Analogue & Digital

"Alternative Journeys", Vince Briffa, 2007

VISUAL ARTS DIARY: Kristine MacMichael

Analogue & Digital: Pioneering and Contemporary Artists’ Video: Curated by Chris Meigh-Andrews

Fieldgate Gallery, 14 Fieldgate Street, London, E1 1ES, 24 November to 16 December 2007

Analogue & Digital: Pioneering and Contemporary Artists’ Video at Fieldgate Gallery is a fascinating exhibition, bringing together important work from the formative years of video art in analogue format with new work in digital format.  Much like the work on display, this exhibition is significant as it aims to show a historical progression of video art from the past 40 years.  It would be impossible for me to go into great depth about this exhibition as it is such a rich survey of video art however, if you are interested in learning more, this is a good place to start.

Going to Private Views of exhibitions is a great way to chat with the artists in an informal atmosphere, gaining a deeper insight into the exhibition, the work and hopefully meet some new friends.  It is in this setting that I went along to the exhibition.  There I met up with my friend, Dallas Seitz, who contributed Choked to the exhibition.  He introduced me to the Curator and fellow contributor, Chris Meigh-Andrews, a prominent video artist, author of The History of Video Art: The Development of Form and Function, and is Professor of Electronic & Digital Art at the University of Central Lancashire.  Both agreed to discuss the exhibition, their artistic practice and video art in general with me.

Fieldgate Gallery is an amazing space: vast, white-walled, and industrial with several rooms to showcase the exhibition.  Its physical presence is impressive as this was once the site of a mail distribution company before being converted two years ago into one of the hottest places in London’s East End to show.

The gallery was dark except for the strobe-like sporadic light of videos, and the echo of accompanying soundtracks.  Some videos were displayed on small, intimate monitors while others were projected onto large screens.  I thought it would be curatorally challenging to stage this show: how can a healthy survey of video art be shown together without the work conflicting with each other? However, with some clever manoeuvring of false walls and making use the gallery’s 10,000 square foot space, this wasn’t a problem. While most work had its own personal space, I think the bleed into adjacent work created a good flow through the exhibition.

This exhibition has a history: it started off as a touring show entitled Analogue: Pioneering Artists’ Video from the UK, Canada and Poland (1968- 1988) and has exhibited in various venues in Europe and North America.  In this precursor, the exhibition displayed work from British, Canadian and Polish artists whose work introduced and explored a new artistic medium, the analogue video, from the latter part of the twentieth century. Their explorations charted the essential elements indicative of the video format itself. Now at Fieldgate Gallery, Meigh-Andrews has expanded the Analogue exhibition with new work from artists who are making contributions to the medium, pushing it forward.

Conversation with Chris Meigh-Andrews:

KMac: The exhibition that you curated alongside Catherine Elwes, Analogue: Pioneering Artists’ Video from the UK, Canada and Poland (1968- 1988) showed work from British, Canadian, and Polish artists whose work in video introduced and investigated this new artistic medium.  Now with Analogue & Digital: Pioneering and Contemporary Artists’ Video, you are essentially expanding your original exhibition with video work by new, emerging artists.  Is there any reason why this show is not presented at Tate Modern again?  Why did you choose Fieldgate Gallery?

CMA: Analogue: Pioneering Artists’ Video from the UK, Canada and Poland (1968-1988), is a touring historical show – it started at the Tate in London (the Polish work was shown at Tate Modern and the UK & Canadian work was shown at Tate Britain). Since then the show has toured to a number of international and UK venues: Anthology Film Archive in New York, The Norwich Gallery, the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology,Liverpool, The Cavalier Centre for Creativity, Valetta, the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, Toronto and is due to be shown in Berlin and Warsaw early in 2008. This exhibition was planned as an historical survey, celebrating work by artists who have used video in the early period (1968-88) before digital technology began to blur the distinctions and break the boundaries between film and video. When I was approached by the directors of the Fieldgate Gallery to curate a video show, I decided it would be interesting to feature the UK work from Analogue alongside new work by some of the same artists, and to add works by a number of artists that I am interested in who were not part of Analogue such as Gary Hill, Robert Cahen, the Vasulkas, and some newer emerging artists. So Analogue and Digital is a different show- particular to the Fieldgate, which is an exciting and challenging venue with a very different audience and atmosphere to the Tate.

KMac: With the “Analogue” section of the show, the main themes seem to deal with challenging the established, authoritarian order of social and political structures back in the mid-twentieth century.  What criteria did you use when choosing which artists and work would be represented in the exhibition?

