EAI's Distribution Director Rebecca Cleman: Transmission Ecstasy
When Howard Wise closed his New York gallery in 1970 to
found Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), his aspiration was to foster the creative
and conceptual potential of video, which artists had begun to explore when it
was released as a consumer format in the late 1960s. Describing video as
“portable television” in his manifesto, Electronic Arts Intermix, Inc.: At
the Leading Edge of Art, Wise emphasized
distribution as the core of his mission. Television, and all of its related
technology (video cameras, video recorders, video tapes), was nothing if not a
new cultural platform to be exploited by artists, who were inspired by the
likes of Marcel Duchamp and Allan Kaprow to disperse art into a broader
cultural context. Wise enthused about the potential for access and
participation, which he felt video and television uniquely offered.
“We are in the process of graduating from the Machine Age to the Electronic Era. Recent advances in the technology of the electronic media suggest that television may be that bridge over which today’s artist may bring art to life. Science and technology have provided this pre-tested electronic medium for use by the artist as a means of his expression, and at the same time have provided the mechanics for the dissemination of his work—most homes are electronically equipped, ready to receive the artist’s message: they have TV sets already installed. Thus a great step forward towards the harmonious union of art and technology is about to occur.”
An iconic example of early “video art” might be Eric Siegel’s Pyschedelivision in Color (1968). Siegel was building his own televisions as a teenager in the 1950s, and was invited by Wise to participate in his gallery’s landmark show TV As a Creative Medium (1969), the first exhibition in the United States devoted to artists’ experiments with television. Psychedelivision in Color, which Siegel generated by colorizing and synthesizing a videotaped portrait of Albert Einstein, was intended to swap vibrant art content in place of bland commercial content, transforming the living room “boob tube” into a fantastic device for creative contemplation. As Siegel characterized it: “Art is sometimes called the ‘transmission [of] ecstasy.’ Because TV is transmission with ecstatic potentials, I have chosen this as my means of expression…With the knowledge I have of the electronics of television, I have tried to show some other directions broadcasting can take.”
Wise was passionate about these other directions too, considering broadcasting in its agricultural meaning: to sow over a broad area. Distribution was an alternative to commercial broadcasting, and to the fine arts market; it was a means by which new directions in art could be freely pursued. Though many of the ambitions Wise had for artist’s television were not realized in his lifetime, he presciently identified a shift that has since become a major aspect of art in the Internet Age. His interest in cross-platform, interventionist art that escapes the confines of brick-and-mortar art institutions are ideas that continue to be explored by artists such as Ryan Trecartin, Seth Price, Cory Arcangel, Jayson Scott Musson, and Trisha Baga.
Forty years after Wise founded EAI’s Artists’ Video Distribution Service in 1973, EAI is one of the world’s leading resources for video and media art. Still EAI’s core program, the Distribution Service features the international distribution of an essential catalogue of over 3,500 new and historical experimental media works by emerging and established artists, including Bruce Nauman, Joan Jonas, Dara Birnbaum, Chris Burden, Nam June Paik, and Martha Rosler, among many others. EAI provides access to this collection to arts, educational and cultural audiences across the nation and around the world.