playback 1996

Session Transcripts

March 29, 1996, Afternoon

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CHRIS HILL: Over the past two or three decades, the media arts field was driven by the demands of art centers, museum and festival exhibitors, and tape rentals by college educators, as well as by a modest body of criticism, initially from within the field, and now increasingly written by critics and cultural theorists. While it has been possible in the course of researching this project to identify remarkable work from 1968-1980, through existing catalogues, program notes, and lists from festival screenings, and to access tapes through the collections of some distributors, museums, media art centers, libraries, public access facilities, universities and collections of individual artists, the fact remains that most of the videotape recorded during this period is currently unviewable and relatively inaccessible. A great deal of the largely uncatalogued and unviewable work from the 60s and 70s was originally made by community producers for local audiences or for narrowcasting on cable television, by educators and therapists who embraced new configurations of documentation and interactive feedback, and by artists whose work may have participated in a local art scene, but not found its way to distant programmers or distributors. And while some of these bodies of work have been donated to libraries and universities, much work can still be found on the dusty shelves of community organizations and in the attics of artists. Many such tapes are now poorly identified, and almost all videotapes from this period are in desperate need of restoration, in order to be played on the working open reel machines, which are no longer widely available. So while this project does include tapes that have been out of distribution for over twenty years or were made for specific audiences, and therefore not widely known at the time, the field and the future History Project still need to address this great body of work which has yet to reveal the insights of its largely unsung makers and to reaffirm the commitments undertaken by these early media art and communication projects. Intensive efforts should be made towards recovering, cataloguing and restoring videotapes as well as identifying institutions, funders, production scenes, and primary ephemeral material such as program notes, collection inventories, flyers and publications from the periods. Perhaps one of the most interesting developments in recent years has been the idea put forth by the National Moving Image Database, the Video Cataloguing Project, which has proposed an online inventory of existing tapes in as many collections as are willing or able to conform to standardized databases. This comprehensive index of primary materials, existing tapes with descriptive and information catalogued on a database accepted as a national standard by archivists and funders, has been developing at a time when remastering procedures are increasingly reliable and coming down in cost. Of course, all of these projects are now up in the air as funding is a real issue for the media arts field in general. The scope of all this activity is critical for the independent media field, as significant bodies of work are reconfigured, and regional and community discourses need to be reconsidered. These various video histories, those included in our project and others yet to be rediscovered and restored, are additionally timely in view of the advent of international media hardware and software expansion, the democratic use of which can only be realized with considerable attention to universal access and media education about the history of independent video, and its aspirations for reconfiguring relationships between production and reception, its audiences, its discourses, as well as consumers' relationship with the spectacle of corporate television in the United States, and all of this needs to be reconsidered on a much broader scale than has been established to date. I want to emphasize the importance of looking at the infrastructures that were developed by these same groups of people that were the most active producers in the late 60s and early 70s. This cultural infrastructure that was initiated at the time, which includes organizations that delivered public funding for the media arts, regional media art centers, media libraries, artist-run centers, museum programs for film and media, public access centers, public television, and video documentation of the performing arts, this was a remarkable cultural project that correctly assessed, at the time, the institutional power imbalance in our media-intensive contemporary culture. People in the early 70s said that making video was like voting, and that VT, videotape, is not TV, television. Early video explored a range of artistic agendas, valuing process over product, celebrating the potential for a new hands-on relationship with electronic communications tools and distribution systems, and through training of citizens and the development of decentralized local access to video production, stimulated a community's capacity for dialogue. While some of the rhetoric from this period was utopian, its call for a committed, new, experiential relationship with media in order to participate meaningfully in contemporary life, was right on target. The tapes that you're going to see today, start out with Bruce Nauman's Stamping in the Studio, which is a four minute excerpt from a thirty minute tape. This tape participates in a discourse of the late 60s about process, about the artist's working relationship with materials, and this tape has been described as an artist working in the studio, him retracing his steps as he would be working in the studio, so it's in some ways the gestures of an artist working in the studio or the tracking of that. This issue of duration of time, of process, which was so salient in the late 60s, and which really needs to be understood in order to look at a lot of these early tapes, is something that, unfortunately, really comes into direct conflict with our experiences of watching quickly edited work on television and in films now. So, one of the interesting aspects of doing this project has been to really try to come up with the primary materials and ways of contextuallizing this work. Bill Wegman's tape uses a dog as a kind of surrogate television audience for his comedic performance pieces. As Mary Lucier alluded to earlier today, a lot of this work was really intended as process, and videotape was really seen as a kind of ephemeral documentation, if it was used at all, for a lot of performances. This was seen as a radical gesture, this was seen as valuing process over product. The other thing that some of you may not realize is that it was actually quite difficult to edit video at the time. The early open reel tapes were often times edited with a razor blade. So the whole notion of editing had a completely different relationship to the work than to the work that we would be looking at today. Tony Conrad's piece, which is also an excerpt, from Cycles of Threes and Sevens, deals with the relationship of music to video. This was a way of representing harmonic intervals that Conrad, John Cale and Lamont Young were performing as part of the Theater of Eternal Music in the mid 60s, except in this case, Conrad demonstrates it on a calculator. Joan Jonas' Vertical Roll is a classic, and you'll be seeing a five minute excerpt of Vertical Roll, which was actually rescanned on a monitor. If you have any questions afterwards, especially about the context of the works, ask me. [ Videos play ]

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