fig. 1
Vito Acconci

As one of the forms that Australian art assumed in the early 1970s, video perhaps represented the most completely dematerialised kind of post-object work outlined by Donald Brook in his 1969 lecture ‘Flight from the object’.1Donald Brook, Flight From the Object, Power Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Sydney, 1970. While there is, of course, always an object of perception in video work, it is entirely dependent on screen technology for its production and manifestation. Nevertheless, despite the technological difficulty this introduced to art galleries and museums in Australia, a number of important presentations of video art did occur in the early to mid 1970s, including the exhibition Some Recent American Art. Produced by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, this exhibition toured Australia in 1974 and stimulated an early series of acquisitions of American video art by the National Gallery of Victoria, in addition to a number of subsequent presentations of early Australian video at the Gallery.

Through its rapid uptake in New York and other American art centres in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as well as in other places such as the United Kingdom and Germany, video art became a leading means for artists to explore ideas, make and document performances, produce various forms of synthetic abstraction and provide environmental/installation works that allowed immediate and direct audience involvement. At the start of the 1970s video was not greatly advanced in Australia, despite the efforts of experimental filmmakers such as Sydney-based Mick Glasheen and Albie Thoms, and the influence of Arthur and Corinne Cantrill’s VideoCinemaPoetry events in Melbourne in 1971. Then, over the latter half of 1971, Peter Kennedy and Mike Parr – who, along with Tim Johnson had established Inhibodress, an artist-run space in Sydney, in late 1970 – produced a number of performance and art-by-instruction video documents shown at Inhibodress over two evenings in November and December 1971.

Other experimental artists persisted and video began to receive attention. The artists’ collective Bush Video (1973–75) assembled a community cable television network at the Aquarius Festival in Nimbin (May 1973), and on return to Sydney set up a highly experimental video production studio. Over this same period, artist-activists such as Tim Burns and Mitch Johnson – both working out of the Tin Sheds at the University of Sydney – produced some important and provocative work. In late 1973, for example, Burns created the controversial closed-circuit video installation A change of plan for the Recent Australian Art exhibition curated by Frances McCarthy and Daniel Thomas at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.2Frances McCarthy & Daniel Thomas (curators), Recent Australian Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 18 Oct. – 18 Nov. 1973. See also Daniel Thomas, ‘Museum pieces: 3D TV, 1973’, Art and Australia, vol. 41, no. 4, winter 2004, pp. 550–1; and Stephen Jones, Synthetics: Aspects of Art and Technology in Australia, 1956–1975, MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 2011.

Then, in 1974, the Ewing and George Paton Galleries (E&GP), at the Student Union building of the University of Melbourne, began to show video almost regularly. E&GP’s Boxes exhibition (July–August 1974), with a work by Burns called The philosophy of video, was followed by their Events/Structures exhibition (September–October, 1974) which featured video works including Bush Video member Ariel’s documentation of his biofeedback experiments with Philippa Cullen;3Based on the list of installations in the program for Events/Structures. It is known that Ariel was engaged in biofeedback experiments with Philippa Cullen at the Bush Video facilities in Paddington, Sydney, and recorded documentation of these experiments (now missing). another, rather more explosive performance demonstration by Burns entitled For the sake of art, 1974;4For images and a description of the work see Helen Vivian (ed.), When You Think About Art: The Ewing and George Paton Galleries, 1971–2008, Macmillan Art Publishing, Melbourne, p. 33; for further discussion see Elena Galimberti & Matthew Perkins, ‘Historical continuums: video art at the George Paton Gallery’, in Vivian, p. 212. video documentation of Cullen’s Homage to Theremin II, 1972; and Mitch Johnson’s Video feedback participation piece, 1974, a performance within the frame of direct video feedback.5For a description of the work see Galimberti & Perkins, p. 212. In July 1975 Stelarc presented his performance installation Insert/Imprint/Extend, 1975, at E&GP,6Vivian, p. 38. in which video playback of material recorded in Japan formed an important part of the event.

