about some of the Vasulkas' multiple-monitor pieces that he saw at The Kitchen in the early 1970s,
They could talk about it being didactic and minimalist, but when you saw it streaming down a pyramid of monitors, it was so lush and exciting visually. It was an incredibly sensual experience to be presented with.... I wouldn't call [their work] minimal, and I wouldn't call it pure research, because there's a lot of pleasure on a sensual level when seeing it.5
Beyond being prolific and playing enthusiastic roles in pioneering electronic imaging, the Vasulkas - as founders of The Kitchen - were also major contributors to the development of an intellectual and institutional framework for video, and they have continued to nurture and promote video within a variety of contexts. I'll begin, then, with an account of their involvement in the early years of video and a discussion of how their work reflected - or in some cases, didn't reflect attitudes dominant in the '60s about technology, art, and the "establishment."
Born in Iceland, Steinunn Bjarnadóttir studied violin in Reykjavik and at the Music Conservatory in Prague from 1959 to 1962. She also played in the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra in 1964. In Prague she met Woody Vasulka, who was studying at the Academy of Performing Arts, Faculty of Film and Television. Woody Vasulka, following family tradition, had at first studied industrial engineering in Brno, Czechoslovakia, his birthplace. Privately, however, he was writing poetry and fiction and found that he had no use for engineering because it involved too much mathematics. Feeling more affinity with literary tradition, he studied documentary filmmaking. This interest developed out of his desire to work individually as he had as a writer, rather than in a group; documentaries could be produced by one or two people, whereas feature work involved many more. However, documentary had its limits too, and Woody found that film in general was "absolutely a closed medium to me.... I was exposed to all the narrative structures of film, but they weren't real to me.... I could never express myself in what was called the narrative cinema." 6
The Vasulkas' decision to emigrate to the United States was based on cultural rather than political considerations. As Woody explained, "I was never attracted to this kind of political system," "but one cannot live in the twentieth century and not deal with America directly." 7 When the Vasulkas arrived in New York City in 1965, they had much to deal with, not least of all learning English. While they spent most of their time during their first two years in the U.S. getting oriented, there were many avant-garde activities going on with which they would later become involved. These activities - loosely labeled "intermedia" - grew out of intermingling music, dance, theater, and film communities.
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