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Quotes about Ture Sjolander

Video Report

David Hall on Artists Video at The Galleries, Washington Tyne and Wear, 18-30 October 1977.

First published in Studio International, 1977

Artists' Video    (not even 1977 the phrase "Video Art" was established)

The Galleries, Washington, Tyne and Wear

19-30 October

Driving into Washington New Town, just a few miles south of Newcastle, is peculiarly out of context when compared to my other experiences of old Geordieland. It is almost a Little Los Angeles. A network of de luxe new highways interconnect scattered buildings over a vast area, and everyone appears to travel by car (public transport seems to be incidental rather than an absolute necessity at present). In the town centre most social and commercial amenities are provided in one giant enclosed precinct called The Galleries. This includes shops, pubs, legal advisers, libraries, local government offices - the lot. It also includes the town's Information Centre, part of which was taken over by the local Biddick Farm Arts Centre to stage the Artists' Video exhibition. The Biddick Centre is grant-aided by Northern Arts, Sunderland Borough Council and the Arts Council of GB, and Brian Hoey and Wendy Brown, its present Artists in Residence, were the initiators of this show. Hoey, Brown and Rosemary Herd, the Visual Arts officer of the Biddick Centre, undoubtedly worked very hard -in a climate not particularly well-attuned to art shows of any sort, let alone video- to produce one of the few shows of this kind to appear anywhere in Britain.

Even though the show was very much an international affair (including tapes from the US, Canada, Switzerland, Sweden and some of the best from Britain), the national press typically ignored it, presumably on the grounds that it was in such an 'obscure' locale. This is ironic at a time when everyone is clamouring for greater attention to art activities in the regions. Even William Feaver, who wrote the catalogue foreword (blundering a little-but acceptable), made not the slightest whisper of a mention of it in his Observer column. The local press, forever looking for a cheap thrill and a quick sell, made no serious attempt to discover what it was all about but instead jumped headlong into a totally unfounded Customs' suspicion that they were importing a blue movie from Sweden in the form of Ronald Nameth's tape The Adventures of Energy (music by Terry Riley). The local radio did a hurried two-minute interview with Hoey and Herd on an early morning breakfast show, and local TV was nowhere to be seen. Despite this dearth of media publicity audiences were quite good, showing a lot of interest and asking a lot of questions.

A fair proportion of the tapes on show had that seductive, though mostly cosmetic, appeal of electronic trickery produced with colourisers, complicated special effects generators, chroma-key circuits, video-synthesisers and the like. In fairness to those artists who are aware of the dangers, I must say here that it is extremely difficult to offer a generalised complaint about work such as this- only that much of it truly reads as the now proverbial moving wallpaper. The intention so often seems to be based purely on exploring kinetic image invention for its own sake, where the prime objective appears to be to gain access to more and more sophisticated means with less and less concern for the implications of doing it. Certainly it rarely does anything to extend the now well-established 'principles' peculiar to institutionalised TV. To quote from an earlier article: 'Almost without exception tapes in this genre present complex synthetic imagery which, while not a normal experience on broadcast TV, tends if anything to corroborate the mystique convention by the (obsessive) development, deification and utilisation of increasingly sophisticated hardware available to, and operable by, only a few. Equally, this in turn produces the inevitable obscuration of any immediately perceivable evidence of the creative process.'[1]

Woody and Steina Vasulka (US) were the two artists in the show perhaps most totally absorbed in electronic wizardry, and since I am so diametrically opposed to their work let it suffice to quote their catalogue entry for one of their tapes as an illustration of my point: 'The Matter’-a dot pattern with its raster is displayed on a scan processor. Three basic waves, sine, triangles and square, generated by a locked waveform generator, are applied to shape the display. A slow ramp generator controls the size and image drift.' Alternatively, Doron Abrahami (GB), avoiding this technical jargonese, commits himself to the core of the matter (inadvertently aligning his intentions with the dictum of the broadcasters) by stating: 'I have tried to explore the possibilities provided by sophisticated TV equipment, to create a kinetic entertaining video-tape, set to music.' Pleasant, but highly soporific. However, it would be quite out o place to hint at a general condemnation of the show on the strength of my comments so far. Tapes by John Freeman (Canada), Genevieve Calame (Switzerland), Brian Hoey (GB) and to some degree Cliff Evans (GB) all involved synthetic 'abstraction', which proved with careful consideration that it is possible to manifest ideas which extend beyond the eclectic amorphous dream-state of outmoded psychedelia (Dewitt, Donebauer), or glossy and hard-edged 'computed' animation (Vasulkas, Emschwiller).

