The New Video Abstractionists
KITCHEN: An Image and Sound Laboratory: A Rap with Woody and Steina
Vasulka, Shridhar Bapat and Dimitri Devyatkin
The Kitchen was founded
in 1971 as a video and performance space at a cultural complex
on the outskirts of the SoHo area of New York City called the
Mercer Arts Center. At 240 Mercer Street, the Kitchen, so-named
for its past use in an annex building to the Broadway Central
Hotel, shared quarters at the Center with Off-Off Broadway theater
spaces, acting schools and bistros. The Kitchen initiated some
of the first annual video festivals, the first annual computer
arts festival, and programmed the work of video artists from around
the country, as well as music and performance events, many of
which incorporated electronic media.
The sudden collapse of the
structure of the Broadway Central Hotel in 1973 closed the Mercer
Arts Center for good, but the Kitchen re-emerged in SoHo at 59
Wooster Street near Broome. The Kitchen continues today as a well-endowed
performance center with ongoing video exhibition facilities and
archival functions close by at 484 Broome Street, and has served
as a model for other media arts spaces through the United States
On April 1, 1973,Jud Yalkut
hosted a monthly edition of the panel show ARTISTS AND CRITICS
for WBAI-FM in New York with the founders of the Kitchen, Woody
and Steina Vasulka, and two of their co-workers: Shridhar Bapat
and Dimitri Devyatkin. The discussion entailed a complex overview
of the state of video art at that time.
JUD: Let us start
with the genesis of the Kitchen, what it was meant to be, and
how it relates to the current video scene.
WOODY VASULKA: When
we came into the scene, into video actually, we felt there was
some kind of vacuum in the presentation of video. Of course this
was very subjective, because there were places like Global Village,
Raindance and People's Video Theater. There were loft concerts;
Bill Creston actually advertised shows. We went to a show there
once with Alfons Schilling. We were just four people in the audience
who then got together and rapped about the concept of a theater.
There were a few other places, but they only wanted to show whatever
a particular group or individuals did that was of interest to
JUD: It was a randomly
WOODY: Exactly. We
were somehow toying with an idea of filling up the vacuum. We
were trying to put together a more egoless concept of things,
to bring more participation of people, so it would create an impact.
Of course, the concept was much bigger than what we ended up with;
there is always a chain of compromises. Actually, there were 3
or 4 people talking about the theater; the first was Andy Mannik,
who physically found the space of the Kitchen, and there was Michael
Tchudin, and of course Steina and me. Later Dimitri Devyatkin
and Shridhar Bapat showed up, and that is how it is right now.
STEINA: Michael Tchudin
is a musician, and he was going to combine live music with video.
Andy does not dance himself but is very involved with and knows
what's going on in the dance scene. He wanted to do dance programs.
And we were going to try to make a mixed media scene.
WOODY: So, we had
realized that to present video only, as other groups had done,
was not really enough.
JUD: To sustain an
WOODY: So we had
these two concepts: one was to be a Live Audience Test Laboratory
(LATL) or to attract industries to get equipment donated. Of course,
these were dreams, like asking Sony or RCA to give you a camera.
These are very naive concepts. But then we said: let's take electronic
media as art material, let's put them together using the whole
environmental range of media. And that somehow was closer to what
we felt about it, so then the name became "Electronic Media Theater,"
and that is how it stands. And since Steina and I are slowly withdrawing
to other duties, the new generation like Shridhar and Dimitri
are proceeding in electronic image programming. It happened in
a time when there wasn't really much around, and it was a good
time to start and to unite the video scene. Of course, we had
a few people who would not participate in the Kitchen, because
they had their own way of presenting video, but I think mostly
we got the part we like, which is the abstract or non-figurative
or electronically generated video.
JUD: Image processed
work in the medium rather than as a purely generated medium, although
the Kitchen had presented examples of both.
SHRIDHAR BAPAT: One
of the major points that comes up with our emphasis on processed
imagery, image-oriented video, is the fact that this is a form
of video which can be performed. We actually perform, in many
cases, instead of just presenting tapes.
JUD: Rather than
being a newsreel theater.
SHRIDHAR: We are actually
a performance space, and video becomes an instrument, in the same
way that a musician performs. But our orientation has not been
totally image-oriented really because we have by and large over
the past two years been the only regularly functioning video presentation
space of any kind in New York, if not the East, in general. And
some of the most successful programs have been the open screenings.
