Robin Simpson Something Like This

“Had I critiqued the tape then, I would have written something like this.”
—Julie Healey

This bibliography was prepared in anticipation of the digitization of Video Guide and reflects the periodical by way of its reviews. Published by Video Inn between 1978 and 1992 and distributed internationally, Video Guide chronicled VIVO Media Arts Centre’s operations as informed by a broad constituency who made use of its video production and distribution services. In addition to reviews, the magazine also provided readers with essays, hardware advice, updates on public broadcasting policy, interviews, and international dispatches (notably reports from Japan, care of Video Inn co-founder Michael Goldberg), along with advertisements, classifieds, and the requisite gossip.

The scope of this bibliography has been restricted to monographic reviews. Cross-referenced with VIVO’s catalogue, the final list privileges reviews of video(s) that remain available for viewing. Although Video Guide also published reviews of screening programs and festivals, this approach aims to avoid the reproduction of past curatorial decisions in order to place emphasis on the critic’s focus of attention. In an attempt to align writing, reading, and reviewing, this bibliography encourages retrospective pairings between videos and short critical texts, bringing the defunct periodical into contact with the centre’s active archive. Moreover, it supports inquiries into the form of the video review, specifically its development and role within Video Guide.

In 1982, artist Julie Healey reviewed Paul Wong’s Prime Cuts (1981) for Video Guide. Describing her impressions upon viewing Wong’s video while it was still in production and without the musical audio track, Healey offers a speculative break: “Had I critiqued the tape then, I would have written something like this.” She follows through with a paragraph that reimagines Wong’s work as a critical success that satisfyingly lifts the veil on the hollow consumer lifestyles it parodies. Healey’s text attests to the intimacy afforded by the video scene in Vancouver, making possible critical reflection that accounts for the work across various stages of production and presentation contexts. Embedded within the text of this brief alternate review is the implication that the critical text might share in the plasticity afforded to the video medium: able to be muted, paused, replayed, re-recorded, and, if deemed necessary, erased. (Indeed, even Video Guide’s gossip column, “Tattletape,” partook in this: “International tattle. . . jetlagging and hot on the junket circuit . . . rewind to April.” [1])

Within one trajectory of art history and criticism, the arrival of video art as a genre is signposted not by discrete productions or an institutional event such as an exhibition or congress, but by a critical declaration. This can be sourced to Rosalind Krauss’s often cited and perennially contested essay “Video: The Aesthetics of Narcissism,” published in the premiere issue of October in 1976. Narrowly focused on a group of American artists and their adoption of video within a post-minimalist paradigm, Krauss’s psychological diagnosis offers a premonition of the arrival of French poststructural theory into art criticism along with what was widely received as a hasty foreclosure on the medium’s critical possibilities. Indeed, despite criticism, Krauss left her assertions unmodified, writing roughly twenty-five years later that video art amounted to little more than “artists endlessly talking to themselves.” [2]

Yet, while the closed circuit between camera and monitor that motived early video works conveniently figured the concept of narcissism as the artist beholden to his or her own image, what is often overlooked is that Krauss initially introduces the bind between video and narcissism as a problem of and for art criticism. Within a psychoanalytic scenario, the analyst is unable to engage the narcissist, whose inward investment takes on ascetic proportions in the refusal of dependence and with this the denial of an incomplete and split self. Under this orthodox model, the narcissist is found untreatable. In Krauss’s formulation, psychoanalysis and dialectic modernism are interchangeable: as the analysand needs the analyst to bring about change, so the artist must engage with the critic. Krauss’s diagnosis is spurred on by a work by Vito Acconci, [3] who, pointing at the centre of the screen, is caught parodying “the aesthetics of acknowledgment,” shorthand for the work of critic Michael Fried and a discourse guided by medium specificity. By mocking the discourse surrounding the critic rather than engaging with it, by attempting to evade dialectic analysis by pointing at it as an object rather than a process, Acconci ends up pointing at himself. For Krauss, video art in its earliest years signalled an errantry from the contract with art criticism, precisely as October was launching a new platform to confront the entrenchment of an affirmative model of modernism. Furthermore, this model of narcissism, arising from a denial of the dialectic process of analysis, was intensified by video’s close proximity to broadcast television and mass media and the attendant celebrity culture that had come to supplant the authority of the art critic and various exhibition systems.

