Video and Media Art Inspirations

    One of the luxuries we have here in the Age Of The Interwebs is the ability to learn from masters of the past and to track the great work of the present. While the work of the present tends to be of immediate interest to most people, I'd like to spend some of this article visiting some sites with which you may be less familiar that inspire the development of visuals, and that prevent me from having to ‘reinvent’ the work of the past. Let's start with the present, and then move on!
    To keep on top of the current state-of-the-arts, there’s probably no better place to go than the transmediale website, the home of the annual and ongoing Berlin-based festival that is host to some of the leading edge work in visual and media arts.
    Their most recent festival has just completed, and the group has placed all of the presentations and panel discussions in their extensive archive. You can also review the work of their resident artists and researchers, and learn about other festivals, residencies, academic programs and exhibitions through their active news and communications network.
    While we're all drawn to that notion of the current state of the art, I have come to find that the web also contains a number of less well-known sources that illuminate the present by showing us where we came from - the work of those who came before us, the ideas that inspired them, the tools they used (discussions that often inspire me in terms of the tools I'm making myself), and the environments for creating and sharing work that they made. I'd like to share a few of these with you.

    Radical Software

    I was recently reviewing some work by the media writer Geeta Dayal, and was reading an article on seminal video artwork. It pointed to a periodical from the 70’s, called Radical Software, that embraced the combination of computers, video technology and expanded cinema. With a title like that - and a description to suit - I had to check it out via their archive website:
    I was blown away by what I found: the first issue had an article by Gene Youngblood, some future-casting by Nam June Paik (his viewing schedule for a television station in the far future - 1996!) and more. The web page has a “History” tab that's pure gold.
    Reading through the materials on this tab really brought the world of 1970’s New York video experimentalists to life for me. The publication of this magazine and the creation of the book ‘Guerilla Television' was a great combination of artistic radicalism and the innate desire to share what these artists had learned – it was a great landing spot for a deep dive into the text. The collection of issues of Radical Software are not only exciting from a historical perspective, but they also serve as inspiration for new uses of our current tools.
    Note: For each issue of the magazine, if you click into the “Thumbnails” link, you will find a complete PDF of that issue. It made the perfect document for me to read on my e-reader! — the home for the archives of Woody and Steina Vasulka — offers a similarly shocking amount of amazing historical literature. Their site not only features information/documentation about their individual works, but also includes a vast collection of correspondence, designs, essays and photos of their early work at The Kitchen, New York’s hotbed of media art development. The amount of artwork is astounding, and should be required viewing for anyone interested in video art and expanded cinema development. In addition, you have a chance to get great insight into the workings of The Kitchen as a fledgling organization, created by truly driven people.
    Note: You can get a PDF copy of the Gene Youngblood "Expanded Cinema" text — a foundational text in the world of experimental video work — from the Vasulka's site, as well:

    The Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology

    Another rich resource for insight and inspiration is The Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science and Technology. This Canadian foundation was created to support both technical and artistic research in media arts. It maintains a significant film collection (including films by Frank J. Malina and Jean-Pierre Boyer) and also acts as a central location for scientific-artistic collaborations, historical archives, and in-depth case studies on particular artists and movements.
    The case studies are especially interesting; they take a deep dive into a variety of subjects, including David Rokeby’s Very Nervous System and the DOCAM Research Alliance’s work on the preservation of video and installation artwork. Each of these studies provides numerous on- and off-site links for learning more about the subject. They'll help you connect the dots between the different technologies at play.

    Signal Culture

    Signal Culture is an organization located in central New York State that combines in-person Media Arts residencies with a vibrant website and active publishing effort. Foremost in the latter is the production of “Signal Culture Cookbook”, a compendium of media art techniques, interesting algorithms and the occasional bit of geek-humor. Available for a donation of US$25, this e-book places video processing directly in the middle of the broader media art scene.
    For me, it's an examination of the residencies that provide some insight into the depth of the work that Signal Culture is doing. They're active in preserving the past (by maintenance and restoration) and developing the systems of the future by providing space and resources for artists, researchers and toolmakers. If you dig into the residency web pages, you will find an amazing list of people that have works in and around the Signal Culture world.

    And More...

    This is just a start. Chatting around ‘the office’, people also pointed to a few more resources:
    • Iota is an LA-based organization that focuses on abstract film and animation and the experimental artists that work in the medium. They have a special focus on ‘Visual Music’, a peculiar form of work that builds off the work of early abstract animators like Jordan Belson and Oskar Fischinger.
    • Similarly, The Center for Visual Music features a large amount of documentation and historical information about Belson, Fischinger, Richard Baily and others. They also manage a rental program for some retrospectives, and have an online store where you can purchase DVD’s of work by many of these artists.
    • Electronic Arts Intermix is an organization that maintains a collection, provides workspace, and produces public programs out of New York City. Their online archives (called A Kinetic History) is a constantly growing database on subjects like video art dealer Howard Wise, early computer arts exhibitions, and more.
    • The Video Circuits Facebook Group is a great collective that shares information on video art development and current practices.
    • The Arts and Electronic Media page is a great follow-up site supporting Edward Shanken’s seminal book on the subject, which we've previously recommended to you in this review.
    • The Video Data Bank, created by the School of the Arts Institute of Chicago, provides access to video artwork to institutions, and also provides streaming content through its VDB-TV service.
    It’s also important to find local artists that share your passion, and social media can help. For example, in my area (Minneapolis, MN, US), there is a Facebook group called The Twin Cities Video Artists Group, which shares information about locale exhibitions and performances, and is also a great place to share newly-found resources. Nothing beats directly interfacing with other artists. So, take the opportunity to engage in - or even create - the communities in your area.