JUD: On Wednesday
SHRIDHAR: A fully
unstructured kind of thing. People bring in the worst stuff, and
sometimes incredible discoveries are made.
STEINA: The people
who have found a home in the Kitchen, are the image-oriented,
the electronic image people. They've become our associates: Bill
Etra and Walter Wright, or Nam June Paik, who is not an associate,
but there is hardly a week that he does not show up. Those people
have found the Kitchen a very ideal space, whereas people who
deal with video as social or political impact have not made much
use of it. It is not anybody's fault, it is just how it developed;
the Kitchen was just as open to them as anybody else. There is
also another group of video artists who have not used the Kitchen
at all, and those are the so-called Conceptualists--
JUD: They are mainly
STEINA: Yes, they
are not dramatically oriented, they are more oriented towards
continuous showing and the Kitchen really is a theater. It has
the concept of the audience coming in, and a presentation begining
JUD: Many of those
artists have dealers who sell videotapes in limited editions at
high prices, trying to use a gallery concept for distribution
I think you can look at the Kitchen in a much different way, as
a real turning over place, where lots and lots of information
changes hands, and I really feel my own role there, serving a
network function--that someone comes with something that they
specifically need to know and we can easily direct them to where
they should go. Therefore, we represent a great deal more information
than we might have ourselves personally, and this is a function
that anybody could serve, but as you keep serving it, you become
better and better at it. What the Kitchen has really done has
been just opening and getting this new information to cross and
intermix, and especially the idea of music, dance, video and other
kinds of performing, interacting with each other. It is just amazing.
You hear of artists working right down the hall from each other,
and never see what the other is doing. Just having a space where
they can meet generates a very healthy climate.
JUD: It generates
an interest and is also stimulation for new work in one direction
or another. That is the way it was with the Filmmakers' Cinematheque
and the underground film scene in New York until things became
a bit more rigidified.
WOODY: I also feel
that this is the dilemma of the Kitchen. Should it be a place
to meet, a place to produce, or a place to show? When we started,
there wasn't a great interest in the Kitchen and we could barely
make a week of programm-ing. Now it is different, I think we are
too much into showing and too little into producing.
STEINA: We are too
much into success.
JUD: Also the atmosphere
of the Mercer Arts Center with five theaters and a weekend hangout
for Off-Off Broadway types. Quite a few wander into the Kitchen
from this other milieu.
WOODY: Dimitri described
one function, which is the meeting place for the exchange of ideas,
or the directions of visual thinking, but we have the capacity
of making an impact by producing, but we haven't done that. I
think that is a bit of a cop-out on our part. We should be pursuing
and doing more in that direction, and also on the structure rather
than on presentation of the visual.
JUD: Of course, there
has been much discussion over the use of the space and how it
would be difficult for it to double for both functions. It would
really require the use of another space somewhere, and of course
SHRIDHAR: More equipment
resources, more time, more personnel.
DIMITRI: I think
it is really important that the people who run the Kitchen are
artists themselves; it makes a very different feeling and atmosphere
than if it were people who are strictly in it for the administrative
or managerial role.
JUD: Or even the
purely hardware end of it.
DIMITRI: Right. Like
the Open Screenings, where you have a chance to show your own
tapes, and not as an egotistical thing, but something with a loose,
spontaneous feeling. And if the person running the show has some
reason to be involved, it is really an exponential addition, as
opposed to "well, here comes another artist."
JUD: It is a very
healthy ego involvement for the artist to be presenting his work
to an audience for the first time. The genesis of the Open Screenings
is a very interesting story.
STEINA: Yes, remember?
You were at the party when we opened; everybody was. There was
no floor; we were dancing on a strange floor.
STEINA: Yes, and
the walls weren't ready, or anything, but we made the party to
introduce what we had. The first one to offer an idea was Shirley
Clarke right at that party. She had been talking to a fellow artist
about the lack of a place to show your tape. And she had this
fantastic concept that it should be totally open and unprogrammed,
that people would just come unannounced to show tapes.
WOODY: She got it
from the movies because that is what Millennium was doing.
JUD: Millennium still
has open screenings. The Cinematheque used to have open screenings
on Wednesday nights.
STEINA: Yes, typically
it came from a filmmaker, this idea of having open screenings.
We had not thought of it. And sure enough, she ran it the first
few times, establishing the tradition of having someone host it.
