It is always easy to overlook peripheral events amid the rapidly progressing terrains of art practice. A once new field such as Video Art in Britain, is seen most often through seminal moments like 'Video Show', Serpentine Gallery in 1975 and key groups like London Video Arts. Groups sometimes emerge through necessity, those willing to establish the new field in it's formative moments by engaging in critical discourse or by working towards simply gaining resources – consequentially forming an artist community around these provisions. All of this, becoming part of a rapidly expanding domain, acutely aware of it's own evolving contexts, moving far beyond the gallery.
Individuals using the medium of video have often looked to the possibilities lying within it's own properties - to reach mass audiences at home in their living rooms or work with like-minded parties to challenge the audience's perception of an event or environment. Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable (1966) with the Velvet Underground saw his expansion of cinematic experience into the new field of video. Ronald Nameth's video tape recordings of these cornerstone performances expanded upon Warhol's multimedia events, as immersive experiences motivated by the seepage of pop culture into real life. This work by Nameth responds to this idea, transforming what a document can be and it became one of the earliest artworks using video.-1
In 1976, the year following the Serpentine Gallery 'Video Show', an exhibition was curated in the remote New Town of Washington, north-east England by artists Brian Hoey and Wendy Brown. This exhibition titled 'Artists' Video – An Alternative Use of the Medium' looked beyond the medium's platform of the gallery and to a new, rarefied situation.
The redevelopment of Washington underway at this time, was a major influence on how the exhibition was realised and how its interface would consider the attitudes of its local audience toward art. Hoey and Brown, who shared a post as artist in residence from 1976 to 1979 at Biddick Farm Art Centre in Washington, sat within the ideology envisaged within the town's redevelopment, as did the art centre which opened in 1972. Washington, previously a mining town, was undergoing significant changes as part of the government initiated New Towns Acts. An experimental urban-form under the Labour Government, the act often used well-established towns located outside of major cities which were transformed under the supervision of a QUANGO Development Corporation. Their role was to successfully redevelop the site, accounting to both it's long-term inhabitants while attracting a sudden influx of new residents -2. These New Towns, governed by the Development Corporations until their full completion, were self-fulfilling and comprised of some remarkable examples of social housing design, new industries, shopping centre complexes based modelled upon American Malls including cinemas and leisure centres.
Artists too often had a role within these new visions and different models for this were pursued. In Peterlee, Victor Pasmore designed the Apollo Pavilionii and the layout of residential areas, in Harlow the Harlow Arts Trust was founded to purchased sculptures for the town by artists for instance, Henry Moore, Glenrothes was the first to employ a town artist, David Harding from 1968-78 worked with local residents to make art works. Harding moved on from this experience to found the now world renowned Environmental Art department at Glasgow School of Art in 1985. The ambition for these posts within New Town projects were centred around ongoing redevelopment in the community: the Development Corporation intended that the artists would contribute to the town's new- found sense of self.-3
Hoey and Brown's introduction of a new technology like video into this context seems fitting with the very fabric of this town. Washington was segmented into 17 numbered districts - a concept left-over from the numbered colliery sites and their surrounding villages on which the town was built. This numerical mechanism for navigating the town somehow seems appropriate for this exhibition – something that wouldn't have been overlooked by Hoey. Studying at The Royal Academy, London, Hoey was taught by Malcolm Hughes, co-founder of The Systems Group, his influence in Hoey's work is clear. The rationality of this system seems intrinsically linked to direct interactivity with the audience, in works by Hoey such as Videvent -4 by Brown -5 in her own practice and in the curatorial decisions made in the 'Artists' Video' exhibition – which was held within the Information Centre of the Washington Galleries shopping centre. The glass-fronted unit was normally the only point of exchange between the public and The Development Corporation who normally gave general advice from there on navigating around the complex or issues such as employment in the town. Visitors could view the exhibition in an environment that they would normally visit, selecting videos they would like to view on monitors in the space from a catalogue where the artworks were listed.
Brown and Hoey presented an exhibition for Washington New Town on the basis of their being the local Artists in Residence: the show not only included an artwork made by Hoey but was a collaborative work in itself, developed in order to open out to other artists. Their role within the community was important and made transparent in the way that visitors saw the exhibition. Five monitors were installed showing alternating video artworks, visitors were able to request to Brown and Hoey (who were present in the space throughout the exhibition) which works they would like to watch from one of the catalogues. Amongst the artists included in the exhibition were: Doron Abrahami Jaqueline Air, David Critchley, Peter Donebauer, Ed Ermshwiller, Cliff Evans, David Hall, Brin Hoey, Tamara Krikorian, Madelaine Hookyaas, John Hopkins and Sue Hall (Fantasy Factory), Ronald Nameth, Stephen Partridge, Tony Sinden and Elsa Stansfield. The works selected gave an overview of art being produced internationally at the time by artists using video in the UK, North America, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands and Scandinavia.
