Surveying the First Decade

Alternative Media in the United States

4 June - 23 June 1997

Curated by Kate Horsefield

A joint project with the Moving Image Centre

Early American video art was a product of technological and social change. In the late 1960s, the invention of the portapak and the availability of affordable, light-weight cameras combined with counter-cultural imperatives. Video art distinguished itself from film and television, being non-narrative, not entertaining, and favouring direct address to the viewer. That the pioneers of video art mostly hailed from backgrounds in performance and conceptual art was decisive in shaping the feel of the work.

Programme 1: Explorations of Presence, Performance and Audience

Dan Graham, William Wegman, John Baldessari, Vito Acconci, Joan Jonas, Shigeko Kubota, Robert Morris and Lynda Bengalis

In these self-portraits, the artists' obsessions with themselves—their sexuality (Acconci), their relationships (Segalove, Kubota), their appearance in the view of others (Graham), their pets (Wegman)—is often matched by a fascination with the mediating effects of the video medium. Such reflexivity is explicit in Robert Morris and Lynda Bengalis's protracted Exchange, in which the collaborative process is incessantly dissected.

Programme 2: Investigations of the Phenomenal World — Space, Sound and Light

Paul McCarthy, Bruce Nauman, Peter Campus, Richard Serra, Nancy Holt, Charlemagne Palestine, Tony Conrad, Terry Fox, Gary Hill, Paul and Marlene Kos, Bill Viola

Sometimes video was used simply a means of documentation, for instance recording Paul McCarthy painting a line on the floor using his face as a brush or Bruce Nauman stomping around his studio. Other times, the distorting effects of the medium were at centre stage: the video mixer for Peter Campus, audio delay for Nancy Holt and Richard Serra, and the effects of abusing an audio speaker for Gary Hill.

Programme 3: Approaching Narrative – "There Are Problems To Be Solved"

Vito Acconci, Richard Foreman, Arthur Ginzberg and Video Free America

Video art favours inventive approaches to storytelling, avoiding the narrative conventions of cinema. Vito Acconici's witty, endlessly inventive Red Tapes offers the fragmented musings of a committed outsider—revolutionary, prisoner, artist. It offers a 'topography of the self' while poetically reassessing the radical social and aesthetic aspirations of the previous decade. Out Of Body Travel by Richard Foreman, the leader of New York's famed Ontological-Hysteric Theatre, centres on a young woman's struggle to find a relation between her body and her self as mediated by language.