San Francisco

“La Mamelle Videozines”

Video Free America

The decade which gave us Betamax also saw the rise of the alternative art space and its logical extension, the video magazine. La Mamelle, a San Francisco space which has presented a generous quantity of nonstatic art events, has anthologized many of these in Videozine, not an ink-and-paper manifestation but a series of videotapes produced as multiples for sale and distribution, like any other intermittent periodical. Videozines Five and Six, shown at Video Free America, reflect in their difference two nonsequential chapters in the history of Bay Area performance art. Even the appearances, in both tapes, of Anna Banana and Bill (Dada-land) Gaglione, reveal a shift in interests: more emphasis on bodies in Videozine Five and more on personalities and activity in Videozine Six.

Videozine Six, a sampler of new performance art in a broadcast situation, shown first, opened with “Live from San Francisco,” done in the manner of a TV-talk show, with Carl Loeffler as host, and artists in brief performances as guests. The show-within-a-show simile works well here: “Live from San Francisco” was presented and taped in Toronto in front of a live audience and was later shown on San Francisco’s Channel 26, a cable station. An intentionally trite but familiar format adds levels of meaning—does the video artist (as we all suspect) really want to be a TV star? Can art function well as entertainment?

The answer, of course, is that Dada and Futurism are alive and well in northern California, relived and expanded upon by Anna Banana, Bill (Dadaland) Gaglione, Buster Cleveland and a variety of temporary recruits. This is proven by humorous references to DuchampAnna Banana descending a staircase (strobe-lit but not nude); Buster Cleveland having a star shaved on his head; and the performance of pre-1935 Futurist sound pieces by Banana and Gag-lione. Their repertoire is larger although Videozine Six includes only States of Mind by Mario Carli, Colors by Fortunate Depero, and Alternation of Character by Arnaldo Corradini and Bruno Corra among its 48 plus vignettes.

Repeated viewing of these Futurist staples make them more rather than less exciting, as the rhythmic Italian syllables become familiar. The Banana/Gaglione team inject melody and emotion into the phrases and, in Colors, build the sensation further with clanging or whining noises to indicate the sounds of black, white, gray and red. This seldom done material is performed tightly and is of historical importance in the development of 20th-century art, theatre and sound poetry. Grin of the Vampire, a macabre but poetic cowboy legend read by Nanos and Katrina Valeritios, while two “cowboys” converse on screen, is the other highlight of this frenetic anthology, whose parts are thematically associated by an emphasis on sound.

Videozine Five, a special performance issue, provides, intentionally or not, real time segments of 17 events in which the artist’s body is the object, instrument or focus of the piece. As a result, the tape appears to be a series of rituals with semi-mystical overtones. Some of these qualities are inherent in the performance, others are intensified through association. Don Button wears a camera on his head, and with it films himself riding a bicycle, driving a car, walking in a thigh-high field. The angle of the camera is the means by which we view the artist’s body in motion as he views it.

Paul Forte bends down at a small, dark, circular pool and makes quiet circles with his hands. The ripples remain dark and non-reflective until the end, when the artist stands up and his torso suddenly is mirrored in the smoothing water. Stefan Weisser and Michael Bell make music on exotic percussion instruments, following Bell’s melodic, transubstantial leg slapping. Cheri Gaulke reads a childrens’ story about red shoes while tapping loudly with her own high heels. These, and a final segment of Irene Dogmatic as Whistler’s mother—arranged in gray and black, explaining how little Jamie became a painter (“Why didn’t he paint me when I was young?” she asks, revealing her leg by raising her floor length gown)—work well as part of a performance anthology. Others suffer from fragmentation, although the images on tape are not unsatisfying. My own familiarity with Susan Wick and Margaret Fisher’s dance and vegetation ritual, Shift, makes clear that there is no substitute for endured time when endured time is of the essence. Baker/Rapoport/Wick’s noisy tinwoodsmanlike costumes, which function as percussive objects, are clever and effective, but are much more so in an unedited tape which documents the entire costume building process. Since much of their work is process-oriented, more than dramatic effect is lost in the shortened version.

In this somewhat negative sense, Videozine truly does what a magazine does with brief acquaintance rather than intimate knowledge the only result for the viewer. When Bob Davis sits in his crowded dressing room in full drag, we react to the elaborate poses (which an offstage photographer’s voice suggests), but we miss the transmogrifying steps which got him from there to here. Likewise, we see the end, but not the beginning, of Nam June Paik’s Young Penis Symphony, performed for the first time and videotaped at La Mamelle in 1975.

Videozines, despite their occasional lack of polish, are a dynamite concept which, if we are lucky, will spawn imitations from additional sources and will make art viewing a unique, one-to-one, interruptable, repeatable, accessible, and comfortable experience.

Mary Stofflet