Wikipedia Video Art Project
TV, the Internet, and Video Art
Through the second half of the twentieth century, television reigned culturally supreme. It connected Americans, it informed society, and, most importantly, it entertained. The advent of cable strengthened America’s TV addiction as hundreds of new channels provided endless viewing opportunities. However, shortly after its introduction to the public in the mid 1990s, the Internet began to eclipse TV as America’s cultural media center. Now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, television is no longer the central means of communication; the Internet has not only replaced all of television’s main functions, but also has improved upon all of them. The Internet has completely transformed our media culture.
Since the inception of portable video equipment (like the Sony Portapak) in the late 1960s, artists working in video have been fascinated with the pervasive media culture. For much of the history of video art, artists focused their attention on video’s relationship to television. As they began to understand the nuanced interplay between the two, artists experimented more and started manipulating the medium through their art. When the Internet entered into the cultural foreground, video artists began incorporating Internet aesthetics into their explorations of media culture. Now, every contemporary artist approaching the issues of life in our media culture must face the Internet and its boundless media opportunities.
A recent development in the history of the Internet has been the invention of Wikipedia. Wikipedia marks a new kind of global information sharing and is perhaps one of the largest public compilations of knowledge. In many ways, Wikipedia is a hub for the new Internet media culture, and its existence perpetuates that culture; yet there is surprisingly little information about video art and artists—those most interested with media culture—on Wikipedia.
I have responded to this dearth of information by contributing many video art-related topics to Wikipedia’s pages. My knowledge on the subject comes from a semester-long college course I took on the history of video art, and I checked many sources including lecture notes, essays, articles, artist websites, and the works themselves to ensure the validity of my contributions. Through this project, I hope to add to the information about video art while simultaneously experimenting in this new Internet world of shared information.
I am using this Meta-Wiki to share my own historical interpretations (original work forbidden in Wikipedia’s main pages) as well as to reflect upon my experiences throughout the process. Hopefully others will discover this, or one of my many other Wikipedia entries about video art, and it will spark an interest in the subject.
My First Entries
One of my initial goals of putting information about video art on Wikipedia was to expose users to a topic with which they were not familiar. Searching Wikipedia is a great way to learn about new subjects, and I sought to facilitate that by contributing information about video art to pages that seem unrelated. For my first entry, I tested this method by posting information about Ant Farm’s “The Eternal Frame” on the page for the JFK Assassination. Here is what I initially wrote in the section entitled Film Portrayals:
In 1975, a San Fransisco-based group of artists called Ant Farm reenacted the Kennedy assassination in Dealey Plaza and documented it in a video piece called "The Eternal Frame". The actors involved rehearsed extensively to ensure verisimilitude, and when they performed the reenactment, it was executed with a striking attention to detail. While part of the video shows that Ant Farm was playing on America's obsession with the media (an actor playing a secret service agent tells a camera, "We've always been worried about Dallas--it's a rough city, a gun city"), ultimately the video shows that the sacred images of the assassination cannot be mocked. This piece can be seen as a commentary on the pervasive media culture in America, as it explores how the Kennedy assassination itself became a new type of media event.
Next, I added a link to the Ant Farm page under the JFK Assassination page’s links.
On the Ant Farm (group) page, I added a one-sentence description of The Eternal Frame, linked to pseudo-event page. Then I added this to the pseudo-event page:
A number of video artists have explored the concept of a pseudo event in their work. The group Ant Farm especially plays with pseudo events in their works "Media Burn" (1975) and "The Eternal Frame" (1975). It soon became clear that, for every one artist or work that I wanted to cover, I would have to add numerous links and update the content on multiple pages in order to be thorough. The stream of consciousness that I often practice when searching Wikipedia for fun now applied to my contributing style as well.
When I was done updating the pseudo-event page, I went back to the assassination page to check on my post. To my amazement, it had already been deleted! Within literally five minutes of my uploading it, another editor had deleted my entry. While my paragraph was remotely interpretive, it was all true and, in my mind, a legitimate addition. I then noticed that my link to Ant Farm had also been removed from the assassination links. I returned to the Ant Farm page only to find that it had been suggested for deletion. I suspect that the same user who removed my “Eternal Frame” post also questioned the notability of the Ant Farm page.
