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AVF '87 - Terrorising the Code - Recent U.S. Video

2 September 198727 September 1987

The Australian Video Festival, 1987.

Terrorising the Code - Recent U.S. Video, Australian Centre For Photography

2 Sept-27 Sept 1987

Curated by Sally Couacaud

Every week night at 12pm 'Good Morning America', beamed direct courtesy of your friendly satellite company, closes the day for those Sydney-siders watching Channel 7.

Channel 9's network logo constructs the Australian topology as a computer grid clone of John Carpenter's Escape from New York before giving us the latest exploits from Sydney's outer outer-west, Dallas and Miami.

Thus Australia, where the landscape for artists and writers has always been a major concern and on the whole represented as alien, other and exotic, has now become an integral part of what Paul Virilio calls the 'tele-topologie' - a television continuum which abolishes geographic and cultural distances, which effaces the notion of the antipodes and renders Australians endotic, not exotic.1

Yet if this can be seen as a concretization of Marshall McLuhan's 'global village', it is as well to remember the inherently one-way nature of television, not only in its continuous flow or distribution of content, but also in the way it shapes the very form and structure of that content - what Jean Baudrillard has called the 'terrorism of the code'.2

Moreover, as computer-generated imagery, and information storage and retrieval systems proliferate and interface with television the code as an agent of manipulation and control becomes even more pervasive.

Virilio sees the inhabitants of global tele-topologie reduced to a state of 'polar inertia'- what Baudrillard has termed the 'silent majority', rendered inert, lumpen and stoic by the terrorism of the televisual code.

Yet deep within the heart of the empire hope is at hand. Isolated sites of resistance, individual and collective, are working to disrupt and open up the homogenised structure of the code. Neither cohesive nor united by shared canons or methods, these video terrorists are characterised more by their differences than by their unities.

This exhibition of recent U.S. video aims to show the breadth and diversity of these sites of resistance, and in particular, the way in which the look, language and technology that video shares with its 'awful parent', television, is being utilised by many of these artists.

Some artists employ strategies of appropriation and deconstruction to expose the political and economic manipulation in television and cybernetics as a whole, others create expanded forms of video-television by incorporating music, dance and theatre with video technology. Some utilise the language and syntax of television to create new narratives, others explore and expose the very artifice and construction of codes, of signs and semiotic systems, of representation.

Some extend the formal properties of the video medium itself, preferring to create codes of resonance and poetics, almost like an 'aesthetics of silence' - deep spaces compared to television's shallow, saturated surface.

This exhibition developed out of a research grant from the Visual Ads Board of the Australia Council, and has been made possible by assistance from the Australian Film Commission, OANTAS, Eurovision and E.& J. Pardon.

The selection of work was chosen after many hours of video viewing. I would like to thank the following individuals and organisations in the U.S. for their assistance and advice in this process:

Anne Bray - LACE,
Barbara London - Museum of Modern Art,
John Hanhardt - Whitney Museum of Modern Art,
Amy Taubin and Robin O'Hara - The Kitchen,
Lori Zippay and Bob Beck - Electronic Arts Intermix,
Chris Hill - Hallwalls,
Christine Tamblyn,
A special thanks to Carter Hodgkin for a corner in her studio in New York, a precious gift indeed, and to Sara Hornbacher, instant friend and mentor.

Sally Couacaud

All, to return once more to Baudrillard, in their exploration and critiques of video 'bring together the spectacular and the challenge at their highest points'.3


Gretchen Bender.

Martha Rosler

1Paul Virilio, L'Espace Critique, Christian Bourgeois Editeur Paris 1984.

2Jean Baudrillard, “In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities”, trans. Foss, Patton and Johnston. Semiotext(e) New York 1983.


Other works 

List of Works shown

Gretchen Bender Dumping Core (1984)

Video-performance for multi-channel video and sound. "We run interference patterns in order to perceive structures; in order to transcend them; in order to explore fascisms."
Bender interferes and rearranges the increasingly slick and seductive iconography of corporate logos, commercial television and computer-generated imagery so that it becomes a virtual assault on the viewer, a situation of 'overdrive'.
Dumping Core is computer jargon for the dumping of data from an overloaded computer memory in order to make room for new in put. It is used metaphorically in Bender's project for the situation of artist and viewer - the absorption of massive amounts of information and images in our media-saturated life, our constant dumping and constant accretion of even more; and the need to develop a critical language that can cope with this overload of coded image-information.
Gretchen Bender is one of the guest artists of the 1987 Australian Video Festival.