Within the historical trajectory of video art, Krauss’s assertions quickly took on a retrospective character. Peggy Gale notes in her 1977 article “Video Has Captured Our Imagination,” first published in Parachute, that, as the end of the decade approached, narrative works had eclipsed earlier practices focused on confronting feedback. As a “new kind of formalism,” narrative in combination with the arrival of colour video drew video closer to its associations with television, a shift that asserted “our response to the content must undergo some changes.” [4] Writing roughly a decade later in the catalogue to the 1986 Vancouver-wide exhibition Luminous Sites, Jody Berland surveys the status of video criticism as a discrete project still in formation:

This is the consensus of much video criticism today, which posits various interpretations of this perceived sense of incompletion. Such criticism has not yet resolved whether this tension should be seen as a contraction, a transition of a paradox, nor whether the absence should be conceived as one of technical form or of (artistic) function. The “paradox” of video is that it proposes to make these and other distinctions obsolete. The replacement of such distinctions is as yet very tenuous; it is still more of an idea to which one refers, a place one visits, because of the way that the sites of production and dissemination are controlled. The framing of a separated discourse of “video art” evokes the idea, the place; however its incorporation within art institutions (particularly in North America) threatens to sabotage the autonomous realization of its destiny. [5]

For Berland, the language of video criticism remained contoured by video’s competing associations with television and art discourse. Speaking to the site-specific programming in Luminous Sites, Berland urges video criticism to react to video’s fugitive status and repeated capture: “They try to leave home but the museum follows them to the hotel (where a TV sits in every room).” [6] In her 1988 essay for Parallelogramme, “Video: Toward A Renewal of Art Criticism,” Christine Ross hazards that video prompts a breach in humanistic art criticism by way of a primary neurobiological event inherent to video and experienced prior to the interpretation of any content. Whereas for Berland video criticism, though without a vocabulary of its own, is found hinged on the politics of representation and address, for Ross video foregrounds the critic as a “subject-in-process,” not by way of political discourse but through the effects of the electronic video image as it is constituted on the monitor. She suggests that the video image traced out through scanning provides an analogy to the processes of perception and memory, enhancing video’s status as an unstable medium that “defines itself through its activity” [7] rather than the delivery of images with a fixed referent. Ross pushes this further to propose that video proffers a utopian elsewhere if the art critic is prepared to “abandon the positivism of description and interpretation” in order “to linger on what could be called the borderline between the visible and the invisible.” [8]

Falling within the historical brackets set out by Video Guide’s publishing run, these conversations help point to some of the language accompanying video art and its criticism—media and communication theory after Marshall McLuhan, poststructuralism, psychoanalysis, and various political gradations of postmodernism, as well as the psychological effect of the video apparatus. Moreover, they offer evidence of the challenges that video in the hands of artists as well as activists brought to bear on art criticism and how this was discussed through the late 1970s and into the 1990s across various printed forums in Canada.

The reviews assembled to the right engage in this discourse to different degrees. They are, of course, examples of and not reflections on video art criticism. In some cases, synopses assume the bulk of the texts. However, full endorsements are rare, and even brief concluding statements offer a critical position on the work and speak to key issues pertaining to the medium at large: how to mimic the visual and narrative forms of mainstream media without servicing them; when to resist higher production values in favour of those that honour independent production; the ethics of representation within the documentary form; the expansive possibilities of video’s address and the real limits of distribution and access; video’s mobility and its efficiency in different contexts. Finally, this bibliography follows the simple logic of an easy double entendre: to review. Here criticism and its object both fall under the purview of a retrospective reviewing. Not to be confused with retrospect as playback, this reviewing demands a simultaneous close reading of a text and the attentive viewing of a video. Artist and critic are served equal billing in this exercise. What is to be reviewed is the bind instantiated by criticism, a dialectic wherein the user of this bibliography might also enter as both viewer and reader.

Notes

  1. 1. “Tattletape,” Video Guide 1.3, 1978, 2.
  2. 2. Rosalind Krauss, A Voyage on the North Sea: Art in the Age of the Post-medium Condition (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1999), 30.
  3. 3. Vito Acconci, Centres, 1971.
  4. 4. Peggy Gale, “Video Has Captured Our Imagination,” Parachute, no. 7 (Summer 1977): 16–18. Reprinted in Video Re/View: The (Best) Source for Critical Writings on Canadian Artists’ Video, ed. Peggy Gale and Lisa Steele (Toronto: Art Metropole and Vtape, 1996), 114–20.
  5. 5. Jody Berland, “Video—Language—The Common/place,” in Luminous Sites/Ten Video Installations, exhibition catalogue, ed. Daina Augaitis and Karen Henry (Vancouver: Video Inn and Western Front, 1986). Reprinted in Video Re/View, 129. Luminous Sites is also the subject of a special issue of Video Guide 8.2 (1987), from which reviews by Sara Diamond, Jackie Goodwin, and Keith Wallace are included in this bibliography.
  6. 6. Ibid., 130.
  7. 7. Christine Ross, “Video: Toward a Renewal of Art Criticism,” Parallelogramme 14, no. 3 (Winter 1988): 13–16. Reprinted in Video Re/View, 122.
  8. 8. Ibid., 122.

Reading List

Bociurkiw, Marvisia. “Review of Working the Double Shift, by Lisa Steele and Kim Tomczak.” Video Guide 7.1, 1985, 4–5.

Working the Double Shift, Lisa Steele and Kim Tomczak (1984)

Diamond, Sara. “Review of As a Wife Has a Cow, by Cornelia Wyngaarden.” Video Guide 8.2, 1987, 4.