This sparked a debate between a number of Wikipedia users about the “notability” of Ant Farm. Five different people argued against deletion of the page, claiming that, through Google searches and other research, they feel the group is legitimate enough to warrant a page. I was thrilled—my plans were proving successful! My one addition to the JFK assassination page had motivated people to learn more about Ant Farm, a notable group in the history of video art.
While I was happy with the outcome of my first entry (save the fact that it was deleted), I did not want all of my entries removed and I did not want to be perceived as a Wikipedia vandalist. I re-entered a one-sentence description of “The Eternal Frame” on the assassination page, and created a new page dedicated to the video itself in which I posted a modified version of my original description. Because these both survived their first day of posting (the majority of bad contributions are deleted within five minutes), I hope that they will not be removed.
Click here for a List of My Wikipedia Video Art Contributions.
An Internet History of Video Art
Rather than explain in detail the processes of methodically contributing to Wikipedia’s body of knowledge of video art, most of which is less interesting and eventful than my first experience with “The Eternal Frame”, I want to discuss the overarching themes connecting the works I added, as well as their relationship to the Internet.
Much of the history of video art can be examined through the lens of video’s relationship to the television. Video gave artists the ability to put their work on TV and this unique opportunity helped to inform the content. While artists in the late 1960s and early 1970s were largely trying to understand the interplay between TV and video, they began experimenting with and later manipulating the power of television in the late ‘70s and beyond. By the late ‘90s, the television lost much of its importance to video artists as a new age of post-television digital technology arrived. Thus, this history can be interpreted as the disintegration of the relationship between video and television.
This chronology fits into four distinct periods:
- Experimenting with Video and Television (1965-1974)
- Understanding the Power of TV and the Media (1974-early 1980s)
- Manipulating the Power of the Media (1984-2000)
- Post-Television Media Culture (1998-present)
The sections below describe these periods and place representative works within them.
1. Experimenting with Video and Television (1965-1974)
- Valie Export, “Facing a Family” 1971
- Chris Burden, “Shoot” 1971
- Chris Burden, “Through the Night Softly” 1973
- Richard Serra and Nancy Holt, “Boomerang” 1974
In this early period, artists began playing with the new technology and its ramifications. Some, like Export and Burden (“Through the Night Softly”), experimented with broadcasting work on television, but, this was very expensive when it the project was not supported by a public television organization. In “Boomerang”, Richard Serra plays with the language of video and new electronic technology and shows how foreign it can be. Chris Burden’s “Shoot” addresses issues of violence in the media as well as spectatorship—he had a live audience witnessing the performance. As video artists experimented in video and TV, they began to create for themselves a lexicon with which to describe and understand the televisual experience and the media culture it served.
2. Understanding the Power of TV and the Media (1974-early 1980s)
- Martha Rosler, “Semiotics of the Kitchen” 1975
- Ant Farm, “Media Burn” 1975
- Ant Farm, “The Eternal Frame” 1975
- Nam June Paik and Dimitri Devyatkin, “Media Shuttle: Moscow/New York” 1978
After about a decade of experimentation in video that also coincided with the establishment of television programming norms (like nightly news formats), artists understood how central television was to American culture. This appreciation for the enveloping media culture led video artists in new conceptual directions. Martha Rosler, for example, criticizes TVs negative influence on gender rolls in “Semiotics of the Kitchen” by creating a distorted Julia Child-esque cooking show. Ant Farm did a lot of work in video that explored the power of the TV in the media culture, and their often-satirical work critically explores the role of the mass media as well. Through reenacting the assassination in “The Eternal Frame”, they show how the media sensationalized Kennedy’s death and made its imagery iconic. In the video documentation of “Media Burn”, Ant Farm contrasts its own documentation of the pseudo-event (the symbolic driving of a car through a wall of burning TVs) with the local media’s frivolous treatment of their message. Nam June Paik and Dimitri Devyatkin fantasized about what it would be like to create a global media village through a satellite connection. All of these works demonstrate a much more complex understanding of the interplay between video and TV, and this slight paradigm shift informs the art of this period.
