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More in this section Undergraduate

MA2069 Video Art

Tutor: Chris Townsend

Teaching: 10 hours lecture, 10 hours seminar

Value: ½ unit

Availability: Spring Term Only

For a week by week break down of what the course entails and the study material involved, please view the content in each of the drop-down boxes:

Weak one: fear of television

Video is a medium that becomes available to artists through the commercial sale of an industrial technology to the public. Video’s history before the mid 1960s is as a limited means of recording and storage for television. Artists have the capacity to see the potential of the medium beyond television and to explore its unique capacities – whereas in television video is little more than a cheap surrogate for film. However, for early video artists, and indeed for artists immediately before video becomes available, television itself is a hugely problematic mode of communication. Artists using video on the one hand manifest extreme phobia towards television and its capacity to infantilise a viewing subject that the artist works to render both self-aware and critical, on the other artists imagine a utopian potential for TV as a uniquely democratic means of disseminating art. In some ways video still hasn’t got over this problem – 40 years on: we can still see it in the work of contemporary artists such as Candice Breitz.

In this seminar we begin with the first artists to explore the potential of video, and the threat of TV in the mid 1960s, and go on to look at the ways in which artists offered both a radical critique of American TV in the 1970s and posited a utopian aspiration.


Nam June Paik and Jud Yalkut Video Tape Study No.3, (1966-69)

Nam June Paik and Jud Yalkut Waiting for Commercials, (1972)

Richard Serra Television Delivers People, (1973)

Ant Farm Media Burn, (1975)

All the above tapes are watched on monitors


David Antin, ‘Video: The Distinctive Features of the Medium’ in John D. Hanhardt (ed.) Video Culture: A Critical Investigation (Gibbs Smith/Visual Studies Workshop, 1986) pp. 167-178

Les Levine, ‘One-Gun Video Art’ in Gregory Battcock, (ed.) New Artists Video (E.P.Dutton, 1978) pp. 76-95

Nam June Paik with Charlotte Moorman, ‘Videa, Vidiot, Videology’ in Gregory Battcock, (ed.) New Artists Video (E.P.Dutton, 1978) pp. 121-137

Week two: Video in the field of conceptualism and postminialism

In the 1960s art begins to move away from the purely formal and objective concerns of late-modernist art (colour field painting; minimalism) into forms of art that are understood (especially by their ‘late modernist’ critics) as “theatrical”. This means that their emphasis is no longer on the specific rhetorical properties of the chosen form, but on diverse activities which may be explored in a wide variety of different forms. The concerns of postminimal artists are very much figured in terms of things like process, repetition and displacement. We can see this in Acconci’s displacement of the spectator in Command Performance, Campus’s displacement of the figure or in Nauman’s early concern with repetitive action.


John Baldessari, I will not make any more boring art, (1971)

John Baldessari, Four Minutes of Trying to Tune Two Glasses (For the Philip Glass Sextet), (1976)

Richard Serra Boomerang, (1974)

Dan Graham Performer/Audience/Mirror, (1975)

Gary Hill Soundings, (1979)

All the above tapes are watched on monitors


Dan Graham, ‘Elements of Video/Elements of Architecture’ in Peggy Gale (ed.) Video by Artists (Art Metropole, 1976) pp. 193-195

Rosalind Krauss, ‘Video: The Aesthetics of Narcissism’ October no. 1 (spring 1976) pp. 50 -64

Eric Cameron, ‘Dan Graham: Appearing in Public’ Artforum Vol. XV, no. 3 (November 1976), pp. 66 – 68*

Week three: Nauman/Campus/Jonas case study

Video in the Field of Conceptualism and Postminimalism. Case Studies: Nauman/Campus/Jonas

This seminar concentrates on the work of three artists who use video in particular ways within the American avant-garde of the early 1970s. All three are concerned with the relationship of the body and space, and with processes that might lead to self-awareness within space. Of these artists two, Nauman and Jonas are primarily concerned with the performative body. Video [and film] is first of all a document. However, the particular properties of video allow the artist to transform their performance practice to incorporate the medium as form of expression rather then documentation. There is, for both Nauman and Jonas, a shift towards use of video as medium in its own right. Campus more effectively synthesises these concerns from the beginning: the bodily performance is either that of the spectator within installation, or one by the artist that exists only within videotape.