WOODY: She put a
JUD: She was a kind
of prime mover in many respects.
concept, and it was much more personal when it was very small,
with very few outsiders. It was actually only fellow tape makers
who came, an audience of maybe ten to twenty people, it was much
more intimate. Now Dimitri is facing a problem; not only is he
running the Wednesday nights, but also he gets an audience. He
actually gets a crowd.
STEINA: It is the
dilemma of success, because now we seem to be averaging something
like eighty people a night, and that was unthinkable a few months
ago. So it is not so playful anymore; it is serious.
JUD: What do you
think about handling that serious business?
you get the feeling that the spontaneity is gone, and there is
just this tension of every single moment. Events are booked up
months in advance. There is a harsh competition among artists
and therefore, you are forced to start choosing between them--those
are the negative things. The positive things are that it is really
starting to spread information; people are rapidly becoming more
aware of video. That is important, it will undoubtedly affect
the communications of the future. I really see ten or twenty years
from now people using video as opposed to letters. I have seen
the influence in people's lives in a very intense way, especially
with cable and computers working together allowing people to choose
what they want in their homes. And the Kitchen will help affect
WOODY: It has that
impact indirectly. We have found, by traveling around to Canada
and the West, that people are actually informed about the Kitchen.
It gives them a certain security that it is true, that electronic
media are alive and are performed. We get letters from Europeans,
so the idea of the Kitchen may be more important than its reality.
And we send calendars around to prove that there is something
like electronic media.
STEINA: We now hear
of video theaters opening up all over the United States, in the
Midwest and out on the coast. Because they cannot really be run
commercially, not yet, not even "Groove Tube" could really make
it. People are now realizing that as long as some funding gets
the rent paid, you can run a video theater, which wasn't really
thinkable two years ago.
SHRIDHAR: In many
ways, just running a video theater is much cheaper than running
your own little portapak, if you are doing your own little productions.
It is such a comparatively simple thing to do.
WOODY: But it is
time-consuming, it becomes monstrous.
at the Kitchen where many shows require completely different set-ups,
just in terms of video monitors and switchers.
WOODY: Right. It
could not really be produced commercially because it would become
such an overhead, such a hassle. We are actually lucky to be running
it half-sloppily because it gives you the leeway of re-arranging
things. Perhaps I am still regretting that it did not develop
its own dramatic form. The media is still very sketchy, performed
more as accident. Configurations of the monitors are still quite
accidental. But it is still a dream; the electronic medium may
not yet be together enough to be composed.
JUD: There are a
few people who have been thinking of that, in terms of matrixing
monitors, like Frank Gillette and Ira Schneider.
SHRIDHAR: Some of
Global Village's multi-channel mixes.
JUD: Even some of
the Video Free America things, used it in a dramatic context.
WOODY: Right. Those
are more or less environmental. Environment is something people
respect more, because environment has been around for a while
longer... sound environments, light environments.
JUD: It started with
WOODY: Right. I haven't
seen much of - maybe it is a bad word - dramatic use of media
or performances as such, I am talking sounds coming from different
directions, and really making sense in those configurations. Sounds
that have up and down, right and left, walls of sound. Perhaps
it is too literal, but to master the electronic media the way
that music is mastered, that the conductor makes a small gesture
and it makes a great difference in the sound of a tuba or a cello.
So, in that sense, I guess we all are waiting for those computers,
but maybe it is time to start without them. I see very little
of that, and that is my agenda, to perfect that direction.
aspect that the Kitchen serves, I feel, is as a political place,
in that it affects culture and the way people relate to their
society in their own minds. For example, the showing we had of
THE IRISH TAPES by John Reilly and Stefan Moore, tapes made in
Northern Ireland in the Catholic community. These ran then simultaneously
with scenes of the soldiers marching, or some B-specials of the
Protestant politicians. But back to technology: it is not just
a question of money, video synthesizers are barely--
JUD: In their infancy.
SHRIDHAR: And low-light
cameras are absolutely essential.
WOODY: Yes. When
you go to an industrial exhibit, you see that everything is possible,
but when you return to the base of daily production, you are still
dealing with beat up cameras and old reel-to-reel systems with
a switcher which is no good. Let's face it, what we have on our
hands is a basic level of technology, and that is how we live.
JUD: One factor is
that 1/2'' reel-to-reel technology is all basically in the realm
of consumer technology, and that is the last level to which all
of the research filters down into.
WOODY: Well, on one
level thank god, because the prices are reasonable. Like we are
now facing the whole problem of developing our own custom-made
equipment. We were lucky enough to find good, yet inexpensive
engineers, but it is incomparable with industry. It would be beyond
the reach of any individual. It is a blessing that the consumer
was the initiator of the whole video movement.
