A Brief History of Women in Video Art
In the 1960s, following the post-war advent of television in America, video cameras became available to consumers and quickly found their way into the hands of the international art scene. Lauded as the grandfather of video art,
Unlike traditional mediums, however, this one wasn’t dominated by men. In video, women found a form free from the male-dominated canon, in much the same way that performance art provided unchartered territory for experimentation. Pioneering women like
Female performance artists of the 1960s and ’70s—including
Austrian artist Valie Export grabbed headlines with works like Splitscreen-Solipsismus (1968)—an 8mm film depicting a boxer fighting against himself—that wittily played with the medium’s formal qualities. Arguably Export’s most groundbreaking piece was Facing a Family (1971), which aired on Austrian television and showed a nuclear family watching TV and eating dinner. Through this mirror image of the TV-watching public, she disturbed the relationship between content consumer and creator in a way that pushed boundaries left unexplored by even most avant-garde cinema.
But it was Joan Jonas’s Vertical Roll (1972), in which she jarringly interrupted the video’s electronic signal while she performed in front of it, that really moved the dial, blending mediums and technologies. A fitting contemporary foil to Jonas’s Vertical Roll can be found at the New Museum, where artist Wynne Greenwood’s show “Kelly” focuses on her complete archive of performances as members of her “female band,” Tracy and the Plastics. Greenwood created the series by performing in front of a video projection, effectively allowing her to simultaneously perform as all three of the band’s members.
In her epic Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman (1978-1979), Birnbaum appropriated imagery from the television show adaptation to reflect on the cultural discourse embedded in the feminine superhero. Video also allowed feminist artists like Export and Birnbaum to reach wider audiences (both artists have had their works appear on television channels).
As the sophistication of video technology increased, so did artists’ familiarity with it—and they soon took to the edit button, distorting and manipulating footage, as well as lacing it together with other forms of art. Doris Totten Chase, who received early support from Nam June Paik in the 1970s and ’80s, began using computers to add effects to her light-filled dance performances. Her early riffs on these then-cutting-edge techniques paved the way for artists like Meriem Bennani, who inserted analogue animations into her online videos.
Sarah Morris - Miami
In the ’90s, Diana Thater—who currently has a retrospective at LACMA—stood out from the crowd with landmarks like OO FiFi, Five Days in Claude Monet’s Garden, Part 1 and Part 2 (1992), which she shot at the estate of the late artist before deconstructing the footage into video’s red, green, and blue (RGB) components. And Surrealist video artists
Pickelporno (1992), in which a surveillance camera sweeps over a fornicating couple, won Rist notoriety as well as accolades for its strange take on the sensual. Gonzalez-Foerster’s installations collaged video together with architecture and design to create unique and immersive environments. And Sarah Morris combined the graphic painter’s eye for patterns with the perspective of the documentarian in the early 2000s with films like AM/PM (1999), Capital (2000), and Miami (2002).
Shirin Neshat - Rapture, 1999
In the late ’90s and early 2000s,
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