As a Wife Has a Cow, Cornelia Wyngaarden (1985)

Ellison, Jane. “Review of Telling Tales, by Elizabeth Chitty.” Video Guide 2.2, June 1979, 6.

Telling Tales, Elizabeth Chitty (1979)

Goodwin, Jackie. “Review of Spawing Sockeyes, by Sasaki Tomiyo.” Video Guide 8.2, 1987, 8.

Spawning Sockeye, Sasaki Tomiyo (1982)

Healey, Julie. “Review of Prime Cuts, by Paul Wong.” Video Guide 4.3, 1982, 5–6.

Prime Cuts, Paul Wong (1982)

Henry, Karen. “Review of A Couple of Changes, by Michael Goldberg.” Video Guide 4.4, 1982, 4.

A Couple of Changes, Michael Goldberg (1982)

Henry, Karen. “Review of Unbashed Heroics, by Randy & Bernenicci.” Video Guide 4.5, 1982, 3.

Unbashed Heroics, Randy & Bernenicci (1982)

Henry, Karen. “Neil Armstrong: Tape Reviews.” Video Guide 5.1, 1983, 14.

I’m With You True Blue, Neil Armstrong (1980)

In Praise of Non-representation, Neil Armstrong (1982)

Mythological Process, Neil Armstrong (1982)

Henry, Karen. “Women Speak Out: Amelia Productions: 3 Labour Issues.” Video Guide 5.1, 1983, 3.

Video Display Terminals, Amelia Productions (1981)

CUPW Mothers’ Rights = Union Rights, Amelia Productions (1981)

This Line Is Not in Service, Amelia Productions (1981)

Henry, Karen. “Review of Love of Line, of Flight and Shadow: The Brooklyn Bridge, by Reynold Weidenaar.” Video Guide 5.3, Summer 1983, 11.

Love of Line, of Light and Shadow: The Brooklyn Bridge, Reynold Weindenaar (1982)

Henry, Karen. “Review of As the Petals Fall, by Terry Ewasiuk.” Video Guide 5.4, Winter 1983, 6.

As the Petals Fall, Terry Ewasiuk (1983)

Henry, Karen. “Review of Words and Wounds of Silence, by Helen Doyle.” Video Guide 7.2, 1985, 6–7.

Words and Wounds of Silence, Helen Doyle (1985)

Kivisild, Emma. “Laurie McDonald.” Video Guide 5.5, New Year 1984, 6–7.

World’s Largest: A Tape about Texas, Laurie McDonald (1979)

Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup, Laurie McDonald (1980)

Water, Wind and the Record of the Rocks, Laurie McDonald (1979)

Prime Time, Laurie McDonald (1981)

Generic Video Art, Laurie McDonald (1982)

Knights, Karen. “Not Dead Yet: Celebration or Obituary?” Video Guide 7.2, 1985, 8–9.

Not Dead Yet, Ed Mowbray and Ruth Taylor (1984)

Knights, Karen. “War in Flowerland: A Personal Video Documentary by Marlin Oliveros and Byron Black.” Video Guide 7.3, 1985, 3.

War in Flowerland, Marlin Oliveros and Byron Black (1983)

Lacey, Daryl. “Review of Drawing the Lines, by Andy Harvey.” Video Guide 4.4, 1982, 5.

Drawing the Lines, Andy Harvey (1982)

Mitchell, Jeannie. “Artists Call Against US Intervention in Latin America.” Video Guide 6.2, March 1984, 4–5.

Manzana Por Manzana, Mary Anne Yanulis, Eric Schultz, and John Greyson (1983)

Mulvihill, Bryan. “Grande Barrage/Great Divide: Video Work de Daniel Dion.” Video Guide 10.5, 1990, 16.

The Great Divide, Daniel Dion (1990)

Philip, Andrea. “Review of Home Street, by Gerry Kisil.” Video Guide 9.5, 1988, 5.

Home Street, Gerry Kisil (1986)

Ridington, Jillian. “Review of A Crime against Women, by Martha Gever.” Video Guide 3.1, 1980, 12.

A Crime against Women, Martha Gever (1979)

Spaner, Karen. “Review of Alice, Who Did That to Your Face, by University of Windsor.” Video Guide 1.1, 1978, 7.

Alice, Who Did That to Your Face, University of Windsor

Talve, Merike. “Review of Wallflower Order, Marion Barling.” Video Guide 5.2, 1983, 5.

Wallflower Order, Marion Barling (1982)

Turrel, Mark. “Review of The World Is Sick (sic), by John Greyson.” Video Guide 10.3–4, 1989, 9.

The World Is Sick (sic), John Greyson (1989)

Wallace, Keith. “Review of Body Fluid, by Paul Wong.” Video Guide 8.2, 1987, 6.

Body Fluid, Paul Wong (1985)

Ward, Rick. “New & Old Video.” Video Guide 1.3, 1978, 14.

Albion Free State, Fantasy Factory (1976)

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