Video Art Show

Ladies Home Video

The emphasis in Chicago on “videotech,” or the formal complexities of technology, means that individuals often work together to use sophisticated equipment, which is far too expensive, space-consuming, and hard-to-construct for private ownership. Not only might a number of people be nearby when a tape is being made, but their bodies might be borrowed for the imagery, bringing input from the “cooperees,” and reflected in a final tape bearing names of two to five people.

Much of the work in this particular exhibition’s 50 tapes, with their many conceivable relationships to art, performance, and documentary, were produced with a Sandin Image Processor, whose conception has a kind of “social consciousness” built right into it. As the former nuclear physicist Dan Sandin explained last year at the Museum of Contemporary Art, he has published instructions on how to build his IP because he prefers to deal more with its function of linking things together than with patent-sheets detailing how one product differs from everything else in the universe. But nonetheless, making videotapes still involves a nonegalitarian “good and bad”—i.e. “Did this person show sensitivity to the machine’s capabilities?”, and, “Is what she/he does creative or a cliché?”

Coaxing viewers to stay and ponder was a major intention of this exhibition’s format, designed by Annette Barbier, Catherine de Jong, and Denise Kunkel. Five video systems ensconced in three rooms and a closet had a built-in, viewing camaraderie comfort. And, parenthetically, it is fascinating that eons of technical knowledge do not bar retreat into the homey sorts of situations one might have anticipated decades ago.

The Ladies Home Video viewing spaces seriously resemble Artschwager’s and Oldenburg’s 1960s fake rooms that mimicked security-minded, passive, commerce-dominated, middleclass America. Incongruously, one is supplied with foam rubber and carpeted couch-wedges, coral Naughahyde chairs, leatherette pillows, flowerdrape-lined windows, and bottles of Coke, as one watches the tapes. In Bob Snyder’s Geomelan IX, oscillator images are manipulated at predetermined change-points; in Catherine de Jong’s Contortionists, two women’s triple sets of movements are performed with time-lapse variation on two monitors from varying angles. Matt Quinlan’s Rotating Blades shows a narrator’s fanning-out image which gives the semblance of person-into-machine while a psychodialogue concerns loss of ideas and fears of enclosure, and Barbara Sykes’s Center Focus: A Movement Within, contrasts split-screen-mirror, oscillator images with a separate “key” for matte lines pulling across the screen and joining up-and-down thrusts.

Indeed, video art is often misinterpreted as a social, savage, group reaction against civilized rationality, with any trace of community effort apparently taken for accident or stupidity. But the “Chicago Style” seems to be madly turning 1,400 different dials and switches, intending that the final edited or unedited work be flawless and yet avoid the manipulative format which makes Nam June Paik as slick as package TV. At least, Chicago videotech is using its processes to further, not obviate, communication.

The exhibition’s prime example, Phil Morton’s General Motors, is a compendium of videotechnology, using regular black-and-white Portapak footage, oscillator-generated images, patterns created within or fed to and altered by the Sandin IP, audio dubs of CB radio spots, two-channel stereo, and much more. A “bicentennial” videotape, it concerns the dire predicament of men living with machines, and especially as they are oppressed by what is supposed to serve them. Passages from the books Future Shock, Energy and Equity, and Tools for Conviviality set the scene for Morton trying to get his truck fixed by the maintenance facility of Farrell Hicks Chevrolet. Seventeen different, GM-caused problems, from faulty U-joints (whose clanking is used to generate a purple and green image pattern), to useless contracts for insurance (signed and burned before your eyes), constitute the negative situation Morton wishes to change to positive. His wild-haired, cowboy-hatted, chanting image, like a photographic negative, reaches up from the innermost point of the Cathode Ray Tube to bring into question the Chevy Dealer’s world image, with an announcement that this videotape will be part of the United States entry in the International Olympics for Video Art.

At least 20 people appear in this tape, people who keep their experimental videotech together and exhort the whole world likewise to service and maintain its thing. With such an ability to create, coordinate, and communicate, Phil Morton is one citizen of the world who can really store his experiences in a personal “data bank.” But what may be overlooked in this romance is that his technical wizardry, which equips him to make this effective challenge, makes him, in turn, just another one of the “authorities.”

C.L. Morrison