Ladder-day saints
Ladder-day saints
Video still from Whispering Pines 8 by Shana Moulton

'Video Dada' at UCI is a Vast, Quirky Sampling of the Aesthetic Potential of Video

The Art of Cut-And-Paste

‘Video Dada’ at UCI is quirky and a bit unwieldy, but ultimately does convey the potential of video as a fine-art medium

Since the arrival of the Sony CV-2000 camera/recorder unit in 1965 (weighing in at a trim 66 pounds), artists have been able to use cameras as an extension of their bodies to create video artworks. The “Video Dada” exhibition at UC Irvine’s University Gallery doesn’t include all of the works committed to tape, disc and memory card since then—it only feels like it does.

Seriously, is curator/UC Irvine faculty member Martha Gever trying to short-circuit our collective minds? The sheer multitude of works on display—more than 300 videos—is daunting to say the least. Culled from Gever’s own research, YouTube searches and the recommendations of other artists, the show “surveys the Internet’s amalgamation of popular culture and art, calling into question the difference between the two,“ Gever states in her brochure for the exhibition.

And the show is as stylistically and thematically diverse as it is sprawling, exploring such varied topics as sexuality, politics, drama, feminism, pop culture, animation, multiculturalism and comic relief—the sheer size of the exhibition speaks to the diversity of the medium.

The term “Dada” originated in Zurich in 1916, and the artists in the European movement eschewed the quotidian and capitalist for the nonsensical and thought-provoking. Combining an irreverent disdain for bourgeoisie lifestyle, idiosyncratic art practices and the ability to piss people off, Dada helped to turn art of its era on its head. While Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray were the most-recognized figures in Dada, the best-known woman in the movement was Berlin-based Hannah Höch, whose meticulous, amusing collages combined faceless women and machine parts to create a proto-feminist precursor to our current third wave. From abstract stratification to cut-and-paste iMovie or Final Cut editing, the Höch-inspired methodology of collage is ubiquitous in “Video Dada.”

One post-structuralist working in collage is Shana Moulton, whose surreal Whispering Pines sees the protagonist—Cynthia, a reclusive hypochondriac who searches for solace via New Age self-help devices—making sand mandalas and arranging crystals on a journey into her subconscious. The mannered, droll piece deftly melds a campy combination of form and idea while establishing Moulton’s humorous and sensitive relationship to her craft.

New York magazine called Kalup Linzy a “key figure in a new generation of queer video artists.” Linzy’s videos find the artist in various states of drag in a series of soap opera-inspired pieces called Conversations Wit de Churen, where the artist plays most of the characters and does voice-overs for the others. “Video Dada” features eight of his works, each one trumping the next with elaborate sound-editing technique, maudlin affectation and self-satirical paradigm.

Commissioned by the Long Beach Museum in 1979, Nancy Buchanan’s vintage work These Creatures captures a sequence of sexually stereotyped vignettes. Using saccharine iconography and a didactic male voice-over, this second-wave feminist created the video as “an anti-ad for patriarchal attitudes,” according to a recent REDCAT catalog text, and the age at which the original videotape was transferred to digital media has added a beautiful blue tinge to the witty and political piece.

Two contributions critique the very conduit for many of the videos in the show, the Internet, and delve into issues of piracy and copyright. The band Negativland have been sued twice for copyright infringement, most notoriously for sampling U2, and founding member Mark Hosler will address these issues in a performance at the UCI campus on Feb. 4 (see the Calendar section of this issue). Annika Larsson’s video Pirate shows a gorgeous, slow-motion capture of a protest against a ban on downloading music and videos by the Swedish political Pirate Party, who have since been able to garner two seats in the European parliament.

Other show highlights include LA-based artists Miranda July and Marc Horowitz, and Israeli artists Keren Cytter and Guy Ben-Ner, but not every video in the exhibition warrants the valuable real estate of a place on the wall. Some of the video game-inspired works seem pedestrian and others in the program appear hurriedly made. Still, with a tiny budget, Gever does provide a democratic platform for the display of work. She enlisted fellow UCI professor Yvonne Rainer and some graduate students to reformat the “white cube” aesthetic of the gallery using scholarly texts handwritten in markers on the wall. The scrawled quotes of thinkers like Walter Benjamin and Andrea Fraser create a cohesive milieu for the time-based mash-ups playing on eight screens and four smaller monitors in the room.

Southern California has seen several important group video exhibitions within the last couple years, including “California Video”at the Getty, “Video Journeys” at Cottage Home and “The Best of Loop: Remote Viewing,” currently on view at the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles. This university show doesn’t attempt to surpass these exhibitions, but somehow its quirky mélange of hundreds of time-based works and smart exhibition essay does lift it into their realm.

“Video Dada” At UC Irvine’s University Art Gallery, 712 Arts Plaza, Irvine, (949) 824-9854; Tues.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Through Feb. 6. Free.


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