Between 1994-1998, I worked exclusively on the touring of artists’ video and performance single-channel works at the leading national agency for commissioning and touring artists moving image work Film and Video Umbrella, London.
In the early 1970s, video was a new medium, and the artists who managed to recognise its potential unlocked a new chapter in art. Programmes amongst others included collections of video and performance works by Gary Hill, Bill Viola, Marina Abromovic and Ulay, Vito Acconci and William Wegman, amongst others.
Marina Abramovic and Ulay
1976 Marina Abramovic and Ulay started to co-operate as artists and to live together; 1989 the two artists parted with a last joint action, the Great Wall Walk.
Marina Abramovic and Ulay have made themselves, again and again, the topic of performances and actions. Gender-specific roles, the opposing models of the male and female body are being questioned in public up to its physical and psychic limits. The borderline between art and life seems to be extremely thin, especially considering how often a real danger becomes part of the artistic concept. Marina Abramovic and Ulay irritate profoundly the visitors of a performance when they beat each other until exhaustion or physically clash. The duration of time stretches endlessly so that the sheer physical impact is extreme.
The performances rely on radical introspection and artistic exhibition at the same time, which only documents their long symbiotic relationship as a couple: Art Vital—no fixed living-place, permanent movement, direct contact, local relation, self-selection, passing limitations, taking risks, mobile energy, no rehearsal, no predicted end, no repetition. This artistic credo from 1976 on their body of work entitled Relation Work addresses the singularity of their performances. Video is the medium of recording and direct communication, rendering the intensity and duration of the performances.
Vito Acconci was an influential American performance, video and installation artist, whose diverse practice eventually included sculpture, architectural design, and landscape design. His foundational performance and video art were characterized by “existential unease,” exhibitionism, discomfort, transgression and provocation, as well as wit and audacity, and often involved crossing boundaries such as public-private, consensual–non-consensual, and real-world–art world. His work is considered to have influenced artists including Laurie Anderson, Karen Finley, Bruce Nauman, and Tracey Emin, among others. Acconci was initially interested in radical poetry, but by the late 1960s, he began creating Situationist-influenced performances in the street or for small audiences that explored the body and public space.
Two of his most famous pieces were Following Piece (1969), in which he selected random passersby on New York City streets and followed them for as long as he was able, and Seedbed (1972), in which he claimed that he masturbated while under a temporary floor at the Sonnabend Gallery, as visitors walked above and heard him speaking. In the late-1970s, he turned to sculpture, architecture and design, greatly increasing the scale of his work, if not his art world profile. Over the next two decades, he developed public artworks and parks, airport rest areas, artificial islands and other architectural projects that frequently embraced participation, change and playfulness.
In her breakthrough videos of the 1990’s, Donegan combined time-based, gestural media of performance and video with forms such as painting, drawing, and installation. Direct, irreverent, and infused with an ironic eroticism, Donegan’s works put a subversive spin on issues relating to sex, gender, art-making and art history. Using her body as metaphor in her earlier works, Donegan’s performative actions before the camera often resulted in or related to process paintings and drawings.
The roots of her performance practise can be traced to current forays into fashion. As critic Nick Stillman writes in Art Forum: ” Donegan’s recent work remains acidic, but it has turned abstract.” Her work has been exhibited internationally, most recently in her first career survey at Kunsthalle Zurich in summer 2017. Other venues include at The New Museum, 1995 Whitney Biennial, The Museum of Modern Art, and the Tang Museum of Art; New York Film and Video Festival; 1993 Venice Biennale; and the Biennale d’Art Contemporain de Lyon, France in 1995.
William Wegman is an American artist best known for creating a series of compositions involving dogs, primarily his own Weimaraners in various costumes and poses.
Wegman originally intended to pursue a career as a painter. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 1965 and a Master of Fine Arts degree in painting from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign in 1967. By the early 70s, Wegman’s work was being exhibited in museums and galleries internationally.
His work, which includes photography, video, painting and drawing, is held in permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Hammer Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Centre Pompidou and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Using the camera as a sketchbook, always with the monitor on so he was watching what he was recording in real-time, Wegman improvised situations that both slyly took apart the conventions of painting and sculpture that his generation was leaving behind, while also puncturing the pretensions of Conceptual Art.
In addition to solo shows with Sonnabend Gallery in Paris and New York, Situation Gallery in London and Konrad Fisher Gallery in Düsseldorf, his work was included in such seminal exhibitions as “When Attitudes Become Form,” and “Documenta 5” and regularly featured in Interfunktionen, Artforum and Avalanche. While he was in Long Beach, Wegman got his dog, Man Ray, with whom he began a long and fruitful collaboration. Man Ray, known in the art world and beyond for his endearing deadpan presence, became a central figure in Wegman’s photographs and videotapes. In 1982, Man Ray died and was named “Man of the Year” by the Village Voice. Wegman is the author of numerous books for children, including the New York Times bestseller Puppies. His latest children’s book, Flo & Wendell, is published with Dial Books for Young Readers.
Gary Hill is an American artist who lives and works in Seattle, Washington. Often viewed as one of the foundational artists in video art, based on the single-channel work and video- and sound-based installations of the 1970s and 1980s, he, in fact, began working in metal sculpture in the late 1960s. Today he is best known for internationally exhibited installations and performance art, concerned as much with innovative language as with technology, and for continuing work in a broad range of media. His longtime work with intermedia explores an array of issues ranging from the physicality of language, synesthesia and perceptual conundrums to ontological space and viewer interactivity. The recipient of many awards, his influential work has been exhibited in most major contemporary art museums worldwide.
Gary Hill’s work has often been discussed in relation to his incorporation of language/text in video and installation, most evident in a work like Incidence of Catastrophe (1987–88). In the late 1960s, he began making metal sculpture and, in Woodstock, New York, engaged by wire sculpture’s sounds, explored extensions into electronic sound, video cameras and tape, playback/feedback, video synthesizers, sound synthesizers, installation-like constructions, video installations, interactive art and public interventio
ns. Later in the 1970s, living in Barrytown, New York, interacting with poets/artists George Quasha and Charles Stein, he extended his growing interest in language to a level of poetics and complex text, as well as performance art and collaboration. Initially “language” for him was not specifically words but the experience of a speaking that emerged inside electronic space (certain sounds “seemed close to human voices”), which he called “electronic linguistics” (first in the transitional non-verbal piece, Electronic Linguistic ). From that point, irrespective of whether a given piece uses text, his work in particular instances inquires into the nature of language as intrinsic to electronic/digital technology as an art medium.
Verbal language soon enters this electronic focus co-performatively, as an intensification of a dialogue with and within the medium, yet with a new language force all its own, its own unprecedented poetics. Highly realized single-channel works in this process include: Processual Video (1980), Videograms (1980–81), and Happenstance (part one of many parts) (1982–83), another stage of the dialogue with technology as a language site where machines talk back. Here the artist’s path moves to the celebrated language-intensive works of the 1980s: Primarily Speaking (1981–83), Why Do Things Get in a Muddle? (Come on Petunia) (1984), URA ARU (the backside exists) (1985–86), and Incidence of Catastrophe (1987–88).
Image: Marina Abramović and Ulay, Rest Energy is a 1980
Copyright The Artist and courtesy Pomeranz Collection