Video art not

Video art is now well and truly entrenched in the offical art world culture of  international biennales, survey shows at major institutions state galleries and  artist run spaces. Video art for sometime now has been validated,  officialised and museumised to the point of saturation. It has become the default contemporary medium for many artists working today, in fact to call yourself a video artist has almost become a cliché.

My gripe with video art is not the genre itself or even the artists, but the cultural narrative that surrounds it and the collective amnesia which forms  its critical reception. A quick bit of history first, in the 1980’s video art was not glorified within the offical art world to the degree it is today, this was a good thing. It existed on the periphery, largely it was seen outside of the gallery and occasionally shown in a few select spaces on small monitors. This was both a technological reality (video projectors were insanely expensive) and many galleries in the 80’s too snooty to think video art a growing concern.

While Video art certainly appeared in galleries during the 1980’s and even the 1970’s, largely Video art in the 1980’s was part of a nebulas cultural organism known as ‘screen culture’ ie: organised and programmed screenings, and festivals like The Australian video art festival, and even the 1987  Melbourne international  film festival programmed international video art. Video was  viewed as  a theatrical, sit down affair, such a context for video art has now fallen out of favour and video now sits firmly within the gallery, with their custom built blacked out screening rooms and permanently mounted  wide screen video projection, removed form the history and literacy of an evolving ‘screen culture’ to video as ‘art object’.

However the theatrical presentation of video has always brought with it a certain audio visual experience and dynamic that no gallery will ever deliver, with all those hard surfaces and bad acoustics. The experience of video art in galleries is essentially less about watching work form start to finish and more a kind of  slacker induced casual browsing. Your free to leave at anytime and wander in and out if the mood suits. On the other hand the theatrical screening presents a controlled environment, one that favours a more immersive audio visual experience, less about browsing work and more about viewer engagement.

In this new world of video art, the audience is given a choice, to wander through spaces, casually taking in a bit from this work to a bit from the next, designs of exhibitions are all about moving people through the spaces and less about keeping them engaged with work for any kind of  duration. Video one should remember is time based and the installation of it in galleries is often at odds with spending time with the work:  No seating, sound bleeding in from other installations, sound playing out of projectors speakers etc. Video presented in this manner  sees audiences are forced to either stand around or sit on uncomfortable hard chairs and benches, what is this about ? can someone please tell me ?

Its not enough that one has to suffer through inane video art works at times, you also have to endure it with the most uncomfortable seating ever designed in the world. Now I am sure when curators selected the video art  for these kinds of shows they were sitting in a comfortable chair. At least in a theatrical screening the video art may be uncomfortable and difficult to sit through but  at least your arse is well cushioned.

Now there is  something else about video in a theatrical screening which posits it in the long lineage of moving image media within that context, less treated as a precious, static art object in the lofty world of the gallery and all that entails and more connected to the history of the moving image and its multitude of cultural histories and affects. Video art in the gallery has seen the  museumification and intitutionliasetion of the medium  placed it into  a kind of suspended animation and into a context that at times is entirely at odds to watching the stuff.

Events like the recent 2010 Sydney Biennale like many  large institution shows in the last five years or so, cement video arts place within the gallery location but bizarrely posit it as a form of pseudo cinema within that space.  Enormous projections in HD in large vacant spaces has become the generic way to present the medium. Now in this world of giant projections and multi screen high definition video art like the Sydney Biennale this year , pseudo cinema reigns supreme. However the very references and allusions to cinema are almost always predictably art house fare. If Video art is so in love with the cinema  where are the broader cinematic references ? taking it that cinema is such a multi faceted cultural mutation of genres, sub genes and micro genres, why is it one so often gets video art in events like the Sydney Biennale  the likes of Wong Kar-wai meets Peter Greenway ?

It was  painters in the early 1990’s who incorporated video into their ‘expanded painting practice’, the gallery by default became the location to display their video work because its what was familiar and the migration from ‘screening’ to gallery took place. By the late 90’s plasma and flat screen LCD displays even recalled the material object of a painting hanging on the wall of a gallery, as the art market too started to validate  video art within the commercial gallery. The theatrical screening context of video  now long gone, like the forgotten betamax tapes in video libraries of the mid 1980’s. I just wonder what has been lost in the process ?