Video rapidly permeated the work of Australian artists active in non-objective art, extending into personal performance, abstraction and synthesis, documentary, documentation and installation. However, for major state institutions such as the NGV, at this time video was still considered a difficult medium to collect, for both curatorial and operational reasons. It was new, neither painting nor sculpture, and was still thought of as something almost ancillary to an artist’s main work. Video was also difficult to exhibit, posing considerable challenges to galleries.7Annette Dixon, the NGV’s curator of European and American Art at that time, has noted: ‘The equipment for showing the American videos was left behind by MoMA. Previously we could only use the English PAL, which was not adaptable’. (Dixon, notes in a letter to the author, 12 March 2012). Even then, much of the video equipment that was available was, operationally, somewhat unreliable and there were no means of setting the work up to play unattended in the gallery. Despite some of the videotape players having auto-rewind (such as the early U-matic VCRs), unless the program exactly filled the length of the tape there would be long periods of black during play each cycle. With ½-inch open reel videotape, which was the format most artists had access to here until around 1976, there was no available auto-rewind function and each play cycle of the tape had to be manually started. As exhibitions such as Some Recent American Art appeared, however, curatorial resistance began to break down, since many of the tapes were by major artists, such as Vito Acconci, for whom video was a primary medium.

Some Recent American Art, selected by MoMA curator Jennifer Licht, was the Australian art audience’s first exposure to American video art.8The collection toured Australia and New Zealand from Feb. to Nov. 1974, going first to the NGV, Melbourne (12 Feb. – 10 March), then to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (5 April – 5 May), the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide (31 May – 30 June) – where a campaign accusing the show of being a part of recent American cultural imperialism was brought against it – then to the West Australian Art Gallery, Perth (26 July – 21 Aug.), and finally the City of Auckland Gallery, New Zealand (14 Oct. 14 – 17 Nov.). There are actually two different published sets of dates and lists of cities to which the exhibition travelled. One set (Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond, European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870–1970 in the Australian National Gallery, 1992, p. 398) has the tour starting at the NGV in Dec. 1973 and also going to the Queensland Art Gallery, whereas the other (‘John Baldessari: biography’, Company, <http://www.welcometocompany.com/sites/default/files/cv_john_baldessari.pdf>, accessed March 2012) is consistent with the dates of newspaper reviews of the exhibition and does not include Queensland Art Gallery. Because the exhibition focused on Minimalism and the art of ideas – and as such echoed many of the tenets of Brook’s notion of the post-object – it raised considerable criticism and protest from some artists in Australia. The show’s critics were led by Brian Medlin, Professor of Philosophy at Flinders University, Adelaide, and trenchant critic of the United States’ war in Vietnam and its export of corporate capitalism. It was Medlin who, during the Adelaide showing of Some Recent American Art,9Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 31 May – 30 June 1974. penned the most vehement public criticism of the collection for the Contemporary Art Society of South Australia’s Broadsheet, in which he argued that the exhibition represented an elitist ‘art for art’s sake’ that was largely self-referential and ‘a kind of communication that is only about its own mode of communication [that] can communicate nothing about anything (including itself)’, thus serving only American corporate capitalism10Brian Medlin, ‘Cultural imperialism’, CAS Broadsheet, vol. 4, no. 3, Sept. 1974, and reprinted in Broadsheet: Contemporary Visual Art + Culture, vol. 40, no. 4, 2011, p. 265. and ‘confirm[ing] the “cultivated” in their elitism and hence in their enmity to the mass of human beings’.11ibid.

Some Recent American Art featured (among paintings, sculptures and installations by artists including Agnes Martin, Brice Marden, Donald Judd, Eva Hesse, Dan Flavin, Robert Irwin, Joseph Kosuth, Keith Sonnier and Carl Andre) videotapes by Acconci, John Baldessari, Robert Morris, Bruce Nauman, Richard Serra, Keith Sonnier, William Wegman, Lawrence Weiner and Linda Benglis. In the show’s catalogue Licht noted:

The medium of video tape lends itself ideally to intimate, self-reflexive examination for [the purposes of] documentation or record of actions and events … Its proper function as broadcasting agent is also exploited, and the formal possibilities of this still technologically developing medium are so far-reaching as to be not yet fully assessed.12Jennifer Licht, Some Recent American Art, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1973. The order of sentences in this quote has been slightly altered so as to capture the main ideas expressed by Licht.

Although Licht was in Melbourne only during the early stages of the exhibition, several of the artists (Sol Lewitt, Yvonne Rainer, Andre,13See John Brown, ‘Peter Cripps: biography’, Oct. 2004, Anna Schwartz Gallery, <http://www.annaschwartzgallery.com/works/exhibitions?artist=52&year=2004&work=1320&exhibition=154&page=1&text=1&c=m/>, accessed March 2012. Cripps was Assistant Curator of exhibitions at NGV at the time of Some Recent American Art.  Acconci and Robert Irwin14See Michael Shannon, ‘If it’s in a gallery it must be art’, The Australian, 16 Feb. 1974, p. 25.) visited Melbourne over its duration. The NGV’s curator of European and American Art after 1800, Annette Dixon, encouraged them to present performances and installations at the Gallery, and notes that ‘the response was terrific’.15Annette Dixon, notes in a letter to the author in response to an early draft of this paper, 12 March 2012. After the exhibition the NGV, led by Dixon, made its first purchases of American video – the first by an Australian museum. Reflecting on these acquisitions, she comments:

I tried to cover different aspects of these early art videos, which often document actions and events, but I was more interested in Minimal art structures and the transition to the use of time as a compositional element. The whole played tape equalling the formal canvas rectangle.16ibid.

