COLUMN: The politics of video art

The exhibition of video art has always been an issue fraught with questions. Often artists are forced to ask themselves how to screen videos that don’t fall under traditional theatrical 

In museum formats, people will often walk by video art in favor of staring at something they can consume immediately. In these settings, video art is often shown on loop on television screens or video monitors.

Occasionally seating areas will be placed around the video. Most of the videos are experimental, nonlinear or circuital in nature. Video art is often seen as the off-the-rails daughter of art house cinema which is essentially work that has been described as having a stylistic authorship by the filmmaker and often is linked to independent and foreign cinemas. Often those who want control of their work are classified in this manner.

There are those who weave between the two — such as David Lynch, Matthew Barney or Miranda July — choosing different types of video productions and exhibitions for different projects.

However, most of these folks, with a few exceptions continue to make features and rarely return to video art.

When making films, I often begin by pondering how and where I want the film to be seen. Where something is shown and who will see it has a dramatic effect on its cultural production.

Films that go to film festivals, not to mention multiplex films, are very different from video art. Most artists chose one or the other — commercial work or exhibition work.

However, there are numerous collections that represent and collect video art, such as Vtape and VDB. These online and physical databases exist to allow for rentals and for cinemas to license screenings of 
video art.

Some of their artists, such as Midi Onodera, Barbara Hammer or Richard Fung, have both features and video art in their oeuvres, but most only have short works. Often video artists are artists who are typically marginalized, like queer and racial minorities or intersections of multiple minority identities.

In one interview in 2014 for the New Yorker, acclaimed video artist Ryan Trecartin discusses how he originally saw his works as being in festivals, not even realizing museums showed films.

This obviously presents a problem of class in video art and raises the questions of who gets to see museum films and whether these avant-garde films are less accessible. Where films are shown also introduces questions of class, form and democracy. Who gets to have their films shown where?

Genre becomes the biggest factor in exhibition format. If your film is “hard to get” it is less likely to even be exhibited in places where it would find a wider audience.

While there are always intersections and people of different class, gender, race, sexual identity and other identities can see different kinds of work, genre still decides what amount of access different folks get to the work.

YouTube and other platforms on the Internet offer an entirely new circumspect way to get work out into the world. In some ways it inundates the market, and in some ways it allows for more people to be represented.

Many newer artists, such as Molly Soda, Steve Roggenbuck, Petra Cortright and I, chose to release our work on YouTube in favor of a specific and broader audience allowing multiple types of folks to interact with their art and as a way to have more control of their content.

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