Conversation with Barbara London, David Ross and Constance Dejong at Hunter College Art Gallery

Conversation with Barbara London, David Ross and Constance Dejong at Hunter College Art Gallery

This post was copied in 2017 from and L2O posting made in 2015.

Tuesday night I attended a panel discussion at Hunter called "Barbara London and David Ross in conversation with Constance DeJong." This was in the context of the ETC (Experimental Television Center) show in the Hunter Art Gallery at 205 Hudson Street in NYC. It’s a great show by the way.

At one point David Ross was speaking about the history of using video tools to subvert the conversation, creating and alternative to TV (my words not his) but that it was like shooting a bee-bee at an aircraft carrier. You had to listen really carefully to hear the ping, if there was one, and of course you had no impact. I thought this was great, a beautiful metaphor. I started to record the conversation right after that point.

This was a good discussion, but as time went on it seemed like the conversation veered to the typical video art stars, Nam June Paik, Bill Viola, Vito Acconci, etc. And other than some talk about Ralph and Sherry Hocking, who created the Experimental TV Center, there really wasn’t any mention of hardly any ETC artists or the ETC. Then at one point David Ross said that one had to be stoned to watch image processed work, or was created by stoned people, or it was only for people who were stoned. Has anyone ever said this about abstraction in painting?

At the end I asked as to why in the context of an ETC show they did not mention any ETC artists, or hardly any, and was it that they thought image processed work was marginalized, or that they thought the work was marginal, or that there wasn’t any room in the institutions after the fist generation video artists that were so popular in their narrative. David Ross' response was that he didn’t like the work and didn’t know it well, and, that Nam June Paik was really great. Barbara said she spent some time at one point studying the work. Barbara had made clear earlier how hard it was to bring video into the MOMA. She described what she was up against. That was also part of the answer. Maybe Barbara’s earlier point that the difficulty in bringing video into MOMA made for a door opening up just enough for a few choices, who then those people had the opportunity to scale. It’s a hard question and understandable that it wasn’t answered, but I can’t help but wonder.

After that I wasn’t really allowed to follow up. At home I told my wife what happened. I was somewhat agitated. She laughed and reminded me this is why I quit being a video artist. Right.

Other random thoughts - Yes Nam June was great. I grew up looking at his work. It was profound at that time. I love is Fluxus work before as well. I remember an image of him holding a tape deck playback head in his hand on a long wire and strips of audio tape glued the wall. This was genius. He was playing the tape on the wall like an instrument. I can’t say how many times I watched Global Groove (mentioned many times on Tuesday) and A Tribute to John Cage (not mentioned). It made me also think about how as the success of a business, or artist, it will scale and then there is created more opportunity and work, and if successful it/they will continue to scale. I think Nam June did well with his opportunity.

Some of the work they mentioned by others is work I call couch video. Video that is made sitting in a couch in an edit suite telling an editor what to do. This has a tradition in cinema, directors instructing others, managing a team. Some ETC work managed to have moments of finishing with the maker on an edit suite couch. In my estimation much of the couch work in the 80s didn’t hold up. It was fashion, based on new technologies only accessible to a few. And though I salivated to get my hands on an ADO and make spinning cubes, the work was, dare I say, empty. It’s time passed. This is a problem with fashion. It could also be that as the access to these tools was so limited so the work had to be superficial.

Given the opportunity I would have pointed out that what we built at the ETC was a system for the artist as maker to work with directly, not through others. And once these tools are learned, or learned enough, unlike working from a couch, it was possible for the maker to enter flow, where a balance between skill and challenge is struck, one enters a positive stress state, like when playing a musical instrument, dancing, spinning a pot on a wheel, learning. Maybe this is one of the tenants of image processing.

There was talk about real time and suggestions that real time had to do with a lack of editing. I think it had to do with setting up patches and watching them run. By the 80's there was plenty of editing gear around. Real time had to do with analog and using oscillators but also with using a modular system where a process was set and then executed upon. Real time is also why the process fostered flow. We patched temporal structures, of course it created real time work.

I have to say also, to David Ross’s point, there is a lot of bad abstract video, especially new work. But this doesn’t mean we can dismiss all of image processing. Do I have to say that? Everyone on the panel when asked to address image processing spoke about abstract work. I found this odd as well. Temporal media is so tied up in a tradition of narrative that it seems, unlike any other medium, even at this very late period in the development of video art, there is still a resistance to the non-narrative forms. What a disappointment.

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my recording of panel