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Tracking COVID-19 at UCLADance Disassembled: Seeing Beyond the Curtain

Video Visionaries

By Clara Polley

April 6, 2008 11:16 p.m.

With the advent of TiVo and DVR, traced to the beginnings of the remote control, TV watchers are used to being in control of what they watch. However, the “California Video” exhibit at the Getty Center gives the small screen a life of its own.

The directness, boldness and uncensored purity of video art is an integral part of this extensive exhibition at the Getty. “California Video” presents a chronological survey of video art produced in California over the last four decades, with more than 15 installations by 58 different artists.

This Wednesday, April 9, video artist Bruce Yonemoto will present his work in the event “L.A. Video: Uncensored” as part of a series of events hosted by the Getty Center in collaboration with “California Video.” Yonemoto’s work offers insight into the underside of urban Los Angeles by depicting “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” in an unrestricted manner not generally suitable for television broadcast. But Yonemoto’s edgy subject matter is just one example of the ways video artists experiment with this comparatively new medium.

Artists in the exhibit use the new film medium as an abstract canvas or tool to readdress the meaning of art itself, as a political messenger, or as an extension of live performance.

Many early video artists also used the camera to explore and depict their own bodies on screen, which creates a rather intimate engagement with the art as well as with the viewers.

“In the early days it was still revolutionary for artists to be able to record an image and watch it at the same time and to sort of see themselves moving in front of the camera on-screen which is something you could do with yourself,” said Catherine Taft, a research assistant at the Getty Research Institute for Contemporary Programs. “As a viewer you are somewhat intimate with this other personal world.”

Many of the works in the exhibit staged comical narratives by the use of props or created comic situation through film of the artists themselves in action to further emphasize the playful relationship of the artists with the new technology.

“Artists in California seemed to sort of display a particular, maybe carefree attitude toward the media,” Taft said. “They were much more willing to take different kinds of chances and to just be silly in the studio. And in those actions they then ended up being critical and political.”

As video technology has advanced rapidly since the 1980s, artists are able to use a wider range of tools for their art, which includes special effects and projection. Instead of single-channel videos, these newer and larger artworks present the ways in which video art can function not only as footage but also in a sculptural as well as architectural manner.

“Chartres Bleu,” for instance, is an installation piece by Paul Kos which replicates a stained-glass window from Chartres Cathedral in France by using a tower of 27 monitors representing each of the 27 window panes.

More contemporary videos reflect on their own time period, a time in which video cameras are ubiquitous and everyone with Internet access can post footage on Web sites like YouTube. So if everybody can post their work online, what can be called video art and what is an amateur video?

Taft explained that video art is definitely a medium that challenges these types of questions as well as stretches the boundaries of art. She added that many younger video artists actually use YouTube to post their work online and embrace it as a means to reach people on a daily basis.

“The lines are becoming blurrier and blurrier today,” she said.

Unlike more conventional art forms, such as painting and sculpture in which the artist captures a specific moment or movement in time, video art combines moving images, sound and color often embedded in complex, and sometimes funny, narratives.

For Glenn Phillips, senior project specialist and consulting curator at the Getty Research Institute, the narratives present a challenge in the exhibition.

Since each piece has a specific duration of its own, it can feel like one is missing a huge part of the exhibit. The images in the videos are constantly moving, forcing the visitor to pick and choose which ones to watch.

However, Phillips does not believe that video art is different than more traditional art forms in this regard. Rather, he said that every encounter with art requires time.

“If you walk into the paintings gallery at the Getty and you see these paintings that are often telling these complex narratives where you really have to sit down and spend time looking to even tell exactly what’s happening, what all the relationships are of all the people, most people don’t put that much time into this either,” Phillips said. “They just sort of get an impression of what the image is. So you have to decide how much time to spend and what you want to focus your attention on. We do it with television all the time ““ we flip through and we decide what we want to watch.”

Third-year art history student Nathalie Janson recently visited the exhibit, which opened in March. She also found that it takes time to understand the premise of the videos.

“When you deal with videos, it takes a while for you to understand what’s going on for you to appreciate it,” Janson said. She added that because visitors watch the videos standing next to each other, they themselves can become part of the exhibition experience.

“Sometimes you are standing there in the exhibit, and you are so self-conscious about the ways that other people are trying to interpret the videos and if they are enjoying them or not,” she said. “So in a way it becomes this little video game where you’re standing there watching a video and you see how long the other person is going to stand and watch it.”

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Clara Polley
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