For over 30 years, artists have experimented with ways in which
video images and technologies can expand and enhance their work
both as a medium and as a tool. Although controversial at first,
the collaboration has changed the arts, producing new art forms,
new visual languages, new ways of relating images and sounds to
performance, and new means of making and distributing art. And
as new digital technologies emerge, artists are finding even more
creative, exciting applications.
A Whole New Way of Seeing
In 1965, Nam June Paik, a musician and conceptual artist, purchased
the very first Sony Portapak video system delivered to New York
City. By today’s standards, it was a monstrous contraption with
a separate black and white camera and portable VCR. Within days,
he began producing videotapes that pushed the accepted boundaries
of television and art. At the time, video images and technologies
were rarely seen outside the nation’s living rooms and TV stations.
But the new, affordable half-inch-tape portable video cameras
and special effects generators (SEGs) offered artists an opportunity
to use the tools of television to expand their work and explore
ideas about culture and communication, aesthetics and technology.
Early video art, as Paik, Bruce Naumann, Woody Vasulka and others
call it, ranged from single-channel, non-narrative videotapes
screened on a gallery monitor to multi-monitor, multi-image video
installations. Challenging traditional ideas of art and television,
these artists used video images and technologies as moving canvases
and sculptures for often surreal, sometimes self-indulgent, usually
powerful art works. They expanded the visual vocabulary and forced
viewers to think about the relationship between art and media
in a new way. Understandably, critics and art-lovers were confused:
is it television, or is it art? Where does it belong?
Despite sometimes harsh criticism, video artists and exhibition
spaces proliferated throughout the seventies and eighties, and
today video art is well established. No longer relegated to small
avant-garde galleries, world-renowned artists like Bill Viola
project stunningly beautiful, feature-length art videos in major
museums and international retrospectives. Others, like Andy Mann,
are commissioned by municipalities to build mammoth "video
trees" in city parks. Videotapes by experimental video artists
Marlon Riggs, Sadie Benning, Skip Blumberg and others have appeared
on PBS and MTV. Experimental video is a regular feature of most
major film and video festivals around the globe.
Highly manipulated images and personal statements, once the sole
domain of video artists, now show up in commercials, music videos
and Hollywood films. The debate about whether video is art or
television has virtually disappeared. Now, after three decades
of experimentation, video art is evidently a unique form in and
of itself, and that video technology is also an important component
of any artist’s toolbox.
The Artist’s Tool Box
While video artists were busy creating a whole new art form, more
traditional artists experimented with video and found unique ways
to incorporate video imagery and technology into their work. Ray
Nicoud, who makes photographic prints from manipulated video feedback
images, is one of many fine artists and photographers who use
the video image as a starting point. Painters, collage makers
and other visual artists sometimes incorporate video stills and
reproductions into their canvases and graphic artists include
video frame grabs in illustrations for books, magazines and newspapers.
Sculptors have also started to use the video image and technology
as an important element. Mary Lucier, a sculptor/photographer
turned multi-media artist, creates eerie architectural spaces
in which video images are the landscapes other objects inhabit.
Nam June Paik, considered the "dean" of video art, now
constructs multi-media sculptures that combine TV monitors, neon
and parts of cameras and VCRs into giant gods and goddesses of
Video has also found its niche in the traditional performing
arts, as video imagery and technologies appear on stages from
high school auditoriums to Broadway. Choreographers like Cathy
Weis create award-winning dance pieces with "dancing"
video monitors, and others, like Bill T. Jones, choreograph dances
specifically for video. Many theater companies, like The Wooster
Group, regularly employ video as an integral part of their productions
and often write plays in which video monitors become characters
on the stage. Rock concerts, opera companies and even conservative
symphony orchestras utilize video, projecting video montages,
subtitle translations and simultaneous large screen images of
performances for viewers in the "cheap" seats.
Artists also have begun to employ video behind the scenes as
a tool in the creative process. Many performers routinely videotape
rehearsals to critique their progress, and video notation has
become the most accepted and accessible form of recording dance
and performance for future re-creations, archives and grant applications.
Even more exceptional, architects have begun using fiber optic
video cameras to explore the interiors of architectural models
before constructing a building. Sculptors and woodworkers also
use video cameras to guide precision tools in the creation of
Although collaborations between traditional video technology and
the traditional arts have proven fruitful, new technologies combining
sophisticated computers with video offer artists exciting new
ways to expand and improve their work. Artists Grahame Weinbren
and Sue Johnson use computers and video to create interactive
video installations in which participants alter the sequence of
projected images as they move through a sensor-triggered area.
