Participating VAW Artists

Video Killed The Painting Star

DA2 (Domus Artium 2002), Salamanca (Spain). 20.Apr.-27.Jun 2007

Submitted by: VideoArtWorld

Written by: Javier Panera

Start date: 20-04-2007
End date: 27-06-2007
Location: 01-01-1970
Web URL: http://

DA2 (Domus Artium 2002), Salamanca (Spain) (20.Apr.-27.Jun 2007) “(…) In the same way that collage has replaced oil painting, cathode ray tubes will replace canvas (…)” Nam June Paik

Nam June Paik, one of the pioneers of the artistic use of video, made this famous statement after the presentation of his first video recording at the Café â Go-Go in Los Angeles in 1965. Today, the words of the Korean artist sound naive, and strangely paradoxical, halfway between the “apocalyptic” and the “integrated”, even though he was one of the first to realize the wide range of expressive possibilities that the new techniques offered the artists of the seventies. It is not surprising that, far from the critical use of television of other video art pioneers like Vostell, Paik preferred to explore the plastic potential of the cathode tube, and began to treat the television screen as if it were a canvas…

”(…)One day artists will work with condensers, resistors, and semiconductors as they work with brushes, violins and junk today (…). The versatile synthesizer of color television will allow us to give form to the on-screen canvas with the precision of Leonardo, the freedom of Picasso, the colors of Renoir, the depth of Mondrian, the violence of Jackson Pollock, and the lyricism of Jasper Johns (…)”.

Nam June Paik is known for introducing all kinds of interferences into his video images: feedback and other synthesizer effects that reduce the iconic statues of the image, making clear the electronic and artificial nature of the medium until it approaches a degree of abstraction. We can appreciate this effect in such emblematic works as Global Groove (1973) or Guadalcanal Diary (1975) .

As some authors have pointed out, it is not mere coincidence that led engineers to baptize video post-production equipment with pictorial terminology like Paintbox. Computer programs like Photoshop, which permit post-production pictorial manipulation of the image, are based in a system of layers and channels comparable to the painterly technique of peeling. As Victor del Río has shown, both devices allow the image to be treated differently on each level, adding outside elements to the original photograph or removing others. It is also possible to blend and make transparent certain parts of the layers, and adjust the clarity and saturation of the image. In turn, the system of channels contributes the possibility of treating the diverse components of color separately, according to the desired style of the image; in fact, deliberately pixilated images are a recurring theme in the digital aesthetic, as much in still images as in movement.

Furthermore, video has the additional advantage of making it possible to control, verify and modify the work in real time, just as in the process of painting a picture. In the last few years this trait has been utilized in the fields video dance and electronic music. One of the areas where one can best appreciate this type of real time videographic painting is in the work of the VJs that accompany their images with performances by electronic musicians. The Spanish Tmori, for example, described the feeling of playing a live video as an act of adrenal liberation, similar to that felt by many action painters when painting a canvas… For this reason it seems opportune to accompany this exposition with a series of performances by electronic musicians and VJs: Jaime del Val, Rec Overflow, Az Rotator & Tmori and Carsten Kleemann.

In the same sense, artists like Diana Thather and Bill Viola have brought to video some assumptions close to the now-quite-fashionable field of expanded painting, creating three-dimensional projections on irregular walls with entrances and exits that conquer the space and distort the forms and colors. Paradoxically, this way we would be assisted to a destiny of a 'return to the origin', to the germinal relation of the painter with the wall.

The fact that the moving image has been one of the territories where in a way a more convincingly plastic closeness has developed that is close to the forms and styles of painting should not appear strange to us nor begin to mark distances in respect to conventional cinemas. As many of the directors of vanguard cinema as video artists have rejected the conventional narrative film, strengthening the more purely plastic aspects that already some participants of video art create for themselves through their own technical nature of the medium.

As Jacques Aumont has pointed out, the history of cinema, more or less converted ever since “the capability to be considered art” has not had as much meaning if the history of the painting is separate. Even if we know that cinema and painting do not intend to represent space and time in the same way, concepts like illumination, color, composition, sceneography, inform us of a vocabulary shared by both the medium and the professionals of cinema that they have always taken into account. Erick Rohmer has emphatically suggested of the form: “All organization of forms in the interior of a flat surface, derive from pictorial art”.

In the same way it becomes extremely enlightening to analyze the cinema of the avant-garde and the experimental cinema filmed by the pioneers between the 20’s and 60’s to discover that many of the “visual tricks” that they attribute to certain aesthetics of the video derive from the experimental films of Walther Ruttmann, Oskar Fischinger or Hans Richter, this is the reason why we found it opportune to begin the exhibition with works created by these artists between 1921 and 1936in which the moving image emulates certain formal aspects of the geometric abstraction and the kinetic art practiced through those years by painters, living film a new look and overall a new dynamic.