JUD: Just as the
cassette audio recorder has changed the face of non-fiction and
journalism, with the ability of being able to record information
anywhere, and transcribe it at one's leisure.
WOODY: Again, if
you analyze the way people perform, it already shows the emergence
of that video cliché, which can be perceived two ways, positive
or negative. It means that there is a form to the presentation
of video, where people with no imagination have just the cliché,
but someone with imagination can build on the cliché, making something
JUD: A good deal
of video art has been based on the transformation of clichés,
like the early work of Paik, and much early work grew out of channel
switching, building a collage out of broadcast garbage, and taking
new forms, which was a beginning of the video switching aspect.
WOODY: I have a comment
on this: This is the first time we are facing video synthesis.
Video, especially early Nam June Paik, represented an analytical
form, a form of destruction, which was heavily switched, changed,
turned, and beam-deflected, a kind of anarchy. It was very inspiring.
But now, the new generation, like Stephen Beck, has a very disciplined
and organized form of energy.
JUD: Almost virtuoso.
WOODY: Right. It
is very contrary to what video used to do, taking inputs off the
air and processing it. Now, it has become a very rigid, disciplined
effort, which is going into a direction of finely controlled changes.
DIMITRI: You really
notice this in the computer pieces. We are going to have a Computer
Arts Festival, for the first two weeks of April (NOTE: 1973) and
the works which have been coming in fall into two basic categories:
people are using this immense technology of computers either to
have this precise control over many, many variables, such as Walter
Wright, with his programs on very highly advanced hardware, where
he is able to call up any shape and any form and any distortion
of the pattern at will, and he knows exactly what he is going
to get when he punches it up.
" My tapes are made on the
Scanimate 'computer' system built by Computer Image Corp. Scanimate
is a first generation video synthesizer. Images are input in a
number of ways--through two b & w vidicon cameras (these cameras
may look at still artwork, a TV monitor, etc. or from an Ampex
2" VTR, or from a studio camera. Two of these input channels
pass through a video mixer to the Scanimate CPU (Central Processing
Unit) where position and size of the image is controlled. Also
on the CPU are three oscillators. The CPU also controls the axis
(the lines about which an image folds) and allows the image to
be broken into as many as five separate sections. I play Scanimate
as an instrument and all my tapes are made in real time without
pre-programming. I also try to avoid editing. I am designing and
hope to build a live performance video synthesizer. Most of my
tapes have a score, as in music." WALTER WRIGHT--from 1972
notes for a KITCHEN performance.
DIMITRI: Then a whole
bunch of people are using this technology for its random qualities.
For example, there is a Dutchman named Peter Struycken, who sent
a film which, as you watch it you can not possibly see anything
change, but there are repeating, random, little patterns, and
you just see day pass into night, and never see it repeat.
"In order to gain acquaintance
with the premise applying to the reciprocity between element and
structure, the changing degree of variation being the criterion,
I make models which relate to this problem ... One of these models
is my image programme 1-1972."-PETER STRUYCKEN from the notes
to the FIRST COMPUTER ARTS FESTIVAL in the KITCHEN, 1973.
JUD: Most of the
work coming in is digital?
DIMITRI: Yes, but
a lot of video synthesizer work is analog. David Dow, from Southern
Methodist University in Texas, is coming for the Festival with
live dancers with myo-electric crystals attached to their muscles,
so a particular motion will generate a particular current on these
electrodes. It then goes into a digital computer that is programmed
to respond to these changes in motion, and can cause radio and
video signals to change. It is very easy to control; you know
if you lift your arm, you are going to get green. The feedback
pieces that used to be based on electrodes to the brain are not
that easy to control.
JUD: This reminds
me of the E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology) "Nine Evenings"
piece by David Tudor, using the Bandoneon to make videographic
abstractions and sounds simultaneously--one to one live generated
imagery and sound.
WOODY: Right. There
is a whole direction with audio-visual composing, which is as
yet basically untouched. The artists in the past seemed to try
to gain access to technology and just then demonstrate what it
could do. But now, artists are more generally gaining access to
technology, to the tools. And that creates another problem, how
to really use these tools in a particular frame of mind, or philosophy,
or direction. This we are going to have to face sooner or later.
You cannot get away with just flashing images anymore. Oh it was
so beautiful--the Kitchen was so free. People could bring things
that were beautiful because they were new. But, suddenly after
three years, they've become garbage to us. It is not beautiful
anymore; we have seen it a hundred times. It is that first feedback
that you do. Now we started to discriminate within ourselves.
