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Steina and Woody Vasulka fonds

Series: Videotapes and Installations

Steina and Woody Vasulka, Participation, 1969-1971
Steina and Woody Vasulka, Participation, 1969-1971

Videotapes and Installations. - (1969-1997). - 0.65 meter of textual documents, 6 videotapes.

Scope and content:

This series provides information on Steina and Woody Vasulkas' experiments with electronic imagery and explores the development of videotapes, installations and performances produced between 1969 and 1999.

In their early career as videomakers, Steina and Woody Vasulka used the Portapak mobile production unit to make videotapes akin to direct cinema and also experimented with feedback. They sorted these essays produced between 1970 and 1971 into two cycles: Sketches and Studies. Sketches consists of comical vignettes and portraits of friends and collaborators. Studies foreshadows later work by bringing together experimental segments that probe the more abstract characteristics of videographic images. Participation, a compilation done in 1977 including sequences shot between 1969 and 1971, complements these first essays. This videotape documents concerts and performances connected with the surging countercultural movement in New York at the time.

Though they periodically produced documentary videotapes, Steina and Woody Vasulka set aside this approach to the medium in 1972 to devote themselves to exploring qualities specific to electronic material. In a series of works created in collaboration, they used signal processors, video synthesizers, keyers and sequencers to devise a sort of typology of the means of displaying the video signal. Soundprint (1972) and Noisefield (1974) reveal the contiguity between the sound and image coming from a single video source. With Home (1973), 1 2-3-4 (1974) and Golden Voyage (1974), Steina and Woody Vasulka ran several tracks of superimposed images on a shared surface using keying techniques. In 1977, at the request of WNED-Channel 17, (Buffalo, New York, N.Y. United States) they put together a series of educational programs that illustrated the results of these first few years of experimentation. By 1975, their approaches had started to diverge. Woody Vasulka was pursuing the work begun with Studies in 1971 of analyzing electronic images. Meanwhile, Steina was creating a personal language fed primarily by phenomenological inquiries and the sound-image interface.

In the early seventies, Steina began combining her video and musical interests. In the second half of this decade, she tried connecting voltage processor units to her violin to simultaneously transform the electronic signal displayed on the screen and the sound wave. The compilation Violin Power (1971-1977) contains several segments that chronicle this undertaking. In this same period, Steina investigated how technology perceived and mapped out space. In Machine Vision (1975-), an evolving series of works including installations and videotapes, she tried to dissociate images from a human viewpoint by delegating camera control to a series of kinetic devices. Steina also pursued experiments with various equipment such as the Digital Image Articulator, which she helped design with Woody Vasulka. In the wake of this research, the videotape BAD and the documentary Cantaloup, both produced in 1979, began an artistic exploration of computer-assisted video.

Starting with Sasto (1979) and Selected Treecuts (1980), Steina embarked on a cycle of work whose referents were natural phenomena with a corollary found in the elements of videographic images. As part of this cycle, The West (1983), Geomania (1986), Borealis (1993) and Orka (1997) bring together sequences of desert landscape in New Mexico and Iceland that have undergone various types of effects. In this cycle, the production of both a videotape and an installation version with several screens or monitors became a recurrent formal solution.

In 1986, Steina made a renewed attempt to develop a complex sound-image interface. She collaborated with the singer Joan La Barbara on a series of interactive compositions that spawned the videotape Voice Windows (1986) and the installation Vocalization (1988). During performances in the nineties, Steina used applications in the MIDI protocol to manipulate in real time a bank of images stored on videodisc.

Throughout the series Time/Energy Objects, a collection of video essays made between 1970 and 1971 and compiled in 1975, Woody Vasulka tried to generate electronic images without camera support. This research continued in the seventies with Vocabulary (1973), The Matter (1974) and Explanation (1974), abstract videotapes that dissected and defined the key elements of the video medium: raster, frame, frame scanning speed and sound-image interface. A group of videotapes also examined how video synthesizers, processors and other devices altered an electronic image. In C-trend, Reminiscence and Telc (1974), Woody Vasulka used the Rutt/Etra Scan Processor to modulate the deflection line of an image's electromagnetic field. In the late seventies, he experimented with the Digital Image Articulator or Vasulka Imaging System, a digital-analog converter designed with Jeffrey Schier. In the series Syntax of Binary Images (1980) containing Transformation (1978) and Artifacts (1980), he demonstrated the applications of this converter, which represented a real step forward in the digital coding of the video signal.

In the mid-eighties, two videotapes marked a narrative turning point in Woody Vasulka's work. With The Commission (1983), he used the relationship between Berlioz and Paganini as a pretext for an exposé on the materialization of strata of historic time in electronic imagery. Woody Vasulka continued this discourse with The Art of Memory (1987) in which archival footage was keyed directly into an electronic space representing a desert landscape in New Mexico.

In the nineties, he designed installations using robotics and interactive components. Theater of Hybrid Automata (1990), which was begun in 1985, combined hardware with advanced software that could process images in real time. Woody Vasulka recycled certain components used in this work to produce The Brotherhood (1990), a series of hybrid constructions linking old war machinery with the most sophisticated interactive computer applications. His aim here was to trace the military origin of contemporary technologies.

The series includes a compilation produced by Steina and Woody Vasulka of all distributed videotapes, video documentaries on the installations and performances, as well as files on each of the works that provides information on their development and at times document their distribution. These files contain drafts of project descriptions written by Steina and Woody Vasulka or others for publication in distribution directories, programs or exhibition catalogues. Also included are scripts, clippings, technical drawings, notes taken at the design stage, lists of technical components for installations, video stills, correspondence and budgets. In addition, the series contains press releases, invitations, programs, exhibition catalogues, issues of periodicals, photocopied sections of periodicals related to the events, and some grant applications, although these types of documents are found mostly in the series Events and Distributors, Press Review, and Grant Applications.

Title based on the content of the series. - Documents in Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Icelandic, Italian and in Japanese. - Contains originals and copies. - The person who processed the documents established the arrangement of items in each file. - The master copies of the videotapes and video documentaries are held by Steina and Woody Vasulka and the copies are distributed by Electronic Arts Intermix (New York, N.Y., United States), Video Data Bank (Chicago, Ill., United States), Montevideo (Amsterdam, Netherlands) and CINÉDOC (Paris, France).

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Vincent Bonin © 2003 FDL