Max Almy Lost in the Pictures (1985) 43 mins.
Almy describes video/computer paint and animation systems, digital effects and motion control as her "video palette". With this she ?aints" a short experimental fantasy about the seductive rush of electronic imagery.

Robert Ashley Atalanta Strategy (1984/6) 27.46 mins. (Courtesy of The Kitchen.)
The first part of a wider project of new opera-for-television, Atalanta (Acts of God). Ashley's work is at one level a visual/musical reinterpretation of myths about the ancient Greek heroine; and on another, a rambling but densely packed trip through American culture.

Judith Barry Mirage (1986) 16 mins.
A science-fiction Western, Mirage utilizes the device of the "road movie" to tell the story of an American Indian returning home to Texas after the Vietnam War only to find his memory, history and hometown replaced by a tourist historical reconstruction.

Dara Birnbaum Damnation of Faust series [(Courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix)
Evocation (1983) 10 mins.
Will-othe-Wisp (A Deceitful Goal) (1983) 5.40 mins.
Charming Landscape (1987) 6.30 mins.
Birnbaum's work aims to isolate and create an "individual voice" within a mass media dominated society. Moving on from her earlier appropriation of TV imagery she seeks to construct new strategies of representation and meaning. 

David Blair Wax or the Discovery of Television among the Bees (1986) Black and white, 5 mins.
A trailer for an on-going full-length production, Wax is an experimental narrative concerning the adventures of bee scientist and journalist A.Z. Abushady.

Hans Breder My TV Dictionary (1986) 19 mins.
Appropriating Hollywood B movie footage from television re-runs, Breder isolates and recontextualises specific elements to highlight the sexism and violence that is so often viewing fare in the TV living room.

David Daniels Buzzbox (1986) 15 mins. (Courtesy of The Kitchen)
Animated TV frenzy . . . "the ultimate 20th-century Media Hemorrhage, spewing up-chuck icons and frothing hi-resolution diarrhoea in a flutter of epileptic terror" (National Video Festival)

Juan Downey Information Withheld (1983) 28 mins.
"We are a culture of quotation" says Downey. His investigation of forms and signifiers, word and image, treks across countries and cultures in a non-linear look at the ambiguity and subjectivity of meaning.

Juan Downey J.S. Bach (1986) 28 mins.
This latest work in Downey's made-for-TV Thinking Eye series about culture as instrument of active thought uses tripartite structures of narration and image as metaphors for the structure of Bach's music.

Ken Feingold The Double (1984) 29 mins.
A barrage of fragments of cultural information snatched and spliced from television footage; the image as sign; spoken text doubling yet not replicating the image; video as thought process.

Jeanne C. Finley Risks of Individual Actions (1985) 29 mins.
Research by the medical team Cohen and Lee has determined how much life expectancy is lost due to various actions - e.g. a calorie-rich dessert takes 50 minutes off your life expectancy, while the loss of a loved one takes 40 days. TV personality Dr. David Watts, Mozart and Frank Sinatra star in this fictional illustration of factual episodes.

Mark Gilliland Chernobyl West (1986) 6.50 mins.
“Imagine what could happen if a nuclear accident like Chernobyl were to happen in your backyard . . ." Re-siting Chernobyl in the rural tranquility of up-state New York, Gilliland's experimental docu-drama blurs distinctions between the imaginary and the real.

Gary Hill Ura Aru (the backside exists) (1985) 28mins.
An exploration of the phonetic and visual forms of language, URA ARU is an intricate, origami-like construction of language, image and time. Inspired by the notion of acoustic and written palindromes, Hill uses the subtext of a Noh play and the technology of video to excavate and exorcise the "other" side.

Jenny Holzer Sign on a Truck (1984) 5 mins. (Courtesy of Video Data Bank.)
Documentation of Hoizer's 1984 presidential election project, in which a truck was transformed into a 13x18 foot street-video-spectacle. An agitprop intervention of live interviews, and artists' statements and videos.