Video is not new anymore. You are studying how many layers of
images are there, that you could not see before, because your
mind wasn't able to recognize the structure of the image.
SHRIDHAR: You are
looking at it from the point of view of somebody who has been
working intimately from inside the medium as long as it is existed.
What about the person who has never been exposed to video, or
has limited exposure to video or experimental television? He walks
into the room and sees the first feedback that somebody did, all
those mandalas going all over the place; his reaction is much
more valid, in a sense, it is more childlike. It is not geared
to trying to analyze what level of technological mystery there
was behind that particular image. And one reason why this still
continues is that, unlike film, we do not yet have a body of criticism
on existing video.
WOODY: Let us face
it, a symphony orchestra, when they really go in sync and they
all draw the bows; it is beautiful. That aspect is still in the
traditional mode. But if you put a tape on and all you see is
those two reels on the tape deck turning, it is something else,
of course. It becomes a performance within your head, but it has
very little to do with the space, people even dim the lights totally.
That is a dilemma of the electronic media.
JUD: Dimming the
lights is like making the theater more private.
WOODY: Making it
smaller, or making it all in your head again.
DIMITRI: It enhances
the suspension of disbelief.
STEINA: There is
no suspension or belief required when listening to a piece of
WOODY: But we like
the Kitchen as a space; that is why we rented it. It was the physical
space; every media, especially dealing with video and audio, there
has to be a place, a space; the room is your stage. I am talking
about trying to perform directions, levels, and movements of the
image. There are so many configurations of the screen that can
be done: horizontal on the floor, suspended from the ceiling,
like the heavens.
JUD: Some of the
dreams of Frank Gillette, thinking about the first news of flexible
flat TV screens, were being able to construct a tunnel that you
could crawl through and have your image all around you.
WOODY: Yes, Frank
has fantastic concepts. He has done a few of them; they are on
the model scale. We all work on model scales, except you can amplify
sound infinitely, but you cannot amplify image. It is still the
basic monitor. So you have to multiply the number, or whatever
you can do, but once you get the amplification of the images,
that is it, you can terrorize anybody.
SHRIDHAR: Even when
we started using video projectors, a point which Rudi Stern brought
up a long time ago, and obviously McLuhan made this point too,
is that video is light coming out at you. Video is a light bulb,
not a mirror; anything that is reflected is bound to lose some
of its power.
WOODY: These may
be the legends of video. There has been an incredible amount of
speculation about the size, that video is so particular, because
it has this small size, that it is in a box. But when you project
it, you suddenly realize that this is not really true - of course
there is the scanning, a whole field behind the scanning, you
stare and you are hypnotized.
JUD: It is a low-definition,
cool medium, right now.
WOODY: Once you blow
it up in a proper brightness, half of these legends about video
just go away, because actually you deal with a frame, and you
have the same law of composition as other large pictures, like
SHRIDHAR: Oddly enough,
someone decided on a 4:3 aspect ratio a long time ago, and we
have been working within that. We have been working within 60
JUD: Which is an
interesting harmonic scale.
"There is another way
to tune in to 60 cycles. Keep the power away from you by transmitting
through the air. Use your ears as transducers. Convert from analog
to digital. Join the most constant universal life event on our
continent. Hum at 60 cycles, way down on the end of the Fletcher-Munson
curve. Slip in between the molecules in the body and learn about
being a clock, I tell the limp-skinned ones."--TONY CONRAD,
program notes for DR. DRONE IN CONCERT, 1972, at the KITCHEN.
WOODY: But it goes
back to the fact that once the tools are developed, there is going
to be more work with it. We could do it on the model scale, as
Gillette has done, we could perform any configuration because
actually it is your mind that fills the space. You can really
extend your perception, in the sense that you can eliminate the
rest of the room. Once it works, it is dramatically effective.
Of course, life size is the next philosophical dimension, and
bigger-than-life after that.
STEINA: A painter
friend of mine started to philosophize about it, and he thought
that the video screen was actually a continuation of church windows,
because it is a back light; it is not a painting; so he found
a continuation there that I had never thought of--
JUD: Electronic stained
glass, in motion. There is a relationship to Thomas Wilfred's
Lumia, which was backlit, especially when we get into performance.
The space-window concept.
actually had a greater advantage working where he was, than we
do, because he was able to manipulate his images over any time
span that he chose, and many things of his took about 35 minutes
to see perceivable changes, where we are still stuck within that
basic time frame.
