Charlemagne Palestine: “Running n Chanting n Falling n Ranting” Preview - Lori Zippay, EAI Executive Director

Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI)
Dec 6, 2013 4:32PM

A composer, performer and visual artist, Charlemagne Palestine has gained international recognition for his influential music, sound compositions and performances across six decades. Palestine’s psychodramatic video works of the 1970s, which transform and extend his sound and performance art into the electronic medium, are much less well known. Between 1973 and 1979, Palestine created a series of works that form one of the seminal—and most distinctive—bodies of conceptual, performance-driven video of that decade. 

In the coming months, New York audiences will have a rare chance to see Palestine’s video works in several prominent exhibitions and events: On December 12th, EAI will host a launch, reception and screening to mark the publication of his new artist book, “Running n Chanting n Falling n Ranting.” Two days later, Sonnabend Gallery will open “Bodyy Musicxx,” a solo exhibition of Palestine’s video works. Finally, an early video piece by Palestine will be shown in the exhibition “Ileana Sonnabend: Ambassador of the New” at MoMA, which opens December 21st.  

Palestine was one of many artists who used the new medium of video to extend their explorations of conceptual performance and Body Art in the 1970s. His early video works are visceral, raw, urgent, cathartic. As first seen in Body Music I (1973) and II (1974), the artist’s earliest incursions into the medium, Palestine’s video works of the 1970s shift between objective and subjective points of view, between performances for the camera and performances with the camera. Palestine performs mesmerizing ritual actions and vocalizations alone, in front of a static camera in an enclosed space, or propels himself and the camera through vast interior spaces or exterior landscapes. (In one piece the camera hurtles vertiginously on a roller coaster until the images arrive at pure abstraction; inanother the camera is strapped to a speeding motorcycle.)  

The very titles of these pieces—Internal Tantrum (1975), Running Outburst (1975)—suggest physical and psychological catharses. Palestine activates ritualistic movements and vocal expressions­—hypnotic chants, screams, keening wails—as outward articulations of interior states, deploying his body and voice, movement and sound as charged conduits. Palestine’s video performances bristle with unpredictability and improvisation, unfolding in real time. 

While Palestine’s video works must be seen in dialogue with his music and performances, they also speak to the specific conditions of early video art practices and the wider alternative art scene and countercultural sensibility of the era. Palestine’s unruly, unpredictable performance videos emerged in the context of an equally unruly and unpredictable landscape of art making in the 1970s, as art moved away from object making towards process, performance, and hybrid forms such as installation, experimental music, expanded cinema, and intermedia art. The nascent video art scene was further cross-pollinated with generative ideas and influences that ranged from technology and television to cybernetic theory and political activism. The presiding spirit was one of experimentation, ad hoc processes, and improvisation, a renegade ethos tracked in the decade’s underground trajectory from counterculture to punk.

Video allows one to see instantaneously what one is recording, on a monitor, during the act of recording—a radical notion in the 1970s. Artists and activists were drawn to the rich formal, theoretical, conceptual and cultural implications of the medium’s immediacy, instantaneous transmission, and ability to generate closed-circuit feedback. The self-reflexivity engendered by early video technology gave rise to body-based performance actions for the camera that investigated relationships between artist and viewer. Such direct encounters with the viewer drive the psychological intimacy and intensity of many of Palestine’s performances for the camera.

In 1977 Palestine collaborated with Wies Smals, founder and director of the pioneering alternative art and performance space de Appel in Amsterdam, to create an extended video conversation about Palestine’s artistic processes, entitledWhere It's Coming From. This extraordinary document will be shown at EAI during the book launch and reception on December 12th

Charlemagne Palestine’s video works are available through EAI, and may also be viewed, by appointment, in EAI’s Viewing Room. 

Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI)