Syracuse

Peter Campus, Andy Mann, Ira Schneider, and Tom Marioni

As a conference, “Video and the Art Museum” at the Everson Museum was unexceptional. The same antagonisms continue to divide the early experimenters (the video underground) from the latecomers who found museum and media recognition; the distribution of creative work remains problematic; and the panel of critics met with a hostility born of fundamental mistrust and a perception of critics and curators as units in a political and economic system that represses the video artist. Perhaps I was overly optimistic to expect this conference to quiet my misgivings about video art. Conferences are to get business done and teach access to tools. They are not generally sources of critical or generative thought about their own basic premises.

The museum, however, mounted several video installations in conjunction with the conference of which Peter Campus’ Closed Circuit, a series of seven works taking up an entire floor, was the largest. Campus’ systems of camera, screen, and video projector are activated by the spectator moving into them, past them, or standing in the pools of light on the floor that indicate optimum vantage points.

Two of Campus’ projector pieces in particular make an affecting demonstration of the transformatory potential of large scale in video art. In Shadow Projection, the first piece in the installation, the spectator standing in a pool of light from a ceiling spot confronts a twice life-size shadow and video image of his/her back on a large screen. There is a sense of momentary violence to the self in the sudden taking from behind and casting on the screen. The spectrum of body movements and feelings is momentarily translated into two dimensions and subverted. As you move toward the screen, the video image sinks into your expanding shadow, becoming itself a darker and inner shadow, until quite close to the screen, only your shadow and the swimming scan lines remain. Investigating the illusion in the piece, then, transforms the initial shock into a clear realization of the unreality of the video image.

Interface, the second piece, is made up of two image-bearing surfaces. As you walk toward the piece, you spot your reflection in a large freestanding sheet of glass just before you notice your life-size video image moving to meet you along the wall behind the glass. The sense of otherness engendered by Shadow Projection is compounded by Interface into a feeling of momentary incorporeality. The piece roughly simulates movie special effects of the shadowy double returning to enter the unconscious body as you find that you can make your reflected and projected images coincide (the same effect is stronger in the last piece, Amanesis).

My experience of Interface was physical. In the first few seconds of incomprehension, my body resolved the unreality of the scene by feeling in on itself—I shook my shoulders and hair to reassert my physicality in the face of the ghostly image. Shadow Projection and Interface address a principle problem in participatory art, that is, how the body in space, and not the principle senses, perceives and integrates the experience of the artwork.

Bruce Nauman moved in a similar direction with his 1973 installation of panel cubicles at the Nicholas Wilder Gallery (Peter Plagens in Artforum, March, 1974). In a sketch for the piece, Nauman appears to advise the spectator how to approach the installation: “stepping from self to image/4' module or:/imagine a particular space/or volume filled with your/physical presence. Then/ move into it; occupy it—/attempt to occupy the/entire volume.” Nauman urges the spectator to effect an impossible transcendence of real space (the cubicles are ten feet high) through an exercise of will. Campus reverses the problem; the video field on the wall in Interface looks like an antechamber of the room space containing the piece, but it is, in fact, the flat dimensionless realm of the video image which the spectator is constrained to integrate with his conception of real space.

Andy Mann’s Video Matrix is a solid bank of 16 aluminum-bound monitors playing six tapes, and from the sound of the piece, six sound tracks are played simultaneously as well. Matrix contains two image congeries: scenes of rushing water and the plants near a stream, and city street scenes with cars and people. Mann groups images in bands and chevrons across the matrix so that a close shot of rushing water can imply a stream apparently moving from monitor to monitor and past image groups of still water implying “pond.” Mann’s rapid switching, the constant rearrangement of image patterns, ultimately frustrates a sure syntax such as “stream” or “street.” Extension beyond the edge of the individual monitor becomes his abstract leitmotif, and he urges surrender to it through unrelieved visual and audio bruitisme. Mann seems determined to build an assertive presence for Video Matrix from a basis in sheer noise and repetition; the monitors make the patterned pictorial incident that the artist uses as a theoretical justification.

In Ira Schneider’s Manhattan is an Island, 25 video monitors ranged at varying heights throughout the room and along the wall play six different tapes, video views of the city of Manhattan: uptown, downtown, midtown, a boat cruise around the island, and a helicopter tour played on a faced up monitor. On a section of the stepped platform along the wall, a desk lamp blinks on and off to illuminate maps of the camera routes. Schneider does broadcast quality work—lots of fancy camera angles and narrative incident intercut with views from bus and subway establish the metaphor of movement, and the cruise tape played on eye-level monitors simulates the city skyline. My reaction to Schneider’s evocation of the urban milieu was that the installation might be more at home in the American pavilion at an international trade fair.

Both Willoughby Sharp (Cornell University’s “Art and Process”) and the Everson Museum have produced videotaped exhibition catalogues. Tom Marioni’s tape—a tour of the Museum of Conceptual Art in San Francisco shortly after the 1973 “All Night Sculpture Show” there—partakes of the form, but it is not a simple sampling of work, rather it is subsumed within a narrative context as history.

A handheld camera records a walk down a street and up a flight of stairs to the deserted MoCA premises. Museum director Marioni narrates and directs the camera (“Get a shot of the refrigerator”). Voice and camera together explore the many rooms—floors, walls, and fixtures—of MoCA, which Marioni explains in terms of the former use of the space as a printing shop. The camera also examines the residue of the “All Night Sculpture Show” which included the work of nine area artists. We do not see the pieces that made up the show, nor any of the artists. We are given only Marioni’s narrated reconstruction of past events cued from the remains.

A catalogue is necessarily the prime available record of a museum show; it also generally offers an initial interpretation of the works exhibited. Marioni’s tape lapses the option inherent in the medium of recording the show directly. Instead it is an archeological reconstruction from the residue, offering itself as a species of historical record certainly different from a catalogue, and as a curious indication of an autoreflexive museum management as well.

Alan Moore