Dixon had already been exposed to Pop Art and Minimalism both during her visit to the United States in 1968 and during two years study in Europe, saying that she ‘saw the videos in terms of the expanding [field of] ideas of the late 1960s and 1970s’.17ibid. With encouragement from Leon Paroissien (then director of the Visual Arts Board of the Australian Council for the Arts), Bernice Murphy (then at the Art Gallery of New South Wales) and a modest annual fund (provided by the NGV’s director at the time, Eric Rowlison) ‘to spend on the curator’s recommendation’,18ibid. she purchased fourteen videotapes – many of which were different from those shown in Some Recent American Art – by artists working in the United States.

The works Dixon acquired that were originally included in Some Recent American Art, and purchased from Castelli-Sonnabend in 197419Castelli-Sonnabend Tapes and Films Inc., New York, was established on 12 June, 1974. were: Bruce Nauman’s Art makeup – black, 1967; Sonnier’s TV in TV out, 1972; and William Wegman’s Selected works – reel 3, 1973.  A second group of tapes acquired in 1975 included Acconci’s Pull and Contacts, both 1971 (figs 1 and 2); Richard Serra and Joan Jonas’s Anxious automation, 1971; Jonas’s Vertical roll, 1972 (fig. 3); Baldessari’s The Italian tape, 1974; Peter Campus’s Set of coincidence, 1974; Les Levine’s The ritual, 1973; Roger Welch’s Welch, 1972; and Dennis Oppenheim’s Aspen 2, 1970–73. Later purchases in 1975 included Alan Kaprow’s Rates of exchange, 1975; Terry Fox’s Clutch, 1971, and Children’s tapes, 1974; Linda Benglis’s Now, 1973; Jonas’s Left side right side, 1972 (fig. 4); and Hermine Freed’s Art, herstory, 1974.

The videotapes from this period form part of the earliest and widest exploration of video by artists working in the ‘art of ideas’. New York had become the centre of this new non-objective avant-garde and one of the centres of video making, along with the West Coast of the United States. Many of the artists represented in Some Recent American Art were working in New York and exercising the notion that their use of video did not simply record their performances, but enhanced or expanded the way their performances were experienced; as well as allowing, through installation, the audience to interact with the structure and visual forms that video equipment enabled, and thus to participate in the work as a two-way process that tried to open up the medium to those who had no control over what was programmed for them on television.

At the time, much of the discussion around video art argued that it was an antithesis to television and, in one way or another, would liberate the public and that select group called the ‘art world’ from the one-way transmission and socialisation of commercial television. This was spelt out in Richard Serra’s Television delivers people, 1973, in which he noted that ‘POPULAR ENTERTAINMENT IS BASICALLY PROPAGANDA FOR THE STATUS QUO’, and railed against the way that what people know about their world, on the basis of which they make decisions, is determined by corporate broadcasters.

Video also enabled artists such as Levine and Sonnier to make their own propaganda, and others, including many feminist video artists, to put across socially under-represented but important points of view. It also offered a means to produce painterly works in which high colour and pattern were mixed with live and recorded images using the same equipment as television production studios, coupled with the early video synthesisers of Nam June Paik, Eric Siegel and Steven Beck.20David Dunn (ed.), Eigenwelt der Apparatenwelt: Pioneers of Electronic Art, Ars Electronica, Linz, 1992. See Paik & Abe, p.126; Eric Siegel, p.116; and Steven Beck, p. 122.

In Australia, by 1974 video access centres were beginning to make portable video recording equipment available. Bush Video had established a version of the access model at the 1973 Nimbin Aquarius Festival, and a small number of artists had used video in their performance recordings (Kennedy and Parr at Inhibodress, for example) and installations (Burns and Johnson at the Tin Sheds). The availability of American video work, however, was very restricted in Australia at the time, in part due to the different television standards – NTSC in the United States and PAL in Australia.

