What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of video art? Surely you have wondered how this type of art differs from any other video or film that you can find both on the internet and in cinemas. Why would you waste precious time watching some moving images that a group of people have labelled as art?
Given the technological explosion of the last few decades, artists have resorted to new media such as video and have included moving images in their works in various ways. But what’s the deal with video art? Why does it need special designation and what distinguishes it from the other video forms? To answer these questions, we need to focus a little on the past.
The first devices used to record movement were not known for their portability or accessibility. As for the way they were used, it was not accessible to everyone. Nevertheless, people strove to achieve something unique with the technology that was made available to them. For this reason, early cinematic art was experimental. Before the Lumière brothers’ first films or Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon, which fascinated the entire world, no one could have believed in the magic of moving images. However, once cinematic art had spread, its popularity kept growing. Meanwhile, artists also made various films. Futurists, Dadaists or surrealists explored this medium without hesitation. For the Surrealists, the video came as a blessing, giving them the opportunity to turn their crazy visions into reality. A good example is Marcel Duchamp, who experimented with video in works such as Anemic Cinema (1926).
Art and film blended from the very beginning without precise limitations, but true video art really born when videography became portable and accessible – the moment Sony Portapak was put on the market. Once this device launched, artists began to use it as they pleased. The most important things of the video as a new medium were its affordable price and the fact that it was easy to use; it allowed free recording, documentation or experimentation. That put less pressure on the place where the art was located, giving artists the freedom to move outside the gallery.
One of the pioneers of video art is Nam June Paik, who was captivated by technology, using it as raw material for his hybrid works, which combined video art with other media such as sculpture, music or performance. One of the artist’s best-known works, TV Cello (1964), is a cello consisting of three stacked television monitors, each featuring a distinct film. The installation, a fully operational cello, was used in a performance in which avant-garde cellist Charlotte Moorman played the instrument, producing a series of unique electronic sounds. By using the television monitor as an art object, Paik became one of the first artists to make video an independent artistic medium. A special video insert of the artist is shown at the Invisible Cities/Imaginary Lands exhibition, which has the Art Encounters Foundation as a strategic partner.
Video art appeared in a time of many changes that allowed artists to experiment with different combinations of artistic media (sculpture, dance, music, theatre). Paik was one such example. Video art also made it possible to document the performances, which before that had been transient and difficult to access by a larger public. Examples of video art can be found in the Seasons End exhibition at the Art Encounters Biennial.
Another way of approaching video art is that of Jura Shust’s Neophyte II, also displayed at the Art Encounters Biennial. This work depicts communities of young people whose actions take place in wild forests, and draws a parallel between the Slavic ritual of searching for a magical fern flower and the search for “drops” (drug trafficking method based on the use of digital anonymisers).
With the video, art no longer stands still and you are no longer forced to do so either. The diversity, multidisciplinarity and adaptability of this type of art allows artists to push the boundaries to new horizons, and gives you, the viewers, the possibility of being challenged to think differently about the world around you. That kind of art is worth admiring after all, isn’t it?