Beginnings of the moving image
Having only gained its recognition in galleries and institutions as a legitimate art form in the late nineties, video has come a long way.
Before it was acknowledged by the art world as a medium for art-making, video started out as a tool for documentation and communication in broadcasting. Apart from the news, video also took the form of advertisements, TV shows, films and movies.
However, video found itself in the hands of artists when the technology became accessible to the everyday person in the late 20th century. Video recording was made possible outside of the studio with the invention of the Sony BMC100, the first portable one-piece camcorder. Artists now found themselves with a new language that was full of creative potential.
Video as a Language
Compared to its traditional counterparts, artists saw video as a more open-ended medium that consisted of multiple elements such as moving image, sound, ever-evolving technology and its users.
It is important to note that video in contemporary art differentiated itself from other mediums by moving away from narration, instead looking at video as a combination of moving image and sound.
Early experimentation with video in contemporary art coincided with other cultural movements like experimental film, conceptual art, performance art and feminist art around the 1970s.
In the West, artists – like Andy Warhol, Bruce Nauman, and Jenny Holzer, to name a few – used video to critique the medium’s influence on audiences. Video works ranged from minute-long clips to 24-hour-long projections, and examined themes such as our physical experiences with televisions or how Hollywood films reflected contemporary culture.
Over in Asia, artists created works that questioned their cultural and religious identities and realities while examining the power and influence of the television, and the television as an object.
From Screen To Space
The aesthetic of video art took a significant turn when Nam June Paik created TV Cello, which brought the experience of video out of the screen and into space. The performance involved cellist Chalotte Moorman performing with a cello created from stacked TV screens. Each screen displayed video clips of moving strings as the musician moved her bow.
Watching video clips was no longer confined to passive viewing from the comfort of a living room, but was incorporated into a physical experience. It is no surprise that this only inspired video installations to take on new shapes and forms.
Exploring the basic purpose of a line is Chen Sai Hua Kuan’s Space Drawing series. It consists of video recordings of a bungee rope pulled through a chosen site, with the sounds of the rope whipping around walls and through doorways echoing in the space.
Ranging from historical sites like the Chapel Gallery in Singapore to an abandoned warehouse in Limerick, Ireland, these film-and-installation works incorporate videos as a spatial element. The video clip is projected along a whole wall, in a pitch-black room with an echoey environment. As in Space Drawing No.12 installed at 155 Middle Road, the video existed beyond a screen, as the jarring whipping sound of the bungee rope rang throughout the space.
Video as investigations of urban life
Artists like Sarah Choo Jing mimic the qualities of paintings in her video works, presenting aesthetics that draw on her background as a painter.
For her, video is one of many mediums like photography and installation that possess unique qualities for art-making. She draws on the ability of digital mediums to dramatise and create high-contrast lighting akin to the photo-realistic qualities of her paintings, as seen in her video installation works like Art of the Rehearsal and The Hidden Dimension series.
Through the camera’s gaze, she explores narratives associated with isolation, intimacy, disconnection and everyday relationships, often featuring humans in urban environments in her work.
As seen In The Hidden Dimension, she depicts solitude as experienced through a seven-person household, with the people in the video being the artist’s family members. The video installation shows a panoramic view of a typical Singaporean family, with each member occupying their own corner, engaged in their own activities like washing the dishes, watching TV or playing with toys – reflecting loneliness within a highly populated city.
In Rules For The Expression Of Architectural Desires, Debbie Ding accompanies a video clip showing a single hand running over different textures and surfaces with 24 hypothetical rules that speculate what a city’s design consists of. This questions the ways in which one defines a city and how a city is designed, for better or worse.
In this work, video serves as a component of a larger installation, providing textural qualities that contrast with flat, digital prints. Just like the artworks previously mentioned, video has proven to be a fluid, malleable medium that allows it to be incorporated and integrated with its traditional counterparts.
Video, Now and Forever?
The presence of videos in our lives today has transcended beyond the television screen in our living rooms and projectors in movie theatres. With social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram reels, more people are now able to record material and create content. This has increased accessibility to video as a medium, just as how portable camcorders did when they were first introduced to the public.
As more video content is being created every second on social media, video, as a material and medium, has grown to incorporate spontaneity, quick cuts and short durations — expanding the potential of video as an artistic language that much more. What can this mean for artists who employ video as a medium and video in contemporary art?
Feature Image: Thomas William on Unsplash