In August 1976, the Australia Council assisted a tour by Canadian media artist Les Levine, accompanied by video distributor Anna Canepa, during which Dixon arranged for Levine to install Starry night – a reference to Vincent van Gogh – at the NGV.21Annette Dixon, telephone conversation with the author, 4 Nov. 2011. This was a large, highly self-reflective, Buddhist Kalachakra-style mandala work that did not involve video.

Levine described the installation as being:

also a ritual and it’s about the act of painting. It is a very complicated environment using different kinds of elements and it’s talking about Vincent van Gogh’s way of creating a media image for himself.22Les Levine, interviewed by Asa Wahlquist, Nick Gray & Ian McOrist, in A. M: Arts Melbourne and Art Almanac, vol. 1, no. 3, Sept. 1976, p. 12.

Levine gave talks at the Gallery and at E&GP, where he showed several videotapes, including What the federal government can do for you, 1975, and Advertisement for the artist, 1976.23Vivian, p. 54.

Meanwhile, in 1976 Dixon visited the United States as a member of the MoMA International Visitors Program and made further purchases, including Ant Farm’s Cadillac ranch, 1974, and Media burn, 1975;24Both tapes were purchased through Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI). Juan Downey’s Las Meninas (The maids of honour), 1975; Ed Emshwiller’s Scapemates, 1972; Peter Crown and Bill Etra’s The tube and eye, 1975; Ron Hays and M. T. Thomas’s Space for head and hands, 1976; Dennis Oppenheim’s Bar time, 1975; Peter Campus’s East ended tape, 1976 (fig. 5); John Sturgeon’s Trilogy, comprised of three short videotapes – Shapes from the bone change, 1975, The two of triangles, 1975, and Conjunct, 1976;25This work was also shown in the 1976 Biennale of Sydney. Nam June Paik’s Global groove, 1973;26First shown in Australia in Nam June Paik’s TV Garden as part of John Kaldor’s Art Project no.5: Charlotte Moorman and Nam June Paik at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, April 1976. and Woody and Steina Vasulka’s Program III, 1974.

These purchases represent an important sampling of pioneering New York video art in this early period, covering most of the major names of the time. Dixon’s article ‘Videotapes from New York’, published in the NGV’s 1975 Art Bulletin of Victoria, outlined both the understanding of video that informed her selection and the introduction of video and ‘of film and other extraneous matter’ into contemporary art, citing the collage paintings of Robert Rauschenberg as an example. Dixon argued that: ‘two different notions seem to have merged since 1970 to create the present climate of experiment’, one being the introduction of ‘a physical dialogue between the human body and things’ – which could be seen as one way of thinking about performance art – and another being the use of the sculptural space to encompass the viewer, involving him or her in participation with the object.27Annette Dixon, ‘Videotapes from New York’, Art Bulletin of Victoria 1975, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1975, p. 32.

The videos acquired by Dixon for the NGV were produced within the performance and conceptual art frame of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and it was Minimalism and its variations that interested her.28Annette Dixon, telephone conversation with the author, 4 Nov., 2011. Dixon noted:

For the artists represented, all of whom work in post-conceptual or performance modes involving the human body, objects, photography and language, the video camera and screen are considered simply as another useful aid in handling the anti-materialist body of ideas which can no longer be contained within the boundaries of the self-referential ‘art object’.29Dixon, ‘Videotapes from New York’, p. 32.

Considered in the Australian context, this view coincides with Brook’s notions of the post-object:30See Brook, Flight From the Object. art as explorations of ideas rather than of simple objects in themselves, exhibiting clear social purpose and being no longer unique objects but potentially produced in multiple copies. Dixon concluded her article by commenting that:

Although aesthetic concerns are always present, they are subservient to the idea and to the supporting content which generated each piece. [They involve] a desire for both regeneration and change in patterns of thought which have become habitual, and therefore mechanical.31ibid., p. 33.

It was these notions that drove the consolidation of conceptual art as a primary form in contemporary art, with video among its secondary manifestations.