The interest in interactivity that already existed in Brown's and in Hoey's practices was crucial to the way in which 'Artists' Video' was realised. This integration of artwork into everyday life, using technology, brings to mind some of the work in the previous decade by the Tape Music Centre, San Francisco and preceding this, works created through Billy Kluver and Robert Rauchenberg's 'Art and Technology' programme in New York. These collectives through the 1960-70's where musicians, artists and engineers combined ideas, connect with Brown and Hoey's intentions for this exhibition: offering a new outlook, to a new town, with new technology and through an openness in collaboration.
At this time Stephen Partridge's works were concerned with the formal properties of video, not simply to explore potential and possibilities of the medium but also to define a new language which brought together elements of experience and representation of past and present moments in time. In Monitor (1975) a screen shows a video of itself filmed in situ. A pair of hands then appear on the video and turn the filmed monitor diagonally, on it's side, then upside down. This action performed on the video shown on the monitor raises the idea of video as a new language and form of visual representation - one which is able to show live events and past events together, blurring these two fields of experience for the viewer.
The intention to explain the formal properties and their implications for the medium of video stands in stark contrast to the work of Sue Hall and John Hopkins who presented a compilation called Albion Free Sate. Together Hall and Hopkins had just set up Fantasy Factory – a video research centre in the most informal sense possible. Preceded by TVX (co-founded by Hopkins and Cliff Evans) which was the first British TV workshop and video research centre in 1969. Hall came from a background of social activism, squatting, the underground music scene and psychedelia in the 60's. Hopkins worked as a photo journalist for national newspapers and music magazines, photographing musician- celebrities in the early 60's, he moved on to promote Pink Floyd, found the International Times and the London Free School. Their work often took a reportage-style approach which promoted the value of unmediated self-expression that was possible with video – available to the individual, relatively affordable and duplicatable for self-publishing. Influenced by an array of liberated activities from Happenings outside the gallery, to small- distribution and self-release record labels. They were also interested in the democratic properties of video over film, the immediacy of the material – transparent and instantly viewable.
The differing approaches of medium-specific and documentary video artworks, although sometimes positioned in opposition, can both be linked to the particular advancements in technology that came with the medium: increased control over editing and the speed between image capture and viewing. The direct playback function available with video was4important not just to artists like Hall and Hopkins for it's social and political implications, it was also used to explore a breadth of ideas in art practice. This can be seen in works which aim to effect audience interaction – like Hoey's work or others at this time like Bruce Nauman's Live Taped Video Corridor (1970). These works also connect with how the technology was also used in performance works by artists like Joan Jonas at this time in Organic Honey's Visual Telepathy (1972) to explore other issues like the dislocation of physical space and issues around the captured image it's illusion of flatness and representation of personal identity.
These concerns find a middle-ground in Ronald Nameth's work The Adventures of Energy with music by Terry Riley which was included in a three-part production for the Swedish TV Broadcasting Company with artist Linda Gustavson. Ronald Nameth has created video works in collaboration with artists such as Warhol and John Cage throughout his career. These collaborations demonstrate a synthesis between fields in art at this time, one that was desired and exemplified here with great sensitivity and in a way, autonomy – a document as an artwork in it's own right.
The most striking aspect of Nameth's work is his use of the freeze-frame to generate a sense of timelessness. Stop-motion is literally the death of the image: we are instantly cut off from the illusion of cinematic life— the immediacy of motion— and the image suddenly is relegated to the motionless past, leaving in its place a pervading aura of melancholy.-6
(Youngblood, 1970, p105)
Brown and Hoey used the exhibition 'Artists' Video' as a discursive act. Their decision to select work that showed a breadth of approach and attitude toward the medium opened a trajectory for the exhibition that was not occurring in the major exhibitions in London showcasing the new genre. The democracy introduced with video was an entirely new concept for the audience that the exhibition addressed, offering a glimpse into the future via a technology not yet commonplace and previously unseen by many. By presenting these artworks through an accessible catalogue meant that this audience, already participants a vast pilot scheme of re-development, could choose and reject the new languages being explored through a new and affecting technology.
(1)During the 1960's (when Washington was selected for the New Towns Act ) the UK government decided to dedicate more focus and power to regional policies - due to fast growing city- populations across the country, slow national economic growth and broadening disparities between the regions. Relatively recent social changes: increased car ownership and a higher expected standard for living and amenities, also informed the way in which these sites were developed.
(2)Named after the first manned mission to the moon in 1969, the Apollo Pavilion marked the culmination of Pasmore's work as consulting director of urban design with Peterlee development corporation.
(3) Hoey,B and Brown, W in an email interview, 24 December 2012 stated “The idea was that artists' presence would permeate the life of the town and contribute to its social development.”
(4) “A video camera was focused on the participant and connected to the first recorder; the delayed image from the second recorder was then mixed with the first to build a gradually accumulating image sequence displayed on a single monitor. Hoey saw this directly interactive and 'live' approach to art as crucial to maintaining contact with his audience” (Hoey,B,1976, 'VIDEO', Studio International, May/June, p.255)
(5) Hoey,B and Brown, W in an email interview, 24 December 2012 stated “Brian worked with interactive light sculptures and Wendy did this too and produced 'behavioural art' projects”
(6) Youngblood,G (1970), Synaesthetics and Kinaesthetics: The Way of All Experience, Expanded Cinema, New York: P. Dutton & Co., Inc.