08 Sep 2020

Video Art Now: The New Generation

Unframe London

Video Art Now: The New Generation

Video Art is the medium of the moment. In this article, we look at the history of video art and how it shapes the art world today.

Likewise, Video art is now a coveted form of art collected by both institutions and museums, as well as private collectors, such as the Julia Stoeshek Collection. Historically, the medium is used as a form of recording and documenting. Artists now utilise it as an established art medium. Important contemporary artists such as Nam June Paik and Bruce Nauman both pioneered it’s beginnings in the 1960s. Beginning with use of the medium as a way of documenting, this transitioned to a more experimental and ambitious approach.

Nam June Paik
M200/Video Wall, 1991. Nam June Paik. Courtesy James Cohan Gallery.

The beginnings of Video Art

Equally important, the fragmentary history of Video Art has been scarcely documented since it’s beginnings. Importantly, the funding and availability of equipment inevitably lead the development of video art to it’s current status. We now see ambitious multi-screen installations, that are often completely immersive. Firstly, videography evolved from grainy documental recordings to bold, experimental installations in colour. Consequently, videography was suddenly made available not only to broadcasters but to anybody curious enough. As a result, contemporary artists have rigorously embraced the medium and video art is now shown and widely collected over the world.

Therefore the emergence of video art from then on saw it rapidly gain prominence as a celebrated medium. Initially, video-making was low in cost and simple to make which developed it’s primary function from documenting and recording to the process of art-making. Therefore the beginnings of video art making saw artists experimenting with recording their own artistic performances. Today, we see a wider institutional acceptance of Video Art. This is as technology is advancing and as exhibiting methods and institutional acceptance grows. The theatrical and spectral qualities of Video Art and the new generation of Video artists are our point of discussion.

With this in mind, we are looking at the works of Pipilotti Rist, Mark Leckey, Charlotte Prodger, Doug Aitkin, Helen Cammock, Peter Spanjer and Judith Stenneken, in connection to this. Each artist uses the medium of video in different forms, from immersive installation to politically charged documentary.

Immersive Video

Pipilotti Rist
‘Worry Will Not Vanish’, Pipilotti Rist 2014 Courtesy the artist & Hauser & Wirth

Pipilotti Rist

The Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist is best known for her sensory, all encompassing installations. In her 2014 exhibition ‘Worry Will Vanish’ at Hauser & Wirth London, immersive video projections accompany soft seating areas and plush carpets. Meticulous attention is applied to all aspects of the room. In the considered interior, you are taken on a journey through the human body through Rist’s three-dimensional video work. The video depicts manipulated images that warp and move to make up an anatomical collage. Simultaneously, these images occasionally overlap with textured images drawn from nature.

Overall, Rist’s mesmerizing video work aims to form an intimate setting. These considered details contribute the an all encompassing experience from Rist’s exploration of the ‘external’ and ‘internal’. Therefore the enveloping video footage presents itself as a reimagining of reality in all it’s glory. In doing this, Rist’s work suggests a relationship with the wider world, and even the universe.

Pipilotti Rist
‘4th Floor To Mildness’, 2016. Pipilotti Rist. Image courtesy 180 The Strand.

Similarly, Rist’s kaleidoscopic installation ‘4th Floor to Mildness’ (2016) was part of the immersive exhibition ‘Strange Days’. This exhibition transformed London’s The Store X in October 2018, taking viewers on an audiovisual journey through the studios of 180 The Strand. Alongside Rist, the immersive exhibition included artists with a focus on sensory immersive installation. These included works by Camille Henrot and Laure Prouvost, both known for their eclectic installations.

Mark Leckey

The London based artist Mark Leckey often plays with old and new video footage in his installations. Similarly to Rist’s work, Leckey carefully considers the room to optimise the viewer’s captivating experience. In his major solo exhibition ‘O’ Magic Power of Bleakness’ at the Tate Britain in 2019, a life-sized replica of a section of the M53 motorway flyover dominates the eery room. The flyover is a replicate of one close to his childhood home, a place where Leckey would play with his friends. Audiovisual projections line the walls – viewers watch whilst sitting in the shadows of the flyover. Simultaneously, there is an element of voyeurism in the show, viewers freely experience the work in the predominantly darkened room and watch other’s reactions to the work. This carefully formed atmosphere draws viewers in to the hypnotic room.

Leckey’s influential work first gained recognition in the 1990s. Overall, his work addresses popular culture, class, technology and nostalgia.

The artist explains “many of my works have their wellspring in things and experiences from my childhood and youth that still haunt me.”

Mark Leckey
‘O’ Magic Power of Bleakness’, 2019. Mark Leckey. Courtesy the artist. © Mark Leckey.

Both Rist and Leckey use video to envelop viewers into an experience. Importantly, the use of the medium heightens each artist’s portrayal of their artistic practices to a new level of engagement. In this instance, the artists pair videography work with audio creating a cinematic installation. This has the ability to consume the attention of viewers.

Charlotte Prodger

The 2018 Turner Prize winner Charlotte Prodger addresses the intertwined relationship between the body and technology in her film work. The artist filmed her Turner prize winning piece ‘Bridgit’ entirely on the her mobile phone. There is a tactile quality to the grappling of the use of the phone. Prodger explains that the phone “becomes very material, almost sculptural”.

Charlotte Prodger
‘Bridgit’, 2016. Charlotte Prodger. Courtesy the artist and Hollybush Gardens.

