nd at the Creative Alliance.
(Photo of some members of Parallel Octave, Dara Weinberg at the far left)
I asked Dara for 140-character wisdom. She wrote back with a single, artful Tweet:
If Eisenstein can think of poems in terms of shots, then we can also think of films in terms of lines and stanzas.
I suggest you pocket these Tweets so that next time you find yourself seething before an endless video of a cow licking a large breast-shaped column of salt (Malia Jensen's Salty, above, featured at this year's Art Basel, Miami) you'll have some tools for understanding the work, plus a few calming words to restore your inner peace.
Stay tuned for part two of our Art 101 series Understanding Video Art.