Ken Kobland Flaubert Dreams of Travel (1986) 20 mins. (Courtesy of The Kitchen.)
Shot during the rehearsal of the Wooster Group's new piece for theatre (based on Gustave Flaubert's The Temptation of St. Anthony), this anachronistically arranged work explores the "altered states" of perception induced by religion, art and drugs.

Tony Labat Mayami Between Cut and Action (1986) 14 mins.
The temporal dislocation or space between "cut" and "action" is explored in this rehearsal of a drug-related murder, featuring performance artist, Winston Tong.

Ardelle Lister Hell (1984) 17 mins.
Based on Dante's Inferno. Hell fast-forwards us into a contemporary hell of information storage and retrieval. where souls are stored on disc. Image processing techniques bespeak desire, torture and terminal submission.

Robert Longo 
Bizarre Love Triangle
Peace Sells But Who
Go Boy Go
More excursions into media spectacle and cult artifacts via that most postmodern of the postmodern - the music clip.

Yolanda Lopez When Your Think of Mexico (1986) 28 mins.
Lopez explores the appropriation and stereotyping of Mexican culture by American media corporations, and the consequences for Mexicans living in the U.S.

Paul Nichols How High The Moon (1986) 6 mins.
Nichols is another "TV pirate" who appropriates and reconstructs images from television to pose "other" readings and connections.

Paper Tiger Television
“It's 8.30. Do you know where your brains are?" Each Wednesday night on New York public access television, Paper Tiger, a loose collective of about 25 people, produce a prime-time show consisting of critical readings of the culture industry magazines, news and television. The look of the show is low-budget and non-technocratic. Springing from the "guerilla" video movement of the late 60's and early 70's, the show often details how much each production costs e.g. tapes $60, magic markers $5 ... and utilizes wide-angle shots that sometimes include the production crew in the act of making the show itself.

Paper Tiger Collective Joan Does Dynasty (1986) 30 mins.
"Have I a got theory for you ... if you've this many sky-scrapers, you can forget castration anxiety. In the modern world only power is real pleasure." Noted performance artist Joan Braderman takes a close look at the 'architecture' of the TV soap Dynasty.

Paper Tiger Collective Portrait of a Terrorist (1986) 30 mins.
Ellen Ray and Bill Schaap of Covert Action investigate and expose Reagan's role in the Libyan crisis. The studio is transformed into a jumbo-liner and "official" news is presented as the inflight movie.

Dan Reeves Music for the Kali Yuga (1986) 5 mins. (Courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix.) 
A short, dense work which is concerned with the state of society in the face of information overload and the manipulation of image and language. The title refers to a Hindu text which describes a state of existence devoid of spirituality.

Martha Rosler If Its Too Bad To Be True, It Could Be Disinformation (1985) 17 mins.
Rosler's multilayered, disjunctive use of text, image and voice creates dissenting spaces in television's continuous flow - deconstructed spaces which reveal underlying constructions of ideology and economics in Reagan's neo-conservative America.

John Sanborn and Mary Perillo with David van Tiegham Galaxy (1987) 5 mins.
In creating innovative, experimental and popular work that seeks to breach what Sanborn calls the separate ghettoes of art and television, Sanborn has been acknowledged by Jean Paul Fargier in Cahiers du Cinema as the "unparalleled master of the video medium".

Bill Viola I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like (1986) 90 mins. (Courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix) 
Viola's epic mapping of the inner languages of perception and cognition, of metaphysical connections and resonances, and of collective memories that refer back to the beginnings of consciousness,

Teri Yarbrow Popular Thought (1984) Black and White, 7 mins.
What separates the Radical Right in 30's America from the Moral Majority in the 80's? Yarbrow's experimental social docu-drama suggests that history is in danger of repeating itself.

Teri Yarbrow Atomic Dreams (1986) 5 mins.
Recurring nightmares of nuclear anxiety - the possible future as imaginedlimaged by computer Paintbox graphics, Mirage and digital effects, with music by Marc Ream.

Bruce and Norman Yenemoto Vault (1984) 12 mins.
Traditional cinema and television themes of romance and desire are deconstructed in this ironic, non-linear narrative about a cellist/pole vaulter who falls in love with a cowboylartist. The formal tropes of TV and cinema are employed to illustrate and reiterate their Freudian s u btexts.

All works courtesy the artists except where indicated.