DIMITRI: When I went
to Princeton and saw the computer there that Aaron Marcus works
with, where you have a special joystick with which you can control
movement within a special cybernetic world that he has created,
and you can go up and down, around, into the air; you can travel
at any speed you like, and meet other people who happen to be
in the same computer, traveling around that same imaginary space,
and it is just a little screen. You can also put a little disc
in front of your eyes that spins fast enough to make a delay from
one eye to another so that it looks 3-D, and you really feel as
though you are in the space, even though it is this one little
screen. No glasses, just a disc spinning in front of your eyes.
"Computer art promises
to challenge more profoundly than ever before what is real and
what is not."--Aaron Marcus, notes to film THE BEGINNING
at the KITCHEN.
this is what people call the gimmicks. For us, it is the universe.
It seems to me that the audience wants to be convinced, so they
want to enter the room and it is really there, a 3-dimensional
life-size display. And that is the difference between the establishing
of the media and the research of the media. We are still really
in that research; we play R&D. Our friend, Alfons Schilling,
works with binocular vision; he has done beautiful exploratory
works. They are important because even if you apply them to life-size,
the principles are the same, the calculation of distances. But
again, it is the scale that will make the impact on a society.
Somehow we are stuck, because the Renaissance could really build
those beautiful churches; they put them on paper, they calculated
them, but they built them, and they were so big, so fantastic.
If this time is a rationalization of art, as I believe, it has
to be built, it has to exist physically, and I guess we just have
to catch it within our generation.
JUD: Since the Kitchen
really has been a repository and filtering place for many of the
tendencies in video, how do you see those tendencies crystallizing
at this point?
STEINA: They are
crystallizing a lot. We are actually expecting other such theaters
to open, to crystallize it further.
SHRIDHAR: It is already
crystallized sharply into three different areas which are defined
less by their content than by the way that they are shown: cable
public access, in New York particularly, has been oriented to
social action uses of video, community projects, school boards,
and also useful information tapes--
JUD: Yes. The New
York Public Library has teenage video workshops.
SHRIDHAR: Yes, this
is an example of how we are crammed full of all the other tendencies.
Once a month we show young people's videotapes by the New York
Public Library people, as well as many high schools around the
area. The main tendency of art-oriented video has been split up
between the processed image people and we are really the major
showplace for them, at least in New York; and the other sharply
defined group, the conceptual artists, to whom video is a kind
of incidental tool.
JUD: From another
side, the teledynamic environment can extend into the conceptual
category, as well as the psychological aspect.
SHRIDHAR: But the
conceptual category has been almost exclusively limited, with
the exception of the Avant-Garde Festivals, to certain galleries
and certain museums, where the resources exist for permanently
installing a setup for at least a week or two.
DIMITRI: I see two
main currents of video, the reportage or documentary style combined
with the artistic or electronic thing. I could see for example,
using the electronic media with a real humanitarian sense, dealing
with social issues, and what you would create would not fit into
any categories at all. It would use a lot of the electronic effects,
chromakey, feedback, superimpositions, but it could also deal
with real content and issues that matter to people. Video has
this capability more than any other form because it is so immediate.
You can show something live or that same afternoon. It is very
light, very cheap, can be put into people's hands, and it is incredible
the way you can manipulate the signal live or on tape to create
effects. I think if you could integrate the real part of video
with the electronic part, you would get something where the whole
would be more than the sum of its parts.
WOODY: Let me comment
on that. Only if you master the compositional form of video, can
you use it as you describe it. It is like the 19th century novel;
the vocabulary was all there; there was not a word missing. You
could really go and do multi-layer analyses of society, plus fantasy,
whatever you wanted, like Dostoyevsky--
JUD: And eventually
WOODY: Right. Joyce.
He describes fossil layers, because they are actually described
in the Encyclopedia Britannica; they all exist. There is as of
now no vocabulary of electronic image. We do not really know how
to name it. How can you say that someone enters a room, and suddenly
through his forehead flashes an ocean, and there is a reflection
of sunset, in red, and his forehead turns pale? These are the
terms you would have to be able to script to perform your image.
