Understanding video art
After last Monday’s post (actually it might have been Wednesday by the time I finished ranting) where I reasserted the relevance of painting, I feel like it would be nice to switch it up and explore a little bit of video. But first I must be honest. I am one of those people who skims over a video installation in a gallery or museum. I enter the art space, on the left there is a little screen with a matching little pair of dangling headphones and then to my right something else. Anything else. Doesn’t matter if it is a turd taped to a piece of paper, taped to a wall, that is where I go, pretty much always. It’s not that I think video art is boring (ahem, perhaps sometimes) or that I probably won’t understand it (well maybe a little bit) it’s that I like things. Tangible things. Things that have been made with hands and paint and other things. Things.
I feel it’s important that I fess up like this because now that it is out in the open I can move on and try to learn something about the medium. I guess that’s what it is? Or is it a genre? Art form? Really I know nothing. Probably an alright place to start. So thinking briefly about what video art is, and what sets it apart from other moving images such as film and television we can say that, generally speaking, it lacks dialogue and a logical sequence or narrative. I think this is where people get lost when they look at it. A lot of the time, watchable and video art aren’t words you hear together in the same sentence (unless ‘not’ comes before ‘watchable’). Adjectives such as obscure, perplexing or even boring, however, do.
John Wood and Paul Harrison are a duo who fit the video art bill nicely. Their work is sterile and minimal. They wear black turtle neck jumpers. Their videos seem at first to be really quite obscure, and that you would probably both need to have completed your PhD and read theirs to get it. But it is surprisingly entertaining, and it might even make you laugh a little bit.
Their work is a bit like office olympics. You know, when the boss is away and you and your frolleagues make up ridiculous activities involving wheelie chairs and paper clips, and battle it out to see who can win the most gold medals. It could also be seen as a series of very neat and perfectly executed solutions to childish questions. Like super geeks, the pair put their bodies on the line to see what would happen if you sanded a stack of reflex printing paper, or sat on an office chair in the back of a van while it drove around town, all in the name of science. While each video is consciously simple, simplified to the point where they can be simplified no more, they are also quite often elaborate set ups. And while you can describe them as meticulous and perfect, they are also slap stick, haphazard and playfully absurd.
The Only Other Point, created in 2005, plays around with balls. It’s pretty cool. The Tate has a collection of Harrison and Wood videos called Twenty Six (Drawing and Falling Things) where things do just that. They either draw or fall. How these videos can capture your attention is quite surprising. Check out the interview and a few stills of their work below.