CMA: Catherine Elwes and I only selected the UK work in Analogue. The Canadian work was selected by Lisa Steele and Peggy Gale and the Polish work by Lukasz Ronduda. Cate and I gave the Canadian and Polish curators a “carte blanche” for their respective countries, but asked them to select work that they thought would be representative of the period 1968-88. In choosing the UK work Cate and I wanted to give a sense of the diversity of approach of UK artists- the themes, ideologies, visual styles and conceptual rigour. We also wanted to give a sense of the range and scope of UK video art in the period.

KMac: With the “Digital” section of the show, what criteria did you use when choosing which artists and work to present? What do you think are the main themes and aesthetic concerns of today’s artists in regards to video work?

CMA: When I selected the more recent work, I wanted to show examples of current work by some of the artists who were included in the Analogue selection, and to add some work by artists whose work I admired (Hill, Cahen, the Vasulkas) and some work by new younger artists, to give the programme some additional diversity and widen the scope of the show. The challenge was to try to use the entire Fieldgate space, and to fill it with images and sounds on a variety of scales, and image display systems. I think that artists working with video today do not have any recognisable approach or style (a definite strength) and in that sense the early video artists certainly anticipated the versatility and diversity of the video medium. In the early days it was difficult to show and distribute the work- now the technology is dependable, freely available and commonplace, and this makes the work more easily accessible- the themes and ideas are as diverse and as eclectic as ever!

KMac: Do you think showing video on a monitor changes its meaning as opposed to work shown as a projection?

CMA: The format of video display does, I think, have an effect on the way the images and sounds are understood and perceived, and this of course has an effect on the meaning. Artists are acutely aware of the need to control the way their work is seen and heard, and display formats are one of the ways in which artists can manipulate ideas and perceptions. Not the only way- but how something is displayed is important to how a work is read and understood. One last thought. Video art does have a history, and it is worth investigating- however, moving image culture is also a vital part of contemporary art and the history needs to be continually updated and reinterpreted.

Conversation with Dallas Seitz:

KMac: Your oeuvre thus far consists of different mediums: coyote fur headdress, drawing, photography, video, etc.  Why were you interested in being involved with this show which is specifically about video?

DS: I thought the show was of interest to anyone working in moving image as it is such a good survey of works rarely seen anymore from the 60’s and 70’s. I have been influenced by this era in video making and actually shot my first video on High 8 before the digital age.

KMac: Why do you choose to work from a wide-range of artistic mediums instead of working in one specific format?

DS: I think coming from a photography and sculpture background has always given me the desire for objects as well as moving image. I think the works and mediums play off one another and create perhaps a new language. There is usually a dialogue going on between object, photo, drawing or moving image. It is just some ideas lend themselves to different materials or ways of working but all are connected because they come from my head.

KMac: Do you feel any of the “analogue” artists, or even other “digital” artists, have influenced your work?

DS: Yes a lot of that era of video makers came from studying at Nova Scotia College of Art.  Some then went on to teach me at Alberta College of Art and were part of the Calgary art scene ….Vera Frankle, Jeff Spalding and Eric Cameron for example. Gary Hill was a huge inspiration when I first started looking at making video work. It may not be so much the look but the way these artists were putting things together that influenced me.

KMac: Your contribution to the exhibition is a piece entitled Choked.  Do you think this work is indicative of “digital” video art?

DS: No, in a way I think the work in the show I made is most like an analogue video from the 70’s. I think the current trend in UK film and video is maybe a lot slicker and less homemade. Artists are using higher budgets, designers, actors, lighting techs, so-on and this is making for works which appear higher end. Conceptually there is a huge variety of approaches to moving image at the moment; documentary and animation are more widely used and seen at the moment.

KMac: What do you think are some of the main thematic and aesthetic similarities and differences between video art from 35 years ago and current video work?

DS: Video has always covered a lot of thematic issues: politics, performance, and documentary. Modernism seems to be playing a role in most art forms in the UK at the moment but this may be a phase like Architecture a few years ago (perhaps one led to the other). Film is also being used again a lot more in the art world so people are working with larger teams to shoot on 16 or 35 mm.  I think this may have some hierarchy attached to it but I always get in trouble for saying that. We still see a lot of performance-type videos or talking head works. I am not sure much has changed except more people having access to shooting a lot more footage and home editing software have made the whole thing easier and more seamless looking but not better in some cases. Compiling a survey of video art from British, Canadian, and Polish artists can’t be an easy task however, Meigh-Andrews has placed analogue video art of the past 40 years from these locations into a solid context from which today’s video artists can be inspired and continue with its exploration.  While this innovative medium progresses at lightning speed with new advances in digital technology, it is important to be aware of video’s history in order to get a sense of where this practice has been and where it might be going.

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