When the video camera become available and fell into the hands of artists. Some of the first things they did was to record relatively simple actions. Snapping tree branches, mooching around their studios and so on.
These actions carried on and the camera became smaller and cheaper and the camcorder became the means for artists to record things like trekking through their bedroom (Lucy Gunning) dancing in the street (Gillian Wearing) or autobiographies (Tracey Emin.)
What the camcorder seemed to offer was a certain type of freedom, allowing artists to catch phenomena or actions. A new spontaneity was offered, have camera will art.
Trying to think of recent video works which didn’t show either documentation of actions or wasn’t plonked down and let run. Maybe I need to see better video work.
This thinking was trigged by seeing the work of Li Binyuan at the CFCCA Manchester. His exhibition Social Behaviours features a number of performative actions captured by smartphone.
Simple actions simply captured.
While I understand everything is more complex then it appears. Some of the actions presented, cartwheeling across a bridge, jumping in time to the rhythm of a passing train, flicking a lighter, remind me of those early video works. Press record and go.
It’s probably a falsehood but I can’t help but imagine Binyuan reaching into his pocket. Pulling out his phone putting it on a steady surface and getting on with it. I guess it appeals to the sense that art is a spontaneous reaction to the world.
Also it’s not just the videos, it is also how the videos have been curated. The videos are displayed in ways which complement the actions within them. For example Signal where the artist attempts to light a lighter in time with the flashing lights of a tower block is projected across two screens. Thereby creating a sense of distance. Similarly in Exercise 47mins featuring the artist apparently making trees sway by blowing on them, this is partly projected on a cloth which itself sways in sympathetic motion.
It’s a sympathetic curation which allows the themes and playfulness of the videos to come through.
It’s what the videos show and the way that they have been curated that prompted these thoughts on video art. That a certain expectation of what video art is and how it could be shown has been set. That for the last thirty of more years a convention of video work being shown on monitor or wall.
Echoing the tradition modes of cinema and television. Which was often used by artists to promote a sense of familiarity and pulling the viewer in.
The biggest change in galleries seems to be the move from monitors to flat screens.
Theirs is also the question of why there hasn’t been a ‘second wave’ of video artists. Given the availability of the technology and the changes of that technology it’s a wonder we haven’t seen artists embrace it to make and show art in new ways. Janet Cardiff has employed this tech in this piece.
Maybe it just hasn't gotten into the gallery space, maybe it’s up on YouTube. Maybe it’s a technology that artist are just understanding the possibilities in their hands.