1870s In reaction to the idea that time could be recorded objectively by new technologies, Henri Bergson (1859-1941) posited that time was perception and could be understood by intuition alone. Time was the center of metaphysics and moved (like a river) always forward creating a “flux” that inspired everything with it.
Bergson’s theories inspired many artists to try to capture movement in their work. Among the first to incorporate his ideas was photographer Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), who used multiple cameras to capture motion and created the zoopraxiscope, a device for projecting motion pictures.
1912 Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, a cubist painting of a figure in motion, has its inspiration in Muybridge’s photographs. Duchamp moves the focus of art from “object to concept”—profoundly influencing 20th century artists by allowing the “idea” to be the artwork. In video art, the work exists in time rather than space and Duchamp opened the door for the acceptance of this genre of art.
1960s Artist George Maciunas coined the term “Fluxus” in 1961 during a lecture series at Gallery A/G in New York. The Fluxus movement, which focused on the artist-centered creative process, evinced an attitude of anti-commercialism and anti-high art sensibility. In addition to Maciunas, the international movement’s progenitors included John Cage, Nam June Paik, Joseph Beuys, George Brecht, Yoko Ono, Dick Higgins, and Alison Knowles, among others. Works were often events called “Happenings;” in many cases, the only tangible “product” generated would be film or video documentation.
1965 Electronics company Sony Corporation introduced Portapak, the first generation low-cost, portable, consumer-grade video camera to the U.S. market. Fluxus artist Nam June Paik is credited with being one of the first to purchase a Portapak upon its release. Hours after making his first tapes—of Pope Paul VI’s visit to New York—on his new Sony video camera, Paik shows the footage at Café a Go Go in Greenwich Village, ushering in the age of video art.
1966 Artist Robert Raushenberg and Swedish engineer Billy Klüver found the New York-based Experiments in Art and Technology (EAT) to encourage collaboration between artists and scientists. In October 1966, EAT presents Nine Evenings at New York’s 69th
Regiment Armory, featuring the multi-media performances of John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg, Buckminster Fuller, Gyorgy Kepes and Yvonne Rainer. The performances included the technical element of an electronic modulation system TEEM, composed of portable, electronic units which functioned without cables by remote control.
1969 With the introduction of the Performance Corridor series, Bruce Nauman becomes the first artist to incorporate surveillance and closed-circuit cameras in his installations. The images recorded are simultaneously displayed on a monitor to the viewer, who becomes an actor in the work.
1969 New York City art dealer Howard Wise organizes the exhibition TV as a Creative Medium. The show featured such seminal video works as Wipe Cycle, created by Ira Schneider, a filmmaker, and Frank Gillette, a painter and Nam June Paik’s Participation TV, as well as Paik’s TV Bra for Living Sculpture series with cellist Charlotte Moorman, which were seen for the first time at the Wise exhibit.
1971 After the success of that exhibition, Wise closes his own gallery and establishes the nonprofit organization Electronic Arts Intermix, which continues today to be a major resource for artists’ video and interactive media.
1984 On New Year’s Day, Nam June Paik produces a live art satellite broadcast between Paris, New York, and San Francisco entitled, Good Morning, Mr. Orwell. The message of the project, which included the participation of John Cage, Salvador Dalí, Laurie Anderson, Joseph Beuys, Merce Cunningham, Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky, George Plimpton, and other artists, was to demonstrate that George Orwell's Big Brother hadn't arrived.
mid-1980s The sophistication of the medium allows more complex uses and the creation of immersive environments through the use of large-screen video projection. Artists are able to expand the communication cycle of viewer and media technology beyond the single surveillance mode into more complex loops that include narratives and simulations of altered states of consciousness. They also invite viewers inside the work as active participants to create a transformative experience. Artists of all disciplines and backgrounds begin to incorporate the medium of video art in their work in ways that serve their personal vision. Some artists (Bill Viola, Paul Kos, Bruce Nauman, Vito Acconci) use video as performance art or in installations; others create video to be screened specifically in museums or galleries (Woody and Steina Vasulka, Les Levine, Martha Rosler); still others broadcast their video on television (Bruce and Norman Yonemoto).
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1990s & Widespread advances in digital technology make the medium forward more accessible, allowing many artists to create interactive installations based on video they created or sampled from the visual culture. No longer confined to the television monitor, video environments can take over entire gallery rooms or reach out to viewers beyond the walls of a museum via the World Wide Web.