Although this work remains ‘video art’, here we see an artist using the medium in a different way. In her work, Prodger aims to narrate a contemporary story through fragments of her personal life shot with her phone. Compositionally, her diaristic piece ‘Bridgit’ (2016) uses a documenting style, harking back to the early days of video art. Similarly, the ‘personal documentation’ consists of short clips that focus on themes of identity and time. The artist pairs the near static footage with an audio narrative of her thoughts and contemplations.

Loop Festival in Barcelona

Loop Barcelona explores the capacities of video and film in today’s contemporary art world. The festival and art fair runs yearly, since it’s beginnings in 2003. There are screenings and exhibitions of artist’s films, videos, live performances and talks all over the city. As one of the most prestigious film fairs in the world, Loop champions video artists giving them a platform. Started by passionate video art collectors, the fair now takes over Barcelona, giving visitors the chance to see the best of current video art.

Doug Aitken
New Ocean (2001) Doug Aitken. © Doug Aitken.

Doug Aitken

American artist Doug Aitken aims to defy definitions of genre through exploring multiple mediums. Since the 1990s, Aitken’s has experimented with creating provocative environments through installation. Three video projections make up his artwork ‘diamond sea’ (1997), a suspended video monitor and one illuminated transparency photograph in a dimly lit space. Similarly to the work of Pipilotti Rist, Aitken places an importance on the ‘curated space’. Although video is just one of those elements, it remains the dominant medium in each artwork discussed so far.

In his 2001 artwork ‘New Ocean’ shown by Serpentine gallery, Aitken threads a sequence of moving images paired with audio and photographic works. Aitken’s artwork conjures an image of fictional realities, with his footage mostly shot in the Artic and Argentina. ‘New Ocean’ creates a new topography of a world in constant change.’ Aitken’s mesmeric installations are often meticulously engineered structures. In turn, the mixed media within the installation becomes just as important as the video work itself.

Political Message

As a medium able to both record and document, often artists seek to use video art as a way of conveying and exploring political message. The use of old footage in videography compiles the imagery in a documentary style.

Helen Cammock
The Long Note 2018 Helen Hammock. Courtesy Kate MacGarry Gallery

British artist and 2019 Turner Prize winner Helen Cammock’s work stems from a deeply meticulous research process. Cammock predominantly explores social histories through film, text, photography and performance. Through the use of new and old material, Cammock depicts multiple-layered narratives. Her film ‘The Long Note’‘ (2018) focuses on the different roles that women had in the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland in 1968, a year for civil rights movements globally. Simultaneously, she celebrates and acknowledges those marginalised through multiple narratives woven together. Cammock’s documentary style video work gives a voice to those unheard historically.

Helen Cammock shows in London this month at Kate MacGary gallery. The exhibition features Cammock’s new film ‘They Call It Idlewild’. ‘The film reflects on the politics of idleness and what it means creatively, emotionally and culturally to be idle at a time when questions are being asked more widely about the physical and emotional costs of hyperproductivity required by neoliberalism.’

In the same way, Hammock explains that “histories are never behind us, they are here, they are part of who we are.”

Additionally, as an inherently immersive medium, video art has a firmly grounded place in the contemporary art world today. Video art is now far more polished, due to the huge strides of technology over the last decade.

Peter Spanjer
Make Me Safe 2020 Peter Spanjer. © Peter Spanjer

Peter Spanjer

In the same way, Peter Spanjer addresses political issues in his film ‘Make Me Safe’ (2020). Nigerian artist Peter Spanjer, born in Bremen, Germany, currently works and lives in London. Unquestionably, his work is currently in the spotlight. He frames his work around, but not limited to, the idea of resistance. In particular, these themes manifest in the resistance of the emotional stereotypes put on the black body; resisting the need to perform his blackness to others and thereby allowing room for self exploration which he extends as a piece of visual art.

Equally as important, Spanjer’s work explores multiple layers of sensuality, sexuality and vulnerability. These themes derive from the artist’s personal battles of breaking away from strict gender roles within a black household. 

Peter Spanjer
Make Me Safe 2020 Peter Spanjer. © Peter Spanjer

“I really try to confront my own sensitivity and often the research is based on self evaluation: trying to dismantle narratives which have been planted and may still be growing. Whilst challenging an internalised belief system, I equally try to pull apart ‘ideas of blackness’ within the current art sphere.”

Judith Stenneken

Likewise, Unframe artist Judith Stenneken addresses political themes in her work. Stenneken’s film ‘Staircase’ (2018) addresses underlining issues of migration, transitory spaces and identity.

Staircase still 7
Staircase, 2018. Judith Stenneken.

Additionally, in ‘Staircase’ (2018), Stenneken collaborates with Hael, who at the time was a refugee in Tempelhof, the disused ex-airport in Berlin. The work explores transitional spaces and our relationship to them. In ‘Staircase’ , the artist portrays refugees’ struggles through the ‘never ending staircase’ and also through use of collaged moving image. Above all, Stenneken suggests the use of repetition is also relative for us today, as we experience the challenges of the digital revolution. 

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Staircase installation
Staircase, 2018. Judith Stenneken.

“In my work I use moving and still images of the journey and the voyager. In ‘transitory spaces’ like hotel rooms and airports as metaphors to describe transitions as the sole constant in life and in-betweenness as the true state of being. The concepts of departure and arrival dissolve as the traveler keeps moving – a gravity to constant change. The voyager’s home becomes the hotel room, the airplane, and at times the airport. Spaces to pause, never to dwell.”

In conclusion, Video art has a firm place in the contemporary art world today since it’s radical beginnings in the 1960s. Subsequently, it engages and evolves in a parallel direction to the ever-changing technology of modern day. To summarize, the multiple uses of the medium allows for artists to experiment freely and confidently without prior experience.

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