A Beginner’s Guide to Viewing Video Art: A Breakdown of Five Films at Moving Image Istanbul

If you’ve ever walked into a gallery and found a dimly lit space with a few people camped out along the walls watching a screen, you’ve likely come across video art. A relatively new medium, video art is thought to have begun in 1965 with Nam June Paik’s footage of the pope, while others view Andy Warhol’s film stills as the medium’s origin. Regardless of its beginnings, video art is often richly packed with performances or responses to cultural issues. With subtle details or carefully timed musical scores, works of video art often feature themes that might be easily missed by the casual viewer without an introduction to the medium. In preparation for Moving Image Istanbul, Artsy has created a cheat sheet for five films, so you’ll know exactly what’s going on when you come across a video of a man balancing on a BMX bike in a 7-Eleven parking lot. 

1. Elena Kovylina, Equality, 2014, at Analix Forever, duration: 8 min.

About the artist: Russian performance artist Elena Kovylina combines film, theater, and activism in her video works. Her bold style bravely takes on social and political issues and frequently involves participants, as in Waltz (2001), for example, in which she invited spectators to dance with her until she was near the point of collapse.

About the film: Equality is a satirical depiction of democracy in Russia, in which Kovylina displays the double standards present in post-Soviet society. Her film creates the illusion of equality, expounding on the idea of the “Procrustean bed,” which is a standard of forced conformity.

Look out for: Through the 8 minutes of the film, viewers are shown the smiling faces of a long line of people standing on stools. They are all standing at the same level, suggesting their equality—but on closer examination of their stools, we see that they are designed according to each person’s height, to raise or reduce them to the same level. Viewers perceive a message of equality, though in reality it is a tool for conformity.   

2. Chris Doyle, Waste_Generation, 2011, at Catharine Clark Gallery, duration: 6:28 min.

About the artist: In his work, multimedia artist Chris Doyle conveys themes of global technology and its resulting environmental destruction. Using dizzyingly bright colors and animation, he creates a grim yet honest portrayal of the devastation of the natural world.

About the film: Waste_Generation takes five paintings from American landscape painter Thomas Cole’s series “The Course of Empire” (1833–1836) and turns them into a reflection of contemporary degradation, transitioning between flourishing natural landscapes and polluted urban metropolises.

Look out for: Doyle infuses references to wealth and corruption in kaleidoscopic scenes as a comment on the industrial takeover of our environments. Watch as a jungle morphs into the filigreed outline of a dollar bill, and trees grow into fuming smokestacks.

3. Shaun Gladwell, Study of Stillness, 2014, at Mark Moore Gallery, duration: 11 min.

About the artist: Australian artist Shaun Gladwell is a former pro-skater-turned-digital artist who incorporates extreme sports into his videos. He is best known for his work Storm Sequence (2000), in which he filmed himself skateboarding in slow motion at Bondi Beach while a storm rolled in. Many of his video works incorporate skateboarding and BMX biking, while simultaneously playing with themes of speed, gravity, space, and time.

About the film: Study of Stillness shows Gladwell balancing on a mountain bike in several suburban locations. The film depicts a difficult and tense balance, leaving the viewer to wonder whether he’ll touch down with his feet or be able to maintain his careful stance upon the bike.

Look out for: At several points Gladwell is able to maintain perfect stillness—the ultimate goal—but soon loses balance and adjusts his position. Watch out for the end of the film when he sits back on the bike and smoothly rides off out of view. Notice how balance is easier achieved when the bike is in motion, rather than when trying to keep it still.

4. Rob Carter, Sun City, 2013, at Morgan Lehman Gallery, duration: 8:38 min.

About the artist: Rob Carter works with photography, stop-motion, and time-lapse video techniques to document changes in architectural landscapes. By digitally manipulating images, he creates portraits of the human impact on the environment. His works often incorporate plants—to compare the inevitable presence of the natural world and its effects on manmade structures.

About the film: The film starts with the glowing orb of the sun, then transitions to its molten surface. Carter then shows the early settling of Benidorm, Spain. Paired with germinating seeds and the sounds of a rolling tide, the city grows before the viewer, changing in form and architectural style through the duration of the film.   

Look out for: Watch closely as man-made structures grow out of the natural landscape of Benidorm. An entire skyline rolls in, sprouting up like blades of grass. Carter likens the building of a city with the sprouting of plants, rapidly taking over an area and reaching toward the sky.

5. Allard van Hoorn, 001 Urban Songline Latitude: 51.44768° N - 51.44729° N / Longitude: 5.45609° E - 5.45529° E, 2009, at Galerie Donatz, duration: 5:39 min. 

About the artist: Allard van Hoorn is a performance, sound, and installation artist who creates work that examines our relationship with urban landscapes and our systems of classification. He visually and acoustically translates the built environment and nature to call to question our preconceived notions and perceptions of the spaces we inhabit. 

About the film: 001 Urban Songlineis part of van Hoorn’s “Urban Songline” series that explores the relationships between space, structure, and sound in an environment, following the tradition of the Songlines, a system used by Aboriginal Australians to map space by creating music from its topography. His film takes us into a vacant building where a skateboarder traces lines across the space and music echoes in accordance to action on the screen.

Look out for: Linear movement and lines are an essential part of the film. Watch as the skateboarder traces his path, mapping the building with his wheels; at some points he follows determined paths, at other times he moves about more freely. The work questions whether or not the act of mapping grants us ownership of a space.

Newlin Tillotson

Explore Moving Image Istanbul 2014 on Artsy.