Joan Jonas Vertical Roll, (1972)

Bruce Nauman, Bouncing in the Corner, No.2: Upside Down, (1969)

Peter Campus, Double Vision, (1971)

Peter Campus, Three Transitions, (1973)


Iles, C. ‘Video and Film Space’ in Suderburg, E. (ed.) Space Site Intervention: Situating Installation Art (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000) pp. 252 – 262.

De Jong, C. ‘Joan Jonas: Organic Honey’s Vertical Roll’, Arts Magazine, (February 1981) pp. 27 - 30

Crimp, D. ‘Joan Jonas’s Performance Works’ Studio International, 192(July – Aug. 1976) pp. 10 – 12

Neal Benezra, ‘Surveying Nauman’ in R.C. Morgan (ed.) Bruce Nauman (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002)

Hans Dickel, ‘The Medium is the Medium’ in Herzogenrath, W. (ed.) Peter Campus: Analog +Digital Video + Foto 1970 – 2003 (Bremen: Kunsthalle, Bremen, 2003)

Anja Oswald, ‘Two Sides of the Mirror: Three Transitions by Peter Campus’ in Herzogenrath, W. (ed.) Peter Campus: Analog +Digital Video + Foto 1970 – 2003 (Bremen: Kunsthalle, Bremen, 2003)

Week four: Critiques of commodity culture

This seminar looks at the way in which video artists of the mid 1970s to early 1980s began to use video as a tool to critique mass, spectacular, ‘culture’ through the appropriation of imagery and forms from that culture. In the work of Martha Rosler and Dara Birnbaum this critique derives from feminist art practice and is directed at the construction of stereotypes of femininity in mass culture. Each artist, however, uses strikingly different techniques – where Rosler uses the presentational strategies of that culture, Birnbaum turns to an old modernist technique – appropriation – to analyse them. We also look at the way in which this strategy of appropriation as critique has manifested itself more recently in installation art, in the work of Silvia Kolbowski, offering a challenge to the spectacle at the same time as it is seemingly complicit with aspects of it. Dan Graham’s analysis of a historical parallel between forms of capital and subjective dissolution in ecstatic practices – whether rock or religion – seems at first to have the form of a conventional documentary, but its ideas are so radical that it places itself beyond the kind of commoditising of culture necessary for TV broadcast.


Dara Birnbaum, Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman, (1978-79)

Judith Barry, Casual Shopper, (1981)

Dan Graham, Rock My Religion, (1982)

Silvia Kolbowski and Peter Eisenman Like the difference between Autumn/Winter ’94/’95 and Spring/Summer’95, (1995)


Klein, N. M. ‘Audience Culture and the Video Screen’ in Buchloh, B.H.D (ed.) Dara Birnbaum: Rough Edits, Popular Image Video (Halifax: Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1987)

Buchloh, B.H.D., ‘Allegorical Procedures: Appropriation and Montage in Contemporary Art’ Artforum Vol. XXI, no.1 (September 1982)

Townsend, C. ‘Like the Différance Between Art and the Commodity; Like the Différance Between a Life and a Lifestyle. Silvia Kolbowski and Peter Eisenman’s 1995 Project with Comme des Garçons’ in Teunissen, J. & Brand, J. (eds.) The Power of Fashion: On Design and Meaning (Amsterdam: ARTEZ, 2006)