3. Manipulating the Power of the Media (1984-2000)
- DIVA-TV, “Like a Prayer” 1989
- Lynn Hershman, “Desire Inc.” 1990
- Christian Jankowski, “The Holy Artwork” 2001
In this period, rather than converting their art into television, artists begin converting the television into art. This often involved manipulating the media in various ways and then ultimately capturing it on video. DIVA-TV achieved this largely through editing—they created their own subjective documentation of the Cardinal O’Connor protests to contradict the mainstream media coverage. Unlike the Ant Farm documentation, the political stakes were much higher and the issues were literally life and death. Lynn Hershman’s final presentation of her experiment in television advertising, documented in the video Desire Inc., operates so that the respondents to the ad are as much the art as the ads themselves. Thus, the roles of spectator, consumer, advertiser, and performer are blurred and television viewing becomes an active event. Jankowski takes a slightly different approach to his television interventions, as he enters TV space and creates his work from within it. Because he comments on television through television in his works “Telemistica” and “The Holy Artwork”, Jankowski’s interventions acquire a great amount of depth and his work achieves a transcendent, “meta” quality. In this final phase of the video-TV affiliation, video artists, now accustomed to working in a TV-centric media culture, easily manipulate the medium and, in doing so, begin to look beyond the TV for artistic inspiration.
4. Post-Television Media Culture (1998-present)
- Ximena Cuevas, “Help” 1999
- Paul Pfeiffer, "John 3:16" 2000
- Eddo Stern, “TekkenTorture Tournament” 2001
- Brian Spinks, Bill Wasik, and Eugene Mirman, “Black Thunder” 2001
The current trend in video art is, in many ways, the most difficult to describe because it has just begun. I call it “Post-Television” because artists have shifted their focus from video’s relationship to the TV and are now looking towards other media like the Internet. The Internet has not only changed the way artists approach their work, but also how they produce and distribute it. “Black Thunder”, for example, was only distributed through the Internet from the website illegal-art.org. The rapidly improving technology has also created new artistic opportunities for video artists. Much of Paul Pfeiffer’s work involves heavy digital manipulations of images and digital editing to create surreal imagery from the mundane. Stern’s “Tekken Torture Tournament” examines the world of video games and the technology and violence that accompanies it. While Cuevas’ “Help” does not directly address the Internet world, it does demonstrate a symptom of the new media culture: loneliness. While the Internet facilitates global communication, it also fosters isolation. Contemporary artists have only begun to understand the possibilities of the Internet age and its artistic ramifications. Many are becoming aware, however, that television no longer has a starring role.
The transition from television towards the Internet is an extremely natural one. The Internet provides all of the services and information that television does (in addition to limitless other media opportunities), so it has begun to appropriate the role of the TV. It connects the world and allows for international networking on a scale unimaginable in a television-centric environment. This worldwide connection allows for global information sharing and, ultimately, for Wikipedia.
Interestingly, my experience on Wikipedia mirrors my previous interaction with television—I switch from one page to another whenever I get bored, and this becomes a type of Wiki- “channel surfing”. Unlike randomly changing channels on the TV, however, Wikipedia searching often operates as an intellectual stream of consciousness, where one topic takes you to a related one. Through my Wikipedia project, I learned about dozens of video art-related topics (in addition to completely unrelated topics).
I hope that users who find my contributions in the deep annals of the Wikipedia media space will pursue these topics beyond my entries, and that those who have made it to the end of this rather lengthy article find themselves thinking about video, the Internet, and the media culture that allowed for this project to become a reality.
- VES 193: The History of Video Art, taught by Professor Carrie Lambert-Beatty and TF Miguel de Baca at Harvard University.
- Hall, Doug and Sally Jo Fifer, eds. Illuminating Video. New York: Aperture, 1990.
- Many websites were consulted for fact checking, and most of those have been cited on the various Wikipedia pages to which they refer.
Also, please visit the List of My Wikipedia Video Art Contributions