The same can be said about the hybrid experiments in film, movement in painting and video dance directed by Ed Emswhiller in the 50’s, in which is established an interesting counterpoint between the corporal gestures of the ballerinas and the pictorial movement’s abstract expressionism and the Action Painting in vogue at the time.

In the last twenty years, the techniques, the methods and the media have evolved to a dizzy rhythm and today, the possibilities of image manipulation – be it real or virtual – are practically infinite. This is affecting in a very conclusive way the strategies of creation like the rules of reception and circulation of the images, arriving at a territory in which the limits between the pictorial, the photographic and the digital stretch their limits until they become completely blurred.

There would be reason to give, in consequence, to those that indicate that the visual arts have converted to the common place of a “pictorial diffusion” in which nothing is exactly photography or exactly painting, nor exactly video but rather simply: “image”, and it is in fact that polysemous and de-constructive value of the images which has aided in the final years to the very reformulation of the techniques, the media and the traditional pictorial genres, just as the distinct strategies of the hybridization characteristic of post-modernity has eventuated.

Breaking from these premises: The exhibition Video Killed the Painting Star brings together a series of works conceived essentially to be shown through a plasma screen or like a mural projection of video in those which “the pictorial” is perceived in a way we say, “conceptual” in terms of composition, formal texture, historical dates, concept or revision and redefinition of genres: (still life, portrait, narration, abstraction, conceptual…) already developed through the painting.

In the majority of these works: “the virtual pictorial surface” – has become little by little a territory for the displacement of the image, as much in the sense of its semantic ambiguity as its own materiality, but not as much to break with painting or the traditional picture as to redefine them coming from the critic. We speak in any case of a history of paradoxes since the new LCD monitors and the extremely flat plasma screens are opening a whole new range of possibilities to those who intend to redefine the idea of “painting” as “moving painting”; for example: Bill Viola and his large legion of imitators.

Although his works of video cover a wide technical complexity, many consider Bill Viola in a way that is purely formalist and quite conservative, still he utilizes all the visual resources in his reach to redefine beauty in classic terms, its to say, how a bearer of those expressive values recognized traditionally as artistic. This is noticeable essentially in his series “The Passions” a series of “auto-referential” pieces in which Bill Viola has been working since the year 2000. Art that reflects about art, inspired at the same time by the desire to touch people, to move the spectator through gestures and actions interpreted by contemporary characters that recall famous works from historical religious painting, above all from the XIV and XV centuries. It resulted symptomatic in this sense that these videos had been conceived to be exhibited extra-flat plasma screens that is frame (120 X 70 cm) contributes to strengthen the pictorial appearance of the images. In the majority of the creations of Bill Viola the movement of the film is retained, or better suspended by the pictorial temporality, in the way that its images function without the notion of continuity. The images are constructed as if they were treated as autonomous paintings, by means of large fixed shots in which the movements of the figures are produced in a very slow manner that at times can be practically imperceptible, for which we can address honestly as a “painting in movement”.

Bill Viola, achieves in these videos to situate the images in an ambiguous and delicate territory and between the cinematographic and hyper technological tableau vivant and the traditional pictorial painting. What shares both is the fact that to present the image around a two-dimensional surface contained in a frame, understood in its sense of the limit of the image, but there is a fundamental difference, in the cinematic painting we are before a transitive image and always changing – although in the slowed scenes , for Bill Viola this is not always perceived-; of images in movement that, like has already been said, are pointing outside the field of vision.

Outside of the field of vision in the painting is always imaginary, the spectator will never see it, although if to imagine it, in film, on the contrary, outside of the field of vision is always more concrete and the spectator always has the ability to see it with a simple movement of the camera. Like Jacques Aumont has suggested, the pictorial image is centripetal, its to say, the representation becomes exhausted within the frame, while the image of film moves, it almost always points outside of the limits of the frame. Paradoxically, although the videos of Bill Viola present moving images that would be much better centripetal, still the representation becomes exhausted within the frame for its slowing temporality and for that framing that maintains some strict limits from a compositional point of view. The result is that we come to perceive it with the same intensity that we would if it was a canvas with various levels of images, to which contributes the fact that the same scene would have been repeating in a five-minute cycle.