We are not there yet whatsoever. We are just trying to divide
video further, and make sub-categories. There are some people
who just deal with loop and delay. There is still a struggle for
analytic form. We, the Vasulkas, went into almost an imitation
of painters, like Magritte (NOTE: particularly the GOLDEN VOYAGE
of 1973), because we could not bypass that. There is so much potential
in the painters of the past, the philosophical insertion. The
boxes are not yet open, if you really touch Dali you see those
exploded moments, it is just unbelievable how it predicts the
whole dynamic electronic image. And if you go into Escher and
his developments, those incredible computer-like, feedback-like
loops, day to night, or his incredible spiral development - all
these things that preceded video, because video people still deal
with the accidental. No one has yet selected his future in video
by choice, I think. We all came to it through film, through a
job, or through some other strand. There is a generation that
may be born to be video, but as of now it is all sketchy; it is
SHRIDHAR: At the same
WOODY: The novelist
sitting there in the 19th century had his words. He did not necessarily
depend on the existence of paper and ink to be able to use and
actualize words. But we depend on a piece of technology that does
certain things, a certain basic limited number of variables that
you manipulate when you manipulate a set of video images. Some
writers today would not write without a typewriter; they have
to have at least a 100 dollar typewriter. (Laughter) They would
refuse to write by hand.
SHRIDHAR: The typewriter
still does not tell them what to write. They could alternately
write it with their hand, or with a finger in some sand. The point
I am making is that this is like a linguistic analogy, in structural
linguistics, the deep structure is there; the deep structure is
the equipment we are using. We are only slowly starting to actualize
it, and I do not think we can afford to sit around and mathematically
work out every single kind of possible image manipulation. You
would spend 60 years just doing that, and have three years left
of your life to apply what you have learned.
JUD: That will be
a new science, video general semantics.
DIMITRI: Much of
the art that you are talking about, like Escher and Dali, is something
that appeals to artists, but in my experience, showing tapes that
are purely abstract to people who have strong content needs leaves
them completely dry, and I feel that video can serve them too.
Referring to something that is real in the world, the message
that you are trying to give becomes that much more important because
it is talking to someone about a question that they already have.
It relates to something after they leave the room, whereas, if
what you are doing is totally abstract, there is a totally subjective
reaction to that work. Like with rock and roll bands, some bands
are very egotistical and somehow people who listen to their music
have an individual response that is subjective. Other bands like
the Grateful Dead, maybe I am prejudiced, call up the communal
feelings, use an objective language that gets the people, they
feel warmth to each other, it calls up human emotions that has
a positive effect. I think that video can do that also. That video
may be using real images, or may be the language that you are
WOODY: Like a man
coming into a room with an ocean in his head; that seems to be
a subjective thing. I am referring to objective situation where
you can show a whole situation very quickly with very few images.
STEINA: You are talking
about artist-audience relationship, that is something the artist
cannot create. He just has to be true to himself, and hopefully
therefore to the audience. Because an artist who pleases the audience
is often not an artist, though that varies from one artist to
another and always has in history. You, the audience cannot really
dictate what it should be.
DIMITRI: No, I am
not saying that. I just see a need for using it another way from
what we call art.
WOODY: There is a
great tendency toward what you describe; it is like the integration
of the human into the electronic space; it sounds glamorous. If
you watched the last piece of Ed Emshwiller, SCAPEMATES, there
is an attempt. It is a very important piece in that respect. He
has talking of that communication between electronic space and
man, but he still does not know what he is doing there. It is
up to you to decide if he fits there or not. But mostly, art communicates
through these human symbols.
JUD: I find that
Emshwiller tape very interesting because he uses monolithic computer
generated forms and complex abstraction with the organic perambulating
quality of human dancers in opposition. This relates to me to
the very beginnings of film abstraction where a pioneer like Hans
Richter was always concerned with the conflicts between strong
compositional control and the chance element, which causes discoveries,
with the direct confrontation of formal rigid elements with organic
WOODY: Exactly. There
are attempts of humanizing the abstract image. It is a matter
of reading the image and translating it into human terms, but
sometimes I even doubt if that is important, because the movement
of the electron can be ten times more dramatic to me than the
movements of a Cecil B. DeMille film with a field of soldiers
and a full frame of moving horses. See, the drama itself has very
little to do with humanity.
JUD: It is like the
drama we see when we look through a telescope or micro-scope.
WOODY: Right. If
you look through telescope, you can see happenings, which are
somewhere where you have no way of ordering them. They exist besides
you. There is another dimension of human life; it is the existence
of different activities somewhere else.
