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Video art was born since the beginning of modern art, with the artists’ will to capture movement in many different ways. The video is a brand new tool for the artists to express their creativity, and since its invention they started using it very often!
[Unfortunately, writing this post with images of the videos will be difficult and complex to understand, so we will try to insert as many videos as possible, accordingly to what is available on the internet.]
Historical and artistic background
In the early ’60s, Sony developed a video recorder affordable enough to be distributed to the mass. At that time, the television was already a common presence in the houses of people, and the public was quite used to it. Everyone had noticed already its power, the power of the moving image.
Speaking of moving image, we have to remember that it was an objective aimed by many artists before it became possible: the Impressionist were already searching for some movement in their paintings. The Futurists were painting the speed, the machines, the future and the action: everything was moving! Marcel Duchamp, in his early phases, was trying to catch the movement in his paintings. The Op Art was concentrating on movement, the Kinetic Art too (the name itself says it!). The rise of the video was totally announced.
- When saying “video art”, it means every artwork created to be seen as a video. It does not include recordings of Performance Art, Sound Art, etc.
- There are many different kinds of Video Art right now, especially because of the rapid development of technology: among the others, we can find installation videos, animations, durational art, computer driven art, etc. We are now defining the origins of it, but nowadays you could find something in a gallery that does not resemble any of the examples we are now showing you.
- The video was a very important tool for the first years, because it was so new and so impacting that it was used to communicate important messages. Many times it was used in a political way, in a social way, or to wake up the audience about certain themes.
- Often the video was seen as the ideal way to criticize, mock, or re-make Hollywood films or television programs.
Vostell was one of the first artists to create a work of video art. His first video was Sun In Your Head – Television Décollage (1963), and it included fragments of TV programs that he had previously recorded. He took the idea of the décollage invented during the Nouveau Réalisme, but then he applied it to the television, making an abstract generic portrait of the society of his time. In the same way, the décollages were a portrait of society a decade before. you have the video just below.
Nam June Paik
Nam June Paik was another pioneer of the video art, organizing exhibitions that legitimated the medium. One of his most important works is TV Cello, a performance held by Charlotte Moorman. Moorman was an excellent cellist, and she had to play a cello made of three TVs glued together. On each TV a movie was shown: one was Moorman playing live, another was showing other cellists playing, and the third one was just an intercepted broadcast feed.
Nam June Paik was then putting together performance, music and video, to form a whole new work of art. This is one of the first examples of “video-sculpture”, one of the different kinds of video art that exist nowadays.
Bruce Nauman is an artist that works and has worked with many different media, among which the video. For some of his artworks, he used the video to investigate on the body as an external object, seeing how it behaves when touched, pressed, or pulled. I am referring to Thighing (Blue), Bouncing Balls (later re-interpreted by Francesco Vezzoli), Pulling Mouth and Pinchneck, all works made from 1967 to 1969. The video is used here as a third eye, an external way to see something that we are doomed to see only from the inside: our body.
We already spoke about this artist here, but he deserves to be mentioned here as well. He works with the video in a very different way, using the rallenty as an exclusive feature of the video. The video allows the artist to investigate human emotions through the slowed image, focusing on every second. There are many examples of this will of Bill Viola, but here below you can find one. It’s called Acceptance (2010).
The video we will speak about here (you can find an excerpt below) is called Empire, and it is the image of the Empire State Building in New York filmed for eight hours straight. Shorter versions do not exist. In fact, they speculate that Andy Warhol created this film exactly in order for it not to be seen in his duration. The film starts with the Empire State Building during the day, and for the first six hours it remains like this. Then, the light goes down and the Empire remains alone in the darkness. The purpose of the artist was to give the idea of time passing by.
Other artists and contributors
Among the other artists we have to mention Vito Hannibal Acconci, an Italian-American artist who worked a lot on his body as a proper material, using videos as a tool, but not his main activity. A work that we can suggest to check out is Air time (1973), in which Acconci is in a room and speaks to a mirror, while a camera transmits his image to the external area of the room, to the public.
Another artist we have to mention is Dara Birnbaum, who used her art to convey feminist ideals. We dedicated a whole week about feminist art, check it out! She wanted to deconstruct typical images of the television revealing the way they are made, isolating, slowing, fragmenting the images. You can find Technology/Transformation: Wonder woman linked below, it’s her most famous work.
As we said before, we the technology advancing more and more, there are may kinds of video art now. For example, now at the Serpentine Gallery in London is exhibited a work by Ian Cheng, with animations that are created by a computer through an algorithm that the artist wrote. The animation is self-generating from an initial input, and then continues unpredictably. This, and many other variations are to be seen!