Still from Frank Gillette’s Symptomatic Syntax, 1981, video, color, sound, 27 minutes 20 seconds. Photo: Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York.

THE ONLY INSTANTLY RECOGNIZABLE thing is water. It must be water, unless it is some other translucent fluid that catches the light and puts objects in motion. Not that the movement is very dramatic. Whatever natural phenomena are caught on this videotape—ferns? Small buds? A butterfly wing? Torn petals?—seem to feel no obligation to provide any sense of action, much less to explain themselves. On first impression they come across as minor contingencies on a picture plane. A tangle of billowing red and white shapes remain locked in a vibrating standstill until interrupted by a brief flickering darkness, imposed by the video editing system. As the image returns, some crumpled red objects float sideways across the monitor, ceremonially swirling toward each other, before darker and more complicated stuff takes over. We see hard edges, sharp protrusions, and shiny surfaces,

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