Moving on from the synthesised work, I was very disappointed in Ira Schneider's (US) tape More or Less Related Incidents in Recent History . However hard I tried I could not see it as more than an ad hoc compilation of off-air shots of Nixon, Vietnam, Cambodia, Rock stars and, as he states, 'other brief clips from broadcast TV which typify our age'. These were interspersed with colour portapak shots of a New York boutique being decorated. As a rather slender insight into the American 'media/political/rock/alternative culture' I suppose it was OK. But for a video artist of Schneider's reputation to get off on the 'junk footage and roving camera routine' was in my view a slight on his proven capabilities.

Ture Sjölander and Bror Wikström (Sweden) showed three tapes: Time, Monument and Space in the Brain . I was particularly interested to see Time (1965-6) since this was one of the first experimental tapes to be broadcast. And their subtly structured nudging and twisting of familiar broadcast imagery (by carefully distorting the video scan-line raster) induces a very particular reappraisal of the Telly conventions. It is certainly an historical landmark in the development of video art. Their statement about broadcast TV is as applicable now as it was then: ' have not attained more than a purely illustrative function ... because most of the pictures are created by Word-people. In fact, roughly half the items on TV today could just as well be broadcast on radio instead.'

John Hopkins and Sue Hall (GB) presented a compilation entitled Albion Free State which included one or two slightly bizarre experiments and some important controversial documentation (which I have always suspected they are better disposed towards than the former) like Squat Now While the Stocks Last . Other British work included Aidanvision's Figure in an Interior which was the record of a staged situation in which an (unmistakable) actor was confronted with a Logan's Run simulated-computer-style interrogation. The initial concept suggested many of the inherent psychological and philosophical issues which have emerged with the one-way systems of present-day media presentation. In its realisation the resultant tape employed too obviously the very tactics and traditional techniques of those systems which I assume it sought to question. Viewers remained passive and external to the performance-voyeuristic rather than integral to the process.

However, that particular tape aside, Aidanvision (situated in Carlisle) is headed by Roy Thompson and is one of the rare independent studios in this country which, to quote, 'concentrates on the experimental use of the medium, in the context of commitment to art'. Artists in that region and from beyond are apparently welcome to use its facilities.

Tapes were also shown by Tamara Krikorian, Steve Partridge, Stuart Marshall, Tony Sinden, David Critchley, and myself. Some of these I have discussed before. Krikorian showed an adaption for single screen of her multi-monitor installation Breeze (1975). Partridge presented five works, the most successful being Interlace (1975) which, by systematically over-modulating, rolling, mixing, freezing, etc the video image from an off-air discussion, insists on the viewing experience having a 'televisual autonomy' bringing into question the re-presentation convention as adopted by broadcasters. This is very much an extension of Sjölander and Wikström's concern, hinted at ten years earlier in their tape Time . Stuart Marshall, though handling his work somewhat differently, comes to similar conclusions when he says that his tapes called Go Through the Motions , Just a Glimpse and Arcanum all examine the interrelations of the image and sound tracks and challenge the notion that any system of representation can simply re-present'. Go Through the Motions (1975) is probably the earliest of his tapes shown, yet for me remains one of the strongest. Briefly, it shows a close-up of his mouth throughout the duration apparently repeating the words 'Saying one thing and meaning another' (in fact he is miming to a pre-recorded sound loop). As his lips attempt to synchronise with the sound they purposefully move almost imperceptibly in and out of phase with it. The viewer is, almost hynotically, induced into at once attempting to assimilate sound and vision according to his preconditioned subconscious, yet simultaneously conscious of the purposeful disparity, not only of sound and vision but of system and actual context.


1 David Hall. 'British Video Art', Studio International, May/June 1976.

First published in Studio International. Copyright David Hall.