Go back to article: Technologies of Romance: looking for ‘object love’ in three works of video art

Video art

The three principle artists referred to in this essay – Elizabeth Price, Rosie Carr and Bada Song – all use video art to deploy sensual, historical, political, comic and ironic episodes. If we look more carefully at their work we can also locate a special kind of sentiment, gravitas and profundity, as well as certain affective and emotional contents that might be accessed via the particular qualities of video technology. These artists share the special format of the gathered or created, edited and projected video image, a particular ‘generation’ (in both senses of the word) of moving image, accompanied by sound and now, thanks to easily accessible technologies, conveniently available for manipulation by artists in ways unknown to previous generations.

Although video today might not yet be as popularly utilised and deployed in popular contexts as the more ubiquitous still, photographic image, we seem to encounter it  as an increasingly accessible medium. Despite its hi-tech image and currency, video could be said to occupy a historical realm somewhere between the magic lantern, cinema, the slide projector, TV, and today’s digitally animated images enjoying easy proliferation via social networks. What we now call ‘video art’, appeared initially in the late 1960s and early 1970s (Biesenbach et al, 2002) and became commonly used in the millennial generation of artists’ works. It might appear relatively immaterial, delivered as a light projection on a monitor or screen and generated by the readily transportable form of a tape, disk or file; however, this apparent immateriality belies the various, relatively cumbersome devices and contexts that might be necessary to its production and display.

In a landmark exhibition at Raven Row gallery, London, 2010, artist Hilary Lloyd raised her profile as an artist by noting a contemporary prevalence and tendency of video equipment to take on, in gallery spaces, a self-conscious, perhaps sculptural or even animistic presence.[1] Today, we encounter, in art galleries and museums, many elaborate references to video’s various modes of installation and projection, some of which may come to compete with, and sometimes even overshadow, the work being projected. In her recent publication On Stage: The Theatrical Dimension of Video Image (2016) Mathilde Roman redraws the contemporary art gallery and museum environment as something significantly transfigured by the onset and proliferation of video art. Roman makes us newly aware of the unique ramifications of video art, in terms of its image, narrative, presence, apparatuses and the particular kinds of display contexts that have evolved to accommodate, enhance and serve video art and its audience.

The paraphernalia required to present digital video might then loom large as its potential ‘object’ and yet may not be worthy of our ‘love’ (to persist with Geoghegan and Hess’s terminology). Nevertheless, concentration on the apparatuses of, and elaborately contrived contexts made for video art may also disguise less obvious ‘objects’ pertaining to it, or typical of it, and with which we might develop some form of empathetic or affective relationship.

In itself the video image might be relatively vulnerable and frail. When shown on a monitor or projected on a screen it remains subject to several contingencies of the environment, including the appropriateness of the qualities of the screen, the darkness of the room, the brightness of the projector, the quality of the lens, the efficiency of the media player, the quality and volume of the amplified sound heard through speakers or headphones which might, again, be of varying qualities. Then there is the correct or incorrect adjustment of the projector’s or monitor’s ratio and proportions to comply with the ratio and proportions of the original image, plus any competition that might occur between the projector’s or monitor’s light and other lights that might fall on the screen or distract the audience in other ways.

However, where and when we find such vulnerabilities and contingencies we might also find clues and traces related to our theme of ‘object love’. It is after all here, in these material concerns, that we can begin to locate affective and empathetic principles whereby we might be ‘touched’ by a certain care, sensitivity and empathy for, if not the mechanics involved then at least for the vulnerable video art itself, and its implicit appeal to be adequately and accurately presented.

The initial gathering of images for video art, whether newly recorded or gleaned from archives, is influenced and informed at the earliest stages of composition by consideration of their eventual redeployment in detailed layers and finely wrought sequences of ‘clips’ edited and projected on a screen, often in a dark, or darkened room. Today’s video art, no matter how sophisticated it may be in terms of current technology or the currency of its content, is connected to an uninterrupted technological history that includes the histories of cinema, TV and photography, modern media that are themselves informed by literature, and painting. And so, if we pursue a genealogy of video art back far enough we could perhaps trace and connect it to art’s assumed origins in cave paintings – more or less animated images, projected, suggested and in some way conjured by flickering light on walls in dark spaces.

Video art is imbued with a particular sense of intimacy, as well as being evocative of a certain atmospheric ‘gloom’. Inheriting and extending some of the aesthetic and technical legacy of cinema, video art brings that legacy (also influenced by the more domestic realm of television) into play as the outcomes of video production (the intricate gleaning and weaving of almost immaterial sonic and visual minutiae) are projected in spaces that produce a special sense of privacy and proximity, often involving (as Roman discusses) relatively small audiences or individual encounters in carefully darkened, sonically prepared and otherwise strategically constructed spaces, often including appropriate seating.

While ‘object love’ might not be the first concept we think of when encountering video art, I have nevertheless begun to draw out video art’s particular and peculiar properties and propensities in such a way as to embody and transmit certain values of intimacy and affect. Having posited this as a common ground shared by the three video artists, I will now proceed by explicating their individual works and practices.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/191209/002