The People’s Theatre pt. 2
Video art is frequently mocked in popular culture. It’s weird and non-linear. People ‘don’t get it.’ Usually there is at least one naked person and none of the actors ever smile. Video art is too earnest and wears ponchos and doesn’t blink enough. Video art may fit this description, but it is also equally rewarding, challenging, accessible, and hilarious.
Video art is actually fun to watch. Engaging with video in a more considered way than checking out the new Housewives of Whathaveyou widens the narrow scope of our media saturated lives. As these works have become widely available on the web, the distribution systems for art are not specifically designated as ‘artistic spaces’ anymore. The lines between artistic experience and everyday experience can be blurred. At this point, it’s becoming difficult to distinguish between stupid animal videos and video art, which is either democratizing/exhilarating or apocalyptic, depending on your cultural outlook.
How to watch video art:
The nature of video art predisposes it to bend the features of the medium that we are accustomed to. This means that pacing can be too slow or too fast, narrative can be unintelligable and sound painful to listen to. It may seem pretentious or boring. Sometimes this is because the art isn’t very respectful of you, but sometimes this is because video art is like broccoli. Broccoli is good for you, but it isn’t ‘fun’ to eat broccoli. Some people claim to enjoy it, but they are lying. You must remember that eating broccoli can be enjoyable if you approach it with the right attitude. Having the patience to sit through a ten minute video of a naked man dancing to melodramatic music (Sam Taylor Wood’s Brontosaurus, I’m looking at you.) can be rewarding. Remember that video art, when it’s good, is not self-important, but sly, sweet and funny.
There are a variety of resources and sites which allow you access free video art: Ubuweb has boundry-breaking work from Abramovic to Zwartjes, including feature length films. Youtube can provide you with shorter clips and samples. The NSCAD Visual resources collection lends VHS and DVDs through the Novanet system.
Vito Acconci – Pryings (1971)
Vito Acconci is a quintessential conceptual artist. His work is always cerebral and transgressive, pushing the body and the body in social space to exquisitely ridiculous limits. Acconci is best known for his performative works throughout the 1960s and 70s. Yes, he is that guy who spent hours masturbating beneath a gallery floor in Seedbed. (1971) Yes, that can be art. The ‘conceptual recipe’ for Pryings is simple: a man (Acconci) attempts to open a woman’s (Kathy Dillon) eyelids while she resists. This is a totally disturbing piece, which can be trying to sit through – but just give it 10 minutes. You won’t be able to get it out of your head.
*Warning: could be a little too disturbing for some. Thematically, it evokes some sexual assault type stuff and a heads up is due.
Laurie Anderson – Difficult Listening Hour (includes performances of ‘Language is a virus’ and ‘O Superman’) (1986)
Laurie Anderson’s work is a melange of performance, visual art, music, and audacity. She is not just operating in a liminal space between mediums, but creating different space altogether. A Laurie Anderson dimension, if you will. I imagine that when computers become intelligent enough to communicate with us properly, they will sound as haunting, playful and incongruous as Laurie Anderson does.
Duke and Battersby – Anything
Canadian Sobey award nominated duo who commune with talking animals and sing made-up songs and walk around naked. I don’t know how to talk about this without sounding like a jackass; it has to be seen to be understood. Deals in territory which could be precious, but manages somehow to convey sincerity and acidity. That successful balancing act is part of what makes them so good. Check out Rapt and Happy and Being Fucked up.
Trecartin is the golden boy of today’s art world, and his work is a camp nightmare. He trades in internet-age rapid-fire shifting, malleable identities and tripped out sci-fi plotlines featuring reality television and avatars gone wild. All of his characters scare the bejesus out of me. Sometimes I fear waking up to the face of Pasta, or that there is a neon-spattered weirdo sneaking up behind me like some awful Asian horror-movie ghost. Don’t watch this after eating your ‘special recipe’ brownies. Full length stuff can be found on Ubu.
By Zoe Doucette