Australian Video Festival

Looking with the whole body: Video installations
Artspace, Sydney
24 August - 24 Septemebr, 1988

The three video installations curated by Sally Couacaud and shown at Artspace – Shigeko Kubota's Duchampiana: Nude Descending a Staircase (1976), Meta-Marcel: Window (1976), and Jill Scott's Life Flight (1988) - all present, in their interesting multi-faceted ways, some of the more critical aesthetic and theoretical configurations of a video installation. More to the point, all these works pose the same question: what is a video installation? Are we any closer to knowing what a video installation is, since Wolf Vostell's environment Dark Room (German Point of View) first appeared in 1958?

Both Vito Acconci and Anne-Marie Duguet have commented on how video installations present the viewer with a multiplicity of positions and possibilities, and how we are inevitably concerned not only with what they are saying to us but also how installations operate.1 This means, essentially, the necessity for us as ·viewers to be placed within a video installation's architectural space, which also acts as a cognitive problem-field which unfolds a critique of representation. In this regard, whether it is Kubota's or Scott's work it does not matter, for in all three instances what we experience is a constant questioning of our own problematical perceptual relationship to the object. All three works point to some of the more basic issues of video as installation – namely, questions of space, perception, staging, multiplicity, mise en scene, process, and the shifting complexities of viewer/object relationships.

Kubota's installations are not only distinctive for their evocative haiku-like formal properties, but also for their playfully stimulating references to the humourous minimalist conceptualism of Duchamp, and her subtle, well-integrated Bergsonian perspective upon time and space.

Duchampiana's self-reflexivity takes two forms: not only is it evident in the work's sculptural dimensions, but it is also critically located in its yellow and blue images of a nude female descending a small staircase. These images appear in a variety of different camera angles and tempo, evoking the multi-layered visual language of American video and avant-garde cinema of the sixties and early seventies. The installation's architectural space positions the viewer in a more orthodox viewing position, similar to the one found in the cinema. What stands out in Duchampiana is the refined way in which her theoretical and visual procedures have been shaped by Duchamp's aesthetic of stasis, repetition and response in order to explore the modernist and postmodernist characteristics of video as a medium of self-expression. Both Duchampiana and Meta-Mareel testify to Duchamp's long-term (but insufficiently acknowledged) impact on the genesis and foundational aesthetic and cultural impulses of video. To appreciate Duchamp's heritage apropos of video, one only has to turn to Nam Juan Paik's and Kubota's exemplary work.

Part of the fascination of Jill Scott's well-designed and absorbing multiple monitor installation Life Flight is the way it incorporates the viewer into its architectural space and science fiction narrative about a lost paradise. The installation's theoretical and formal architecture centre around an ontological investigation of technology. Life Flight creates a situation where the viewer, through the means of camera feedback and the utlimatte, becomes the object of his or her own gaze. Finally, Scott's installation is a timely reminder to anyone who is interested in the future of local video art, on how little video installation work is being produced at this vital historical moment.

notes: 

1. Vito Acconci, "Television, furniture and sculpture: the room With the American view", in Dorine Mignot (ed) The Luminous Image. Amsterdam, 1985.

Anne-Marie Duguet, "Video Installations”, in Scan+, vol one Sydney, 1988.