Week five: New approaches to narrative 

With the beginning of the 1980s there is a fundamental shift in the style of video art. Where practitioners in the 1970s used the medium either to reveal the structures of subjective space or the ideological effects and operations of TV, now they seek to construct narratives. However, these narratives, in some cases self-consciously, take advantage of video’s capacity to distort space and time to go beyond the linear notion of time that characterises film. In works such as Dara Birnbaum’s Damnation of Faust and Bill Viola’s Hatsu Yume we see, and hear, different temporal regimes present within the same image. At the same time the new technical sophistication which has been learned by artists in the 1970s and which is necessary to enact these new strategies is seen by some, previously supportive, critics as a betrayal of the medium to the aesthetics of the culture industry – exemplified by the newly emergent MTV. We examine critically Benjamin Buchloh’s vitriolic response to Birnbaum’s shift from deconstructive appropriation to multi-layered narrative production.


Dara Birnbaum, Damnation of Faust, (1983 – 87)

Bill Viola, Hatsu-Yume, (1981)


Buchloh, B.H.D., ‘From Gadget Video to Agit Video: Some Notes on Four Recent Video Works’ Art Journal, 45, no.3 (Fall 1985) pp. 217 - 227

Ann-Sargent Wooster, ‘Why Don’t They Tell Stories Like They Used To?’ Art Journal 45, no.3, (Fall 1985) pp. 204 – 212

Content Box Header

The best way to understand and to critique video installation – it is work that, paradoxically, for a supposedly mass, reproducible medium, reinforces the idea of the aura of the artwork. In this week we travel, as a group, to see one or more large-scale installations in-situ. The venue will be advised at some point in the first five weeks of term.


Benjamin, W. ‘The Work of Art in the Age of its Mechanical Reproducibility’ (Third Version) in Eiland, H. & Jennings, M.W. (eds.) Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Volume 4: 1938 – 1940 (Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003)

Townsend, C. ‘Call Me Old Fashioned, But…: Meaning, Singularity and Transcendence in the Work of Bill Viola’ in Townsend, C. (ed.) The Art of Bill Viola (London: Thames & Hudson, 2004)

Week Seven: The Dynamics of Installation: From TV screen to projection, plasma screen and spectacle

Having seen installations in-situ, we now turn to a historical survey of how video moved from being a small scale medium, using monitors and small scale projections, often with a clear relationship to “liveness”, to become the dominant form of art in contemporary art galleries, with a very different relationship to the spectator and a very different imagination as art object. We also begin to make a theoretical critique of installation, examining the phenomenological constraints and possibilities within their structures.


Bill Viola The Passing, (1991)

Doug Aitken, Into the Sun, (1999)


Kaufman, R, ‘Aura, Still’

October, 99 (Winter 2002) pp. 45 - 80 

Neumaier, O. ‘Space, Time, Video, Viola’ in C. Townsend (ed.) The Art of Bill Viola (London: Thames & Hudson, 2004)

Townsend, C. ‘In My Secret Life: Self, Space and World in Room for St. John of the Cross, 1983’ in C. Townsend (ed.) The Art of Bill Viola (London: Thames & Hudson, 2004)

Week eight: Video as film 

One aspect of the popularity of video as a medium within the gallery and museum space has been the introduction of film projection alongside it – though as often both video and film are now projected from DVD with an indifference towards the projective specificities of film in particular. This seminar examines the work of a number of contemporary artist filmmakers, whose use of film is radically different from the use made of video by other artists, but who are, nonetheless, often understood to be operating under a similar rubric.


Tacita Dean: Disappearance at Sea (1996)

T.J. Wilcox, The Escape of Marie Antoinette (1999); Stephen Tennant Homage (2000)

William Kentridge, ‘Six Drawings for Projection’ (1990 – 1996) (Johannesberg, 2nd Greatest City After Paris, 1989; Monument, 1990; Mine, 1991; Sobriety, Obesity and Growing Cold, 1991; Felix in Exile, 1994; History of the Main Complaint, 1996)


Krauss, R. ‘The Rock: William Kentridge’s Drawings for Projection’ October, 92 (Spring 2002) pp. 3 – 35.