Designed with an intricate series of projectors and computer programs,
these installations take video art to a higher level and make
an essentially passive audience art form into an active one.
CD-ROMs and the Internet provide artists with even greater flexibility
as well as unique ways to distribute their work. Laurie Anderson
is one of many artists and musicians who have used video to create
multi-media, interactive CD-ROMs. Other musicians, performers
and visual artists are using video and computers to create Web
sites which help make their work accessible to a broader audience.
Many videographers now contribute their work to corporate Web
sites and CD-ROMs. As the market for video in these areas increases,
more video artists will be taking advantage of the new opportunities
this technology offers.
The Next Wave
There is no telling how emerging technologies will continue to
influence artists or how artists will inspire new technological
advances. Perhaps new art forms, as yet unimagined, will be created
or new video tools will become available to artists of all kinds.
Artists who are already using video cameras and computers look
forward to digital technology with great anticipation, claiming
that it offers them greater versatility at lower cost. Others
are anxious to see a more prevalent use of CD-ROMs and dream of
Internet sites where audiences can go on-line to see live performances
in a kind of "virtual performance gallery."
One thing, however, is certain. Recent, more advanced, cheaper
consumer cameras and computer hardware and software enable anyone
to use their home equipment right now to make art. Whether making
a videotape to be shown on a monitor or on cable access, an installation,
a CD-ROM, a Web site or a performance, the artist’s tools are
already at your fingertips.
"You don’t need to invest thousands of dollars to make art
with your camcorder," says video-inspired artist Ray Nicoud,
who also produced a videotape on how to make video art effects
with consumer equipment. "Just play around with the special
effects your camera has, plug it into your computer, add your
imagination and you’ll be amazed by what you can produce. Experiment
and have fun–that’s what making art is all about."
Lauryn Axelrod is a documentary videographer and has taught
video production since 1987.
Video Artist Tony Carruthers
Tony Carruthers has been making video art for over 20 years. Trained
as a painter, architect and set designer, Carruthers turned to
video in the late 70’s after having become dissatisfied with the
limitations of each singular art form. Viewing video as an adaptable
medium, he began to investigate the ways in which he could use
video as a canvas, a sculpture, a performance and a structural
Using a Sony Hi8 camera, a computer-based Abner editing system,
a Panasonic WJ-MX12 mixer and a variety of specially constructed
monitors and projectors, Carruthers creates video installations
in galleries and public spaces. He has also worked in collaboration
with performers to create pieces that use video images and technologies
in new ways on stage (Cathy Weis’ "Dub"). He also produces
single-channel video art works ("The Art Show") for
a local cable access station. Recently, he has started to use
the Panasonic Video Printer to produce gorgeous, painterly images
from video frame grabs.
More than anything else, Carruthers appreciates the accessibility,
low cost and graphic nature of video and considers it the most
versatile tool for making art. "Video can be used in performance,
as an installation, projected, printed, or put onto CD-ROMs and
the Internet," he says. "The multitude of uses, the
relative low cost of materials, and the ways in which it can be
manipulated give me so much flexibility–it’s the ideal way for
me to work."
Where to Find Video Art
Most art museums exhibit video-inspired art, but there are several
museums, galleries, artists’ collectives and videotape distributors
that specialize in it. Below are a few that are worth checking
Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach, California
The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City
The Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, Texas
Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, New York
Museum of Modern Art, New York City
San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco
The New Museum, New York City
ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art), Boston
The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago
New Orleans Museum of Contemporary Art, New Orleans
Creative Time, New York City
The Kitchen, New York City
Artists’ Space, New York City
No Exit, New York City
Art in General, New York City
P.S. 122, New York City
The Performing Garage, New York City
- Video Data Bank (312) 345-3550
- Distributes works by new video artists.
- Electronic Arts Intermix (212) 966-4605
- Provides the definitive catalogue of video art from the 1960’s
to the present.
- Artists’ Television Access (415) 824-3890
- Paper Tiger Television (212) 420-9045
- Produces and distributes social commentary video art.
- California Newsreel (415) 621-6196
- Distributes the work of the late Marlon Riggs and other controversial
- Museum of Modern Art Circulating Film and Video Library (212)
- Catalogues videos that span the history of video art and its