Rewind: Artists’ Video In The 70s & 80s
Audience-unfriendly presentation of a tricky medium
This article is from 2009.
In 1968 the portable camcorder was invented, and the decades which followed were a period of impassioned invention and experimentation in a fertile new medium.
Rewind contains fine examples of video art. There are classic videos like David Hall’s ten ‘Television Interruptions’, which were broadcast unannounced on Scottish television in 1971, and there are endless experiments in which heads and bodies move and shake and undergo manipulation to the limits of the Sony Portapak’s ability.
But early video art is a difficult medium to appreciate. For a 21st-century camcorderer the limits of the Portapak are definitely so-what. If Rewind is going to attract anyone other than the specialists, we need to be told what we’re watching and what makes this stuff groundbreaking. A flimsy file gives artist biographies and sporadic comments on the works on the screen, but it is too little and too hard to find.
It also needs to tighten its curatorial act in several other areas. In the downstairs viewing area a CD player blares from a corner, providing a second soundtrack to whichever video you happen to be watching. The headphones pick up signals from other televisions, so that I hear ‘Television Interruptions’ to a soundtrack of Happy Birthday and a conversation about shovelling shit. Finally, beneath the 1984 video of a lactating breast, a protest at the hostility faced by women trying to breastfeed in public, a sign warns that the film ‘contains mild nudity and may not be suitable for children’.
Fertile films maybe, but they need more help.
Stills Gallery, 622, 6200, until 25 Oct, free.