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  • Reconciling Video and Film in Frank Gillette and Ira Schneider's Wipe Cycle
  • Rudy Navarro (bio)

the howard wise gallery's 1969 exhibition Television as a Creative Medium brought together Frank Gillette and Ira Schneider, artists who adamantly asserted the technological differences between film and video and their effects. For Schneider, video's immediate playback technology "fosters a life quality that I didn't always get on film" (Gillette and Schneider 9). For Gillette, seeing oneself via video technology is much different from seeing oneself on film. Feedback on tape is "the first genuine view from the outside of what the inside is like." Gillette points out the potential of two-way communication with television that is not possible with film: "Television is something you feedback with as much as you receive with—which is a symbiosis—which works both ways" (Gillette and Schneider 9).

These artists' beliefs would lead them some months later to become founding members of the Raindance Corporation video collective. The participants in this group considered video almost solely as a technological instrument for intervening in the crisis of ecology and consciousness that had come to light in the 1960s and '70s. The editorial statement from the group's first issue of its influential publication, Radical Software, characterizes the technological bent of the collective, inflected by information theory and computer science:

Power is no longer measured in land, labor, or capital, but by access to information and the means to disseminate it. As long as the most powerful tools (not weapons) are in the hands of those who would hoard them, no alternative cultural vision can succeed. Unless we design and implement alternate information structures which transcend and reconfigure the existing ones, other alternate systems and life styles will be no more than products of the existing process … Our species will survive neither by totally rejecting nor unconditionally embracing technology—but by humanizing it; by allowing people access to the informational tools they need to shape and reassert control over their lives … Only by treating technology as ecology can we cure the split between ourselves and our extensions.

(Raindance Corporation 1)

Much of the commentary that framed video art in its early development addressed video's capacity to break through the communications and consciousness logjams erected by video's metaphorical parent, broadcast television. For video artists such as Gillette and Schneider, changes in personal and social consciousness just naturally followed the experience of seeing oneself on the television screen or distributing homemade videotape in order to circumvent the imposed messages of network television. Following the prescription written by Marshall McLuhan, watching the mosaic of the television screen would lead to increased levels of involvement and, hence, changes in psychological state (312). Similarly, the reach and instantaneousness of electronic [End Page 3] communications would unify and retribalize the world. The effects of technology were sufficient to achieve personal and social goals.

By latching onto video's technologies and its purported technological effects, these artists nominated video as a unique medium but also separated their video art from a field of concepts that grounded and theorized much art of the time, a division that troubles video art's historiography to the present day.1 Practices as diverse as minimalism, avant-garde film, and systems art all aspired to realize a new subject, one that intensely interacted with an environment activated by the art object's formal operations. We can track this developing thread in the pages of Artforum during the 1960s and early '70s. From 1966 to 1969, Robert Morris was publishing his highly influential four-part "Notes on Sculpture," in which he argued for the contextualization of the art object, viewer, and environment. At the same time, film historians such as Annette Michelson ("Bodies in Space"; "Screen/Surface") and Noël Burch were developing a phenomenological theory of film in which the viewing subject's perceptual engagement with the filmic medium provides awareness of both the self and the self's position in a sociopolitical environment.2 Jack Burnham took up these themes as well in his articles for the journal, but from the perspective of systems theory and cybernetics ("Real Time Systems"; "Systems Esthetics"). Here, the...


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