Independent video is a hybrid form, a fertile meeting ground for the visual arts, performing arts, and telecommunications. It emerged with the appearance of the first portapak cameras on the consumer market in the mid-1960s, an idealistic period marked by vociferous partisan demonstrations on the part of anti-war, civil rights, and women's movement activists. Many journalists and documentarians took to the streets with video cameras to record their personal impressions of dramatic social upheaval. And many artists eagerly appropriated video cameras as tools for pioneering new fusions of perception and technology and exploring the impact of popular culture on individual identity. The first videomakers were trailblazers. Recording was restricted to black-and-white imagery until artists/engineers like Nam June Paik and Shuya Abe devised colorizer equipment. Editing was cumbersome until analog equipment was replaced by digital equipment. Exhibiting was unwieldy until three-quarter-inch cassettes and playback decks began being marketed. Thus, what began as an awkward, radical art medium became pliant and precise by the early 1970s, and gained a growing position in museums and universities, as well as on cable and public television. Video has helped redefine the role of art and artists in society. Many individuals took up videomaking in opposition to the sell-able, commodifiable art object and the hierarchical gallery system, while others were motivated by a desire to reject television's rigid conventions and broadcasters' control over program content. For most artists, television was slick, homogenous, overly commercial, and aesthetically underexplored. In general, the earliest experimental video emphasized concept over object-making or technical skills. The idea and the personal point of view took precedence. The works in Video Art: The First 25 Years were produced between 1967 and 1992. Articulate and independent-minded, these works raise questions about sexual stereotyping, offer up autobiographical portraits, examine video process, and trace body-related performance art issues. The exhibition demonstrates that artists' approaches to similar subject matter have evolved radically over the past quarter century: these videotapes reflect and help define shifts in the past quarter-century's cultural and theoretical climate.
Museum of Modern Art, New York
American Federation of Arts, New York