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Video Art: Can You Rent It?


by Manuel Mendoza 19 Aug 2008

Still from A Family Finds Entertainment (2004) by Ryan Trecartin, courtesy Elizabeth Dee Gallery “The Program,” the video-art series at Conduit Gallery, raises interesting questions about the economics, aesthetics and distribution channels of a form that falls somewhere between film and visual art. Are these artists, who are generally represented by galleries, working in the […]

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Still from A Family Finds Entertainment (2004) by Ryan Trecartin, courtesy Elizabeth Dee Gallery

“The Program,” the video-art series at Conduit Gallery, raises interesting questions about the economics, aesthetics and distribution channels of a form that falls somewhere between film and visual art.

Are these artists, who are generally represented by galleries, working in the tradition of one medium or the other? Do their influences come from art history or film history? Can the pieces only be experienced in the context of art-gallery exhibitions or can you rent or buy a DVD or see the work online? Do the videos screen at film festivals?

This is not simply an academic attempt to categorize video and other media-based art in one camp or another but to try to understand where it comes from, who’s the intended audience and how does that audience access it. The answers may tell us something about the nature of the work.

That nature may also be reflected in how video art functions commercially. Are these pieces sold to art collectors like paintings and sculptures? If not, how are the artists paid? Do they receive grants or do they have patrons? Do they do other work, artistic or commercial, that supports their video projects?

A closer look at three of the more compelling artists showing in The Program — Ryan Trecartin, Cao Fei and Nathalie Djurberg — answers some of these questions. And one of the answers is YouTube. All three have work available there. In fact, the Trecartin and Fei videos on display at Conduit can be seen in their entirety or nearly their entirety on YouTube. Djurberg has one of her stop-motion animation pieces on the site but not the two screening this week in The Program.

If YouTube is at the other end of the spectrum from gallery representation — free mass distribution v. the one-to-one sale of a work of art — then what about the commercial possibilities that lie in the middle? Surprisingly, none of the three artists appears to be marketing DVDs of their videos to the public.

Trecartin has shown A Family Finds Entertainment at underground film festivals in New York and Chicago, which makes sense. It has a narrative structure, however nonsensically the story is told. He also makes related sculptures and installations that could be sold at least theoretically to collectors.

Fei works within the virtual reality game Second Life, so users of that online community can see some of her work there. One of the pieces at Conduit, i.Mirror, is billed as a documentary about Second Life, placing it in a recognizable film genre.

Djurberg‘s stop-motion work, including Timbuktu and Camels Drink Water, resembles the kind of animation you might see on a Cartoon Network “Adult Swim” show like Robot Chicken.

With so many of the pieces gesturing toward television, movies and other pop culture — for instance, Matt Marello’s Hogan’s Heroes (into which he inserts Nietzsche) and Guy Ben-Ner’s Stealing Beauty (which shares a love of the prank with Borat and Jackass to different ends) — contemporary media-based art is not easily categorized. And without a transparent economic model, not easily monetized either.

The Program, presented by the Video Association of Dallas, continues Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 to 5 at Conduit Gallery, 1626C Hi Line Drive. The fifth and final week opens with a reception at 7 p.m. Saturday and a screening of two works by John Bock at 7:30.

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  • I think the gallery system of art is on the way out. It’ll be replaced by mass marketing of painting – the last art form to do so.
    How will that leave video art? I think it, like youtube will get an audience mostly through the internet – the first whole world culture – and the best of short videos will rise to the top.
    Right now there is a lot of hot air in gallery videos – too often the small sampling that I’ve seen, are the worst of both worlds – bad art, AND bad film combined. And if not for the gallery propping them up, I don’t think they would have much support. But anyone that can access youtube can also fine high quality videos that are very creative.
    Youtube has suggested an entirely new type of film, the short film. It’s not a two hour story film, or documentary like you would see in a movie theater. It’s more of its own type of film – a sort of music video without the music.
    I have suggested two new types of these new videos – poem videos, each film showcases a short poem, or art videos, each film showcases an artwork. These and many other ideas are ushering many new types of short films.
    But how will they make a living off free video work online? That demands another innovation. I suggest a sort of pay TV for the internet. You pay a yearly sum to access assorted art work, and each artist is paid through the number of clicks its art gets – much like net advertisers get paid now.
    This post has opened up some artistic problems here that I believe can only be resolved by a number of other innovations