Video art: A changing medium

 
Ani O’Neill | New Zealand b.1971 | Lisa Reihana | New Zealand b.1964 | hyper girls 1998 | Videotape: 3 minutes, colour, stereo | Video still | The James C Sourris, AM, Collection. Purchased 1999 with funds from James C Sourris through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © The artists.

More than most other artistic fields, video art is dependent on technical equipment. In fact, its development as a medium can be charted with reference not only to evolving aesthetic debates but also to technological innovations that have resulted in new (and often cheaper) cameras, recording media, projectors, monitors and editing techniques.

Looking back over this history, we can observe real spikes in video art production following the popularisation of ‘game changing’ equipment and the evolution of new ways to consume video footage. Sony’s Portapak, released in 1967, and American cable television sit at one end of this timeline while mobile phone video cameras and YouTube sit at the other.

The Queensland Art Gallery began collecting film and video art in 1996 and now holds almost 200 moving image works. They range in date from 1964 to the present and encompass a diversity of physical forms — from room-sized, synchronised multiple screen installations to simple monitor-based works to 35mm films.

Ani O’Neill | New Zealand b.1971 | Lisa Reihana | New Zealand b.1964 | hyper girls 1998 | Videotape: 3 minutes, colour, stereo | Video still | The James C Sourris, AM, Collection. Purchased 1999 with funds from James C Sourris through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © The artists.

A key early supporter of this area of the Collection was the benefactor James C. Sourris AM who, between 1999 and 2000, enabled the purchase of 21 video works that had been identified by the Gallery’s curators as important additions to the new collection area. Functioning as a kind of satellite to the exhibition ‘Ten Years of Contemporary Art: The James C Sourris AM Collection’, a selection of these early video acquisitions are currently on display on level 3 of GOMA. Including works by Robert Cahen (France, b.1945), Mona Hatoum (Lebanon/England b.1952), Ani O’Neal and Lisa Reihana (New Zealand, b.1971 and 1964) Nam June Paik (Korea/United States, 1932-2006), Woody Vasulka (United States, b.1937) and Judith Wright (Australia, b.1945), the group represents some of the pioneering artists in the field.

Many of the video works in the current display date from the early 90s, at which time new generation analogue tape formats such as Video-8 and Hi-8 were in the ascendancy and video equipment became increasingly affordable, portable and easy to use. Like the advent of inexpensive digital video formats that followed in the 2000s, these developments enabled artists to move ever more adeptly from idea to execution.

What would Nam June Paik have done in 2012, armed with a camera-phone and YouTube channel?

Cuzin on Matisse

 

Today I visited ‘Matisse: Drawing Life’ to look at the interventions of Christophe Cuzin. A contemporary French artist who was brought on board when the Gallery first started thinking about the design of the Matisse exhibition, Cuzin was invited to work with the exhibition’s designers to conceptualise a colour palette for the gallery spaces and to develop three new works that would act as surprising responses to the exhibition.

The first piece, Bleu sans l’exposition, which translates as ‘blue without an exhibition’, dominates GOMA’s entrance foyer. What strikes us initially as a rhythmic arrangement of white rectangles on a ‘Matissian’ blue ground is, in fact, a kind of overture for the exhibition that lies inside. The 305 rectangles represent the precise scale of each of the works in the exhibition while the medium of the work, paint on wall, takes its point of departure from Océanie, la mer (Oceania, the sea), the largest work in the show which was originally painted by Matisse directly onto the wall of his Paris apartment.

Un atelier à Nice (a studio in Nice) reconfigures decorative motifs found in Matisse’s studios in the south of France as wall design for a room within the exhibition. Cuzin took his inspiration from a diverse group of sources including arabesque wallpapers found in Matisse’s 1921—38 studio in Nice; the shape of the window and balustrades in his apartment in the Hôtel Régina, Nice—Cimiez; and a North African textile used by Matisse to screen the windows of the Villa la Rêve in Vence. Cuzin’s designs began as hand—drawn interpretations of these sources that he then rendered in photoshop and superimposed onto a 3D plan. Creating a compelling interplay between the digital and hand-made, the final work was made by projecting the digital drawings onto the wall and copying them by hand.

In his third intervention, La bave de l’escargot (The trail of the snail), Cuzin nods to an important work by Matisse held by London’s Tate Gallery, L’Escargot (The Snail) 1953. Created the year before Matisse’s death, L’Escargot suggests the shell of a snail with the simplest of means — large squares of gouache—painted paper, arranged in a loose spiral. For ‘Matisse: Drawing Life‘ at GOMA, Cuzin has reinterpreted Matisse’s famous paper cut—out, presenting it to us as a series of carpets distributed in a spiral formation throughout the maze of exhibition spaces. The snail returns at the end of the exhibition where Cuzin has repeated the colours of the carpets as large rectangles of translucent film applied to the windows looking over the Brisbane River and evoking the stained glass windows Matisse designed for the Chapel of the Rosary, Vence.