The Year Video Art Was Born

By Hanne Mugaas
July 15, 2010

Artists have been working with video since the autumn of 1965. The story goes that Nam June Paik, a Korean-born artist, purchased the first Sony Portapak delivered to the U.S. in New York on October 4, 1965. On that same day, carrying the camera with him in a taxi, a traffic jam created by Pope Paul VI’s motorcade held him up. Paik videotaped the procession, and that afternoon he screened the twenty minutes of footage to friends at Café a Go-Go in Greenwich Village. Some doubt this story and it’s indisputable that Paik shared the early moments of video art with lesser-known practioners including Juan Downey, Frank Gillette, Les Levine, and Ira Schneider, as well as with Andy Warhol, who was said to screen video mere weeks before Paik’s tape was shot and shown. Whoever was first, 1965 was the year video art was born.

Before the recording medium of the video camera became an art tool, the broadcast medium of television was already in use. In 1958 the artist Wolf Vostell introduced a then-new element to his work, combining a slashed canvas with a flickering TV screen in the work Transmigration. And in 1963, Vostell made the work TV Dé-collage Events for Millions, which he described as “planned for a TV broadcast in which the TV audience participates and acts. The events; images; words; recommendations or commands are aimed to rouse in the viewers active participation, involvement, and thoughts and actions running parallel to the broadcast.” Little did Vostell know that he had outlined a predecessor to the Internet.

With the launch of the Sony Portapak camera, anyone could start making videos, even more so when the greater accessibility was coupled with technologies that could edit or modify the video image. Artists such as Peter Campus and Joan Jonas experimented with that technology, making use of combined video feedback and playback. Video collectives like Raindance, TVTV, and Videofreex produced alternative news shows and street tapes. Warhol filmed happenings and performance art, while Paik went on to use the video camera as a paintbrush and the TV screen as a canvas. A new era had begun.


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