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  • The Emergence of Video Processing Tools: Television Becoming Unglued. 2 vols ed. by Kathy High, Sherry Miller Hocking, and Mona Jimenez
  • Peter Sachs Collopy (bio)
The Emergence of Video Processing Tools: Television Becoming Unglued. 2 vols. Edited by Kathy High, Sherry Miller Hocking, and Mona Jimenez. Bristol and Portland, OR: Intellect Books, 2014. Pp. xxv+ 638. $86.

As artists gained access to the technologies of television production in the 1960s and 1970s, many began to build their own tools for electronically processing analog video signals to produce novel visual effects. For many artists, the construction and use of mixers, keyers, colorizers, and scan processors became the basis for aesthetic and critical engagements with electronic technologies, as well as collaboration with engineers. This expansive book consists of forty-three chapters by thirty-one authors—most of them artists or curators, many of them also participants in this history—on the people and machines that made up video processing in the United States.

There is a growing interest among both art historians and historians of technology—exemplified in the recent work of Zabet Patterson and Matthew Wisnioski, to name only two scholars—in relationships between art and technology. This collection of essays, interviews, and primary source documents further demonstrates that the history of artists appropriating technologies is a valuable resource for understanding both how users take advantage of the interpretive flexibility of a technology, and how users become technologists themselves, innovating in order to transcend a technology’s limitations.

In a chapter comparing the motivations behind 1960s “media art” and [End Page 1008] contemporary “new media art,” for example, Christiane Paul and Jack Toolin draw a distinction between “artists using industry-developed technologies” in order to investigate the aesthetic possibilities contained within them, and those “creating their own tools” as a means of “exploring new forms of creation” (p. 61). In another chapter, Kathy High draws on an extensive collection of interviews to describe the range of relationships between artists and engineers, from collaborations in the design of new machines to conflict when artists modified equipment that engineers were responsible for maintaining.

Reflecting the practices of tinkering involved in video processing itself, The Emergence of Video Processing Tools presents the reader with a collage of disciplinary and experiential perspectives rather than a common argument or shared understanding. “The stories of the proliferation of new video tools in the late 1960s to mid 1980s do not fit neatly into a single narrative,” writes Mona Jimenez; “rather, one finds an amalgam of people who were moved to innovate in numerous institutional sites across the country” (p. 105).

Nonetheless, some authors attempt synthesis. In her own contribution, for example, Jimenez surveys these sites in order to argue that across the contexts of universities, public television stations, and independent media arts centers, the development of electronic video instruments depended on funding from the Rockefeller Foundation and state agencies, especially the State University of New York and the New York State Council on the Arts. This is one of several essays that emphasizes the roles of institutions in the development of video art; others include profiles of the laboratories for artists maintained by public television stations in New York, Boston, and San Francisco.

In another synthetic and historiographical contribution, Timothy Murray places the development of independent video collectives in a genealogy of “the fantasy of the open” in the arts (p. 234). Citing Christopher Kelty, Lev Manovich, and Manuel Castells, Murray suggests that this set of discourses and practices, in which artists collaborated in networks rather than “as author-genius,” provides continuity between the video art of the 1970s and the digital art and open source movement of the 1990s and 2000s (p. 226).

The book includes particularly strong documentation of the Experimental Television Center in Oswego, New York, where coeditor Sherry Miller Hocking is assistant director, and of the technical features—including signal processing, raster manipulation, and voltage control using digital computers—of the studio that ETC maintained for artists from 1972 to 2011. It concludes with four chapters on preserving video tools, like a Rutt/Etra Video Synthesizer, and the recordings produced using them.

The Emergence of Video Processing Tools is a rich...


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