Video Pioneers

Video Pioneers

When technology boomed in the 1960s, art changed forever. Video/Art: The First Fifty Years is abundant with facts on the technological revolution that led to video art and the ongoing mutation of media art. Written by Barbara London (b. 1946) – curator and spokesperson – the book delves into video as a fundamental art medium, alongside stories from London’s professional life.

Beginning in Manhattan in 1968, readers plunge into a hub of buzzing counterculture via memories of pivotal experimentation and underground screenings frequented by influencers like Patti Smith, Andy Warhol, John Cage and Merce Cunningham. “I realised [upon watching Cunningham perform] that art could consist of everyday actions carried out live, rather than static images locked down in concrete forms,” recounts London.

The chapter Defining a Medium, Defining a Field details the dawn of video, outlining bold experiments and puckish risks taken by trailblazers like Nam June Paik and Robert Rauschenberg. Moving to the importance of intersectionality, the chapter Multimedia: Video, Performance and Music catalogues groundbreaking artists such as Laurie Anderson and Joan Jonas.

Whilst performers skyrocketed video art from fringe form to a widely accepted medium, so did the increased accessibility of equipment – the text chronicles how gadgets have shrunk drastically from sedentary industry cameras to portable, handheld devices.

Looking to the future in a globalised world, London discusses how video art has advanced to media art, unavoidable with the rise of digital tools, graphics and the vast impact of the internet. How will artists continue to transcend traditional visual vocabularies?

Video/Art: The First Fifty Years is available from Phaidon. Find out more here.

Robyn Sian Cusworth

Lead image: Bill Viola, Room for St. John of the Cross, 1983.Video and sound installation in a dark room, with a black cubicle with window, peat moss, wooden table, glass and metal pitcher with water, color video, and one-channel mono sound; black-and-white video projection; amplified stereo sound; room: 14 x 24 x 30 ft. (4.3 x 7.3 x 9.1 m); projected image: 8 ft. 7 in. x 12 ft. 8 in. (2.6 x 3.7 m); continuously running. Photo: Kira Perov
1. Stan Douglas, Evening, 1994. Three-channel video installation, color, sound, 14 min. 42 sec. (looped). Installation view: Renaissance Society, Chicago, 1995. Courtesy the artist, David Zwirner, New York, and Victoria Miro, London. © Stan Douglas