Week nine: Installation's critique of cinema and spectacle

Even as it has become the dominant medium for institutional art, video (and art-film) provides the possibility for a critique of the ideology of spectacle and the cultural/entertainment institutions of late-capitalism. This seminar looks at the way in which artists’ uses of time, space and the body challenge ideologically naturalised modes of viewing, and open new opportunities for spectatorship. In particular the seminar introduces the concept of “inchoate space” – a fluxive, transitive relation between space, image and spectator – that undermines the fixed relation of spectator to screen that increasingly underpins much video installation as it does narrative cinema.


Pierre Huyghe, Remake, (1994-95)

Candice Brietz, Alien, http://flash.rwe.com/global/candice%20Breitz/candicebreitz.html|

John Wood and Paul Harrison, Hundredweight, (2003)

Monika Oechsler, Johari’s Window, (2001) [excerpt of installation view]

Monika Oechsler, Schauspiel, (2003) [excerpt of installation view]


Bratu-Hansen, M., ‘Room-for-Play: Benjamin’s Gamble with Cinema’, October, 109 (Summer 2004) pp. 3 – 45

Townsend, C. ‘The Correspondence of Fragments: Time, Space and Subjectivity in Monika Oechsler’s Video Installations’ in Monika Oechsler: Parallel Worlds, (Lentos Kunstmuseum, Linz, 2005)

Townsend, C. New Art from London, (London: Thames & Hudson, 2006) [Chapter 3]

Week ten: Contemporary video's relation to mass culture

In this seminar we look at the ways in which contemporary video practice relates to mass culture as both influence and critique. Clearly the pop video is one source of inspiration here – manifested in Tracey Emin’s Riding for a Fall and the work of Pipilotti Rist, but we also look at the way in which the formal and narrative properties of TV genres inform the sophisticated visual aesthetic of the Finnish artist Eija-Lissa Ahtila. By way of contrast, we examine the hilarious but sophisticated blend of appropriation, parody and homage to TV culture that is Alex Bag’s early work, and Mark Leckey’s ‘documentary’ on club cultures as an expression of working class subjectivities.


Alex Bag Spring ’94, (1994)

Mark Leckey, Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, (1999)

Tracey Emin Riding for a Fall, (1999)

Eija-Lissa Ahtila Consolation Service, (2000)

Pipilotti Rist, You Called Me Jacky, (1990)

Pipilotti Rist, I’m a Victim of this Song, (1995)


Healy, L. ‘We Love You, Tracey: Pop-Cultural Strategies in Tracey Emin’s Videos’ in Merck, M. & Townsend, C. (eds.) The Art of Tracey Emin (London: Thames & Hudson, 2002).

Week eleven: Video and relational aesthetics 

For our final week we move to a particular and contemporary issue within art in general and video practice in particulthar – what has become known as relational aesthetics, or the creation of projects in which the artist creates work that depend upon their relation to strangers in the audience, and where video may be no more than documentation, or may be part of the larger project. Central to this debate is the work of the French curator Nicolas Bourriaud, but we spend a good deal of time looking at those artists he claims for relational aesthetics (especially Pierre Huyghe) and at critical responses to Bourriaud’s ideas.


Pierre Huyghe, Casting, (1995)

Pierre Huyghe, Streamside Day Follies (2003)


Baker, T. ‘An Interview with Pierre Huyghe’ October, 110 (Fall 2004), pp. 80 -106

Bishop, C. ‘Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics’, October, 110 (Fall 2004), pp. 51 - 79

Bourriaud, N. ‘Relational Form’ and ‘Screen Relations’ in Relational Aesthetics, (S. Pleasance & F. Woods, trans.) (Paris: Les presses du réel, 2002) pp. 11-24; 65-78

McDonough, T. ‘No Ghost’, October, 110 (Fall 2004) pp. 107 - 130


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