VIDEO - as a word, in the "art world" is incorporated in the expression "Video Art". Video Art as an art form came into existence in the late 1960's, early 1970's, with the advent of videotape and portable video recording equipment. Prior to this time broadcast television was archived on film only. Television studio cameras were huge. The cables alone weighed tons. Video cameras and videotape recorders allowed independent producers and artists an option other than film.
ANIMATION - had been traditionally done on film. I went to Eastman Kodak, in Rochester in 1974 and worked with ex-Disney animator, Ernie Crisp, on a short film animation. The project was a PSA for a William S. Burroughs reading/Paul Bley solo piano concert at NYU's Eisner & Lubin Auditorium, which I was producing and was going to document on videotape. I spent a week on the cels, and then we shot them to film on an Oxberry animation stand. At the end of the week, we sent the film into the Kodak custom lab. We received it back the same day, and I heard the word "blueshock" for the first time. The film had been exposed to light while being processed and there were blue streaks on the entire left side of the animation.
VIDEO SYNTHESIS - What were the alternatives to film animation in the early 1970's? There was no other way to do cel animation. But there were otherways to work with movement and images. Scattered around the world were a few crazy electro-physicists who were wiring black boxes which had video ins and outs. One evening in 1974 at Anthology Film Archives in Greenwich Village, I was talking to Nam June Paik, and he was telling me about the 'synthesizer" he and Shuya Abe had designed together. He said it was at the Experimental Television Center in Binghamton (ETC), New York (now in Owego, NY) and that I should go and check it out.
MOLTEN STAINED GLASS - was the only way I could describe it. My life up to that time had seemed rather schizophrenic. I had studied and worked in art and theatre, but never hoped of a way to combine these two art forms. Now I was sitting in front a familiar TV and many unfamiliar boxes with pots and levers. None of them were labeled! The ETC allowed artists to book week long residencies. I would spend 18 hours a day tweaking and experimenting with the synthesizers. When I'd leave the studio to go out for food, the whole world was strobing. These weeks were immersions into the very first "liquid" TV.
COLOR - was entirely different than on paper, or film, or even Broadcast Television. The parameters were 0 to 100, not the safe 35 to 55.... or whatever we are relegated to with "realistic" color. Contrast, saturation, hue, value, were all controllable. And each synthesizer had its own peculiarities. David Jones' Colorizer had 4 b/w video inputs and allowed for 4 levels of keying with each level being colorized separately. The Paik/Abe synthesizer had a strange way of crossing color signals, so that bands of spectacular unexpected colors were created in the borders between input signals. The Bill Hearn Synthesizer had 2 color inputs and would allow you to colorized these signals with almost smooth transitions from realistic color. Dan Sandin's colorizer and the Rutt Etra Synthesizer, and the European versions all had their specialties.
FEEDBACK - was a revelation, literally. Directing a video camera at a CRT and looping this signal back through the system so that it was redisplayed on the monitor, produced what we called, "feedback". But what was really happening here? This whole process was so hallucenogenic and mesmerizing, that it natually led to higher levels of observation. By adjusting the focus, iris and relationship of the camera lens to the CRT (distance and angle) the resulting image on the CRT was altered and redisplayed in infinite iterations. In hind sight we know this phenomonem as Fractal Geometry.
FRACTAL GEOMETRY - We know that there is a mathematical window within which "feedback" is possible. Outside of those parameters there is only stasis. Within them there is tension and movement (bifurcation), which ranges from the sluggish to strobing. While working with feedback in the 1970's, I observed the uncanny resemblance of these images to mandalas. Why was it that these electronically produced moving images looked as though they were yin/yang symbols? or Indian mandala paintings? What happened to the human brain when it meditated that was being mimicked by this electonic media? Was it even mimicking? At this time the then USSR published a photograph in the world press of the graphing of the temperature of the background radiation of the universe. There was a 3 degree difference between the two levels of gray in the image.... the image was a yin/yang symbol. When one examined an electrical block diagram for a synthesizer there was an uncanny resemblance to the mapping of synapses in the brain then being done my neuro-physicists. Were we unconsciously "wiring" machines the way we are "wired"? Is it inevitable that that is the only way we can design?
TENSION - is necessary for art to be fun. If a medium is so tense and dense that it completely dominates and doesn't allow the artist any input, then it is static. On the other hand, if the medium is so passive that it offers no resistance and the artist has total control, that also is a problem. Ideally there should be some tension. The medium should have a personalilty with which you interact. It should fight back. Analog Video Synthesis definitely had this. Because one was relating to a live force (analog not digital) there was always an element of unpredictability. It did not allow for total autonomy. There were many things that you couldn't do, but then there were all those things you never dreamed you could do.
THE ART WORLD - as some of you might recall, in the 1970's, gave birth to "Post Modernism". This was unfortunate for "Video Art". The art world was now focusing on revisionism and conceptual art. Abstraction and "pure" art had fallen out of favor just as Analog Video Synthesis came onto the scene. The result was that the people working in this very painterly medium decided to do something else..... museum installations or documentaries for the most part.
DIGITAL - computers ground everything to a halt. Every pixel just sat there waiting for human intervention. Such a responsibility! You had to talk to each one. They had no will of their own with which to interact. Things are a little better now. Computing power has allowed us to simulate nature. Still it is fairly recently that animation software programmers have addressed issues like "particle" animation and "dirty" surfaces. Analog was very good at all of this. Digital gives the artist ultimate control, but it takes away the tension of relating to a live force. Programs still haven't done justice to "randomness".
RANDOM - is a word that, in the age of grant-driven art (which video has been especially suseptible to), has been much out of use. Defined as "haphazard" or "chance" it doesn't inspire confidence on an application. But this is exactly the quality responsible for uniqueness in organic systems. Artists prey upon the random, searching it out, learning from it. Art can't be formulated, prepackaged, made-to-order.... not good art. Random is what we've been lacking so far in the digital age. By incorporating video into digital contexts there is the hope that "random" will be approximated. It is not, however, until we have much more powerful computer processors that we will approach the sponteneity and interactive tension of analog systems in the creation of motion images.
Copyright by CAROL GOSS 1996 All Rights Reserved
Copyright Not Still Art 1996-2000 All Rights Reserved.