Artists who work with the moving image had a bad rep in the art world for a long time. “They weren’t interested,” says video and digital artist Chris Meigh-Andrews, “They saw video as ephemeral — it didn’t keep well, and it could be reproduced so there was no difference between the copy and the original.”
Video art has been slowly growing in popularity since the advent of electronic video in the 1960s. This year saw the launch of London’s first commercial gallery dedicated to the moving image — the Video Art Gallery. Current exhibition Punctum — running until 16 December 2007, features artists including Chris Meigh-Andrews, Laurent Pernot, Silvia Battista, Jonathan Moss and John Blandy. The exhibition promises to showcase groundbreaking new art works and is set to challenge the position of video in the art world.
It’s a position that needs challenging. The YouTube phenomenon has pushed commercial success and credibility further out of reach for video artists. In this new digital age, when anyone can have a bash at creating art in any medium they choose, how does one define the term “artist” anymore?
“Being able to communicate something that’s complex and that isn’t merely information,” says Meigh-Andrews, “I think to ask why is this thing art and this thing not art, it depends on how deeply it strikes people.”
The issue of the Internet ruining video art seems to be a bit of a non-starter. Earlier this year the Museum of Modern Art in New York projected work by LA video artist Doug Aitken onto its walls for New Yorkers to watch for free, yet a trawl through the Internet brings little in the way of actual video art. It seems promises of increased exposure pale in significance when your work must be squashed into a tiny, jumpy screen on someone’s laptop. “It hasn’t changed the value,” explains Meigh-Andrews, “It hasn’t changed the art market — it’s not the same to download something and to buy an expensive video and have it in your collection.”
For Meigh-Andrews, the history of photography is central to his work. “I believe that photography and the moving image are the same medium, they have the same cultural heritage,” he says, “It’s about freezing time, but also stretching it.”
Meigh-Andrews works with some of the earliest examples of photography, re-imagining them for the modern world. View of the Wawel Castle from Debnicki Bridge (after Ignacy Krieger) is a free variation on Krieger’s late 19th century work that captured this symbol of Polish history — thanks to digital editing, video, and the adding of real, recorded sounds from the bridge, the photographs used for this installation are both still and moving.
Curated by the Video Art Gallery, Punctum shows video art works inspired by traditional art forms; side-by-side with works on canvas and paper that have taken video art as their starting point. The exhibition promises to bring renewed interest in artists that work with the moving image. For featured artist, Laurent Pernot, video is the perfect medium for his melancholic meditations on the visible and the ephemeral. He describes his work: “Like moving through good or bad dreams — a solitary journey through the interior of a world in which the images bring together the imaginary and the marvellous, the poetical and the absurd, fiction and fantasy, action and timelessness, with all their possible combinations. A space on the boundaries of reality, but one that inevitably refers to reality.”
Former painting restorer Silvia Battista’s work deals with mythical subjects such as Icarus, “My aim was to imagine the dream of a fictional character,” she says of Icarus’ Dream, “To give a body to the psychological life of a mythological being as Icarus, that so well represents the danger and the beauty of being young.”
Battista has worked with such diverse collaborators as the University for Film & Television in Prague and the Death Row Department of the Maximum Security Prison in Huntsville, Texas — for whom she produced A Message Before Leaving.
St Martin’s alumnus, John Blandy’s past work has included pastel paintings of a single lime tree in Queens Park, London, painted on a regular basis over the course of nine years. “It’s like you go out and have a conversation with somebody,” says Blandy of his Lime Tree Series, “It’s an evolving thing. While the images remain formally the same, things happen, things change.”
Jonathan Moss’ videos explore microcosm and macrocosm, they compare the small and the monumental. Recent projects have included Moss exploring his Jewish roots through the recreation of the “sense of place” of Camp Joffre, a ruined WWII detention camp situated near to his home in south-west France. “My videos and paintings, which explore journeys, ‘sense of place’ and the beauty of a natural world have now become an exploration into my own heritage: two worlds have collided.”
Punctum was at The Video Art Gallery in Redchurch Street, London E2, until 16December 2007.