Kate Horsfield and Lyn Blumenthal

School Of The Art Institute Video Data Bank

There are now about 50 videotapes in the Kate Horsfield/Lyn Blumenthal Interview Series. Several are particularly interesting, because the personality of the subject and the ideas expressed in the dialogue are reinforced by the edited videoimage. During the actual interview, Horsfield questions the subject and Blumenthal operates two cameras, taking images from the subject and from a monitor in the room, so that the final tapes are presented with a tacit, “What you see here is the individual’s true personality.”

The Jan Hashey tape is a good example. Hashey discusses static photographs in comparison with active films, while the direct videoimage of Hashey stands relatively still near four videoimages from the monitor, “layered back” into the screen like a series of single, film-frame negatives. Hashey asserts the importance of having a rich body of information about an object as opposed to simply focusing on the thing itself. The videoimages simultaneously show her hands in focus, out of focus, and altered with a videoimage processor. Similarly, Hashey recalls her experience that viewers often fill in a narrative-line between her drawings, while the videoimage emphasizes the outline of her face, with its interior features presumably to be “filled in” by the videotape watcher.

It is interesting that such a highly estheticized tape as this does come across as personal, “true” material. Because television editing is so often used (especially in commercials) to “convince” the audience, many videophiles have lauded real-time video qualities over after-the-fact edited or manipulated “product-building.” And yet, technique and editing are not what makes a product false, as the Horsfield/Blumenthal duo proves.

On the Hashey tape, Horsfield appears just once—as a shadowy presence symbolic of her role as interviewer. Before the interview, she does build a “skeleton” of the subject’s life and career, but during the actual taping she maintains a you-tell-me attitude, letting events determine the questions. Another Chicago artist involved with interviews, Kit Schwartz, has a prearranged list of 12 questions; but Kate Horsfield makes herself so interested, open, receptive, and nonthreatening that the subject is not afraid to talk.

Not that things always turn out so rosy. For example, Nancy Grossman’s energetic, irrepressible, unpredictable stream-of-consciousness made Horfield’s cues from the “skeleton” sound hopelessly stiff. Then too, in the Agnes Martin and Lucy Lippard tapes, Blumenthal doubles as interviewer, frequently in glaring contrast to Horsfield. Lyn Blumenthal asks what Lyn Blumenthal wants to know, and without Horsfield’s whatever-you-want-to-say-is-what-I-want-to-hear, there is a tension between needy interviewer and self-projecting interviewee. In the end, Horsfield’s conscious, stepped-back “technique” proves much more effective in producing a straightforward, informative, non-façadish content.

Given such material, Lyn Blumenthal’s elaborate “tech” is very important. During and after an interview, she does with video what video says it must do and in a way that video says it cannot be done. Her camera work and editing multiply the communication into many levels. Again considering Jan Hashey, the hard-focus images of Hashey combined with the soft-focus images from the monitor tend to underscore Hashey’s own personal ideas about a distinct “appearance” and an unclear “presence” of any event. When Hashey describes her own drawings, divided into a clear-cut, “virtuoso” appearance resembling a “finished product” and an often blurry, carbon-copy “presence” showing all her erasures, Blumenthal’s video input is at times coy and a bit too strong on the third-party “voice,” but the resulting proliferation of dissonances, intensities, and ambiguities could not possibly be more opposed to the slick, hard, “one-mind/one track” package of television.

The Horsfield/Blumenthal tapes bring up another contemporaneous issue: the belief that it is valuable to have direct access to a living artist’s views. The publicity for this interview series lays great account on the fact that both Horsfield and Blumenthal are artists. Blumenthal herself has told me that she thinks an artist “talks differently” to an artist than to a writer. Be that true or false, I have seen few of their tapes in which the artist being interviewed sounds only like an animated press release, perhaps because of the implicit recognition that the interviewer—an artist—is also worthwhile and intelligent. Along these lines, it is unfortunate that the Horsfield/Blumenthal Interview Series is primarily shown in art schools, where it’s not likely to lessen the gap between what nonartists may think about artists and what artists may know about themselves.

C. L. Morrison