JUD: Also in time
WOODY: Right. It
is not a distance. It could be one millimeter from your eye, or
it could be a hundred miles, but you just do not see it because
you refuse to see these things because you want to see a human
tragedy, someone killed, or someone married, all those nuisances
of film. Film has come too far in the human development story,
there is actually no way back. They bring the drama within the
emotions as the most important element, but actually it may have
nothing to do with human stories or human shapes. Drama itself
relates within the third dimension.
that comes to mind immediately is the way the war in Vietnam was
covered by television. Every single person in America could turn
on their TVs at night and find out the score: the Knicks played
somebody in basketball, and the Vietcong lost five, we lost three.
That television culture used real imagery, conveying a whole propaganda,
a whole way of looking at something.
JUD: Actually, the
assassination of JFK and the first moon landing were incredible
communal events, and the term global village is very valid in
that we are creating microcosms that may become as broad as broadcast
television becomes only at such rarefied moments.
DIMITRI: And it is
interesting to see the way that it is manipulated, like the way
Nixon invaded Cambodia the day of the moon landing. The live TV
cameras were all on the moon. Imagine if they had and put the
live cameras on the helicopters instead.
WOODY: I understand
your American dilemma. You were brought up on it, and you do believe
in television, but really for Steina and me this is not the problem
at all. What we work with has something to do with the electronic
screen, and then there is something called television. That is
why there are these confrontations between television and video.
I do not find them very actual to what I live, but it comes from
the same box. That is why the box has no meaning to me. It could
be projected; it could actually all be in the third dimension.
It could exist in your room; it could be a ceiling; it could be
a sky. On the right side should be a beach, and the left should
be a hill.
STEINA: A forest.
WOODY: A forest,
and you would be walking in the sand. That is where electronic
image or television progresses for me.
JUD: The quality
of the can does not determine the quality of the product.
WOODY: What disturbs
me about the communal use of video is the power struggle that
goes on which is so similar to other power struggles I have seen.
Like in Czechoslovakia, the first act of the revolution was to
erect poles with loudspeakers on them, and once the village had
loudspeakers and a central room with a microphone, collectivization
was a matter of two days. You can say, "you are to be there at
five o'clock in this place," and they will be there. I know the
power of the media, it is incredibly strong when used politically.
The fight over the media, even when it is for the public channels
is the same mechanism; it is the struggle for political power.
Intuitively, I object to that use, but this society has got to
be flexible enough to operate with political power; that is the
basis of this society.
of TV, we should also probably mention that approximately 80%
of all 1/2" video systems is used for surveillance. You hear
about different state police departments buying huge volumes of
cameras, I have heard they are around with this equipment all
the time; they do not know what to do with it. But that is the
primary use of video.
STEINA: But that
has more to do with pencil and paper.
WOODY: Exactly. It
is the only medium that gives you such a casualty of recording
real life. You hesitate twice: should I push the button?
JUD: You really have
WOODY: Video has
the possibility of recording the casual life of the 20th century
as it has never been before, and sometimes we see those tapes.
They are very beautiful because they are conceived with such casualty.
People disregard television cameras very quickly; they do not
pay attention to them. They are noiseless.
JUD: The best way
to use video is to live with it.
WOODY: Right. Sometimes
you regret that Homer did not write about a little square where
beggars would come and rap, he always had to pick up some strange
heroic stories of the past. If only the big writers of the past
would have paid attention to some trivial moments. It would be
so beautiful to read about a rainy day in Athens, but video for
the first time will be able to bring you a rainy day in New York
because it will be recorded.
SHRIDHAR: Even that
requires a certain amount of discipline, because we have seen
a lot of tapes like that. The person casually recording his life,
if you are skilled at something, that casualness requires a lot
of ability and training, the ability to be there at the right
WOODY: The ability
to turn the right knobs--
SHRIDHAR: With the
right piece of equipment.
JUD: It is a new
definition of the concept of the decisive moment.
WOODY: It is just
closer to that moment; it is not there yet. I feel the same way
about the perceptual part of video; it discloses and helps to
close the gap between the image and the brain, but it is just
close. It is not really there yet, may never be--
JUD: Until we tap
into the synapses themselves.
WOODY: Even then,
we would be the distance of a few microns. There would still be
a distance between the plane of realization, the brain and the
JUD: That distance
has to do with the concept of consciousness, realizing that the
real "I" in ourselves is the master of all the other
"I's." And it is really at a distance, almost an alienation
within one's self, that becomes more of an observer; it has to
evolve into a more divine aspect which can creep over into our
use of the media as an extension of our neurological system.
WOODY: Right. It
is all there. We believe in video.