The videos of Bill Viola, equal to those done by the other artists present in this exhibition like AK Dolven, Ori Gerst, Dominik Lejman, Mariana Vassileva, Rafael Diluzio etc, could be considered a redefinition of the older concept of the tableau vivant. The tableau was based in the negation of movement assumed as much by the figure that is in the scene, which is a living person, as by the observers. Both accepted to undergo the directions of the perspective in representation to bring to the field of theater what belonged to painting. The works of these artists must be considered from the extreme opposite of representation: they are, as has been mentioned, paintings in movement. Scenes in which the painting remains fixed while the shot changes with the movement of the objects that they encounter or appear. It is considered in this way a reflection as much about the cinematographic representation as about the pictorial, revealing mechanisms that can break down the difference between historical and narrative time. In these pieces both will be equivalent, forcing on the spectator the enjoyment – already almost forgotten – of contemplation.

But as we find ourselves in a history of paradoxes it must be remembered that since the beginning of film, until today the use of color has not done anything to confirm the anti-naturalism of representation, which, in a paradoxical way, accentuates his debt with the painting. The painting needs to make from light a plastic material, and can do it because it is not a real light, on the contrary film and photography encounter enormous difficulties precisely through their ease at trapping light. Aumont has pointed out in this sense that light moves further away from painting: “light cannot more than separate film from painting: it always has too much connection with the photographic origins of cinema, it always evokes a nature from the film. Furthermore, it is more often dramatic than truly pictorial, it is designed, it is active, it makes sense. Color, if good, less natural (…) doesn’t make sense, all the more it receives in deposit. What film inherits from painting, although without knowing it, sound be that passivity, that “regression” from color, that aperture over another space (…)”.

And although video artists have intended to create distances in respect to the way films in time work with moving images is a fact that many of the directors that – on the margin of editing and narrative – treat the big screen that, for similar to those that we have studied in photography are close to the pictorial , as in cases of directors of photography like Nestor Almendros or Sven Nykvist, whose work has converted into a mark of identity – photographically and pictorially – for the cinematography of directors like Godard or Antonioni: “those filmmakers that turn to the unframed frame as their own canon , such as in the case of Godard or Antonioni, are also painters through their use of their unusual and frustrating frames (…) to compare them with painters comes from the fact that they do not accede anything to outside of the field they treat the cinematographic frame like a closed space that doesn’t go beyond the frame (…)”. We could in sum cite tens of the more obvious pictorial artists, more that in the conventional frame in the particular treatment of light and color like Gus Van Sant, in Elephant (2003), Larry Clark in Ken Park (2002), Baz Lurhmann in Moulin Rouge (2001), Akeshi Gitano in Flowers of Fire (1998), Zhang Yimou in The Red Lantern (1991), or Wong Kar Way in In The Mood for Love (2003). In addition to these artists we should say that his film does not resort exactly to the painting, it is treated much better from a profound link that is in the conception of the image. His vision is, like Bonitzer has pointed out in respect to Antonioni, “cinematographically pictorial”, so as to say: the elements that appear in each shot are treated in a plastic sense, like spots of colors and lines that displace them, in squares apparently conventional in some occasions or unusual and off-center in other, revealing a point of view that is joined to that latent pictorial unconscious in human perception.

To end I would like to establish a final analogy between the works of two artists whose technical approaches could seem contrary but that actually vehemently recall the intense pictorial temporality that according to Bill Viola, is behind the great works. The first is the film of Victor Enrice El Sol de membrillo (1991) a magnificent portrait of Antonio López interpreted by the painter and showing how the artist assists with unemotional patience to the slow changes of light and color that the departures from the stations provoke over the quince of a tree that he has in his garden, and of how the desire to capture the changing temporality of light on the fruit of the tree converts the picture into an interminable painting that must be remade over and over again… To paint the instant in which the sun falls on the quince farmer, ends up being an impossible job for López, but not for Victor Erice

This paradox brings me to the instantaneous video by the British artist Sam Taylor-Wood called Still Life(2001). The video is always exhibited on a black plasma screen and shows a unique frontal shot that continues 3 minutes and 46 seconds in which we are taken through the process of the putrefaction of a tray of peaches beginning from when they are healthy until they are balls of mold. The images were taken in real time but thanks to the high speed edition the spectator is amazed by the “virtual painting” of the process of decomposition and in fact we arrive to perceive the changing tonalities of each chromatic particle of the fruits in one of the most effective still lives that I have seen in my life. The camera, it is evident captures something that no painter of still lives has achieved, the dizzying transformation – yet incredibly detailed – of the fruits, the real process and not metaphorical of its putrefaction…

As much the film of Victor Erice as the video of Sam Taylor Wood, teaches a lesson about the complete development of two languages – the moving image and the painting – and the way one is able complement the other. The question that is imposed more than any, is how to make visible – to paint, to film – an image. Still Life would be in this sense the most significant example of how the new visual medium, questions the narrative temporality innate to the moving image and recognizes the legacy and restlessness of the traditional painting cultivating and redefining moreover, its classic genres.