In the meantime, an exhibition of Australian non-object art curated by Jennifer Phipps and Geoff Burke, titled Performance, Documents, Film, Video, was presented at the NGV from 28 August to 28 September 1975 (figs 6 & 7).32Geoff Burke & Jennifer Phipps (curators), Performance, Documents, Film, Video, National Gallery of Victoria, 28 Aug. – 28 Sept. 1975. The exhibition included performances by Burns (with Judi Stack), Chris Mann and Paul Prendergast. A number of works by conceptual artists, including Ian Burn (Mirror piece, 1967), Mike Parr (150 programs and investigations, 1971–72) and Robert Rooney (A.M. P.M., 1974), were also included in the performance aspect of the show. The documents component included works from Michael Callaghan (Six works, 1974), Aleks Danko (the chair is not a tourist, 1975), John Fisher (Art/Being documentation, 1972–75), Mel Ramsden (A preliminary proposal for the directing of perception, 1969) and an early version of Kennedy’s Introductions, 1974–75. Films shown included Danko and Joan Grounds’ We should call it a living room, 1975, Parr’s Rules and displacement activities 1, 1973–74, Kennedy’s Other than art’s sake, 1973–75, and Kennedy and Parr’s Idea demonstrations, 1972, in which video was an essential aspect, although much of the work was shot on 16 mm film.33For the full list consult Geoff Burke & Jennifer Phipps Performance, Documents, Film, Video, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1975.

Importantly, Performance, Documents, Film, Video was one of the earliest exhibitions of Australian video in a state art gallery. The video works it included were: Bush Video’s Isotape 7, 1973–74; Philippa Cullen’s 24 hour concert, 1974; John Fisher’s Generation(s) doppelgänger, 1975;34This work was shown again at the Post-Object Show, Experimental Art Foundation (EAF), Adelaide, May 1976. Parr’s A statement of theory, 1975; David Perry’s (Utopian Memory Banks present) Fragments from the past, 1973;35Shown again at the Post-Object Show, EAF, Adelaide, May 1976. and Noel Sheridan’s Not waiting, 1973.36Shown again at the Post-Object Show, EAF, Adelaide, May 1976. These videos represent the spectrum of work being made in Australia during this period, spanning performance and its documentation, narrative and image synthesis. Phipps noted in her introductory text that the exhibition was:

not a survey and … is not exhaustive … Most of the works are related to activities … Many pieces find unity in their ephemeral nature. In particular this unity is related to their transience and … their dependence on technological manipulation, especially the manipulation of light.37Phipps, in Burke & Phipps.

In his companion introduction, Burke commented that the works included represent systems of memory, perception and consciousness and that we might ‘view the work as statements by the artists on [our] preoccupation with the reflections of reality rather than “reality itself”’.38Burke, in ibid.

A further nod by the NGV to non-object art came in 1976 with the exhibition Two Contemporary Artists,39National Gallery of Victoria, 6 – 31 Oct. 1976. featuring Kennedy and John Nixon and curated by Phipps. Kennedy’s installation Introductions, 1974–76, consisted of the productions and documentation of an experiment in social engagement carried out by the artist. It comprised black-and-white video ‘documentaries made by members of [four suburban recreational clubs]’ involved in the project, colour videotapes that represented responses to a questionnaire about why members had joined their particular clubs, as well as watercolour paintings by Kennedy.

As mentioned, many of the American videotapes acquired in 1974 were shown again at the NGV in mid 1977. By this time video had come to be understood not simply as an adjunct to post-object and performance art but as an art form in itself. This development was further assisted by, among other things, Warren Burt and Kira Perov’s Video Spectrum, a five-day season at the La Trobe University Student Union in September 1977, during which a wide variety of tapes from both Australian and American artists were shown. The American video artist destined to become one of the leading exponents of the field, Bill Viola, visited for the show and presented a number of his beautifully executed early pieces, such as the Red tape collection, 1975 (including the work Return), and the Four songs collection, 1976 (including The space between the teeth).

The following year (1978) at the NGV, the Gallery’s Education Services department and external curator Robert Newton, of the Centre for the Study of Educational Communication and Media at La Trobe University, presented Plug in and Switch on (fig. 8), a three-week season of Australian video environments and videotapes.40Plug in and Switch on, National Gallery of Victoria 14 Nov. – 3 Dec. 1978. The show was intended to bring the public to a greater

awareness of [the use of] television technology outside the commercial domain and provide a technological experience which presents to the teacher, student and community exciting mediums of communication and creativity.41Robert Newton, Plug in and Switch on, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1977.

The exhibition included two video installations or ‘environments’ – as Newton thought of them, insofar as they contained the spectator within the work’s environs – and a third work in which an array of monitors provided a complex look at a natural process.

Two of the environments were by Robert Randall and Frank Bendinelli. The first, Jungle safari, 1978, consisted of a ‘maze where light, sound texture and time will be used to intensify the psychological impact of the environment and where the animals are “in colour video monitors”’.42‘Video Installations at the NGV’, Access Video, vol. 4, no. 4, spring 1978, p. 8. The second, Identity puzzle, 1978, was intended to challenge

the viewer’s perception of himself and the notion of reality by the manipulation of the appearance of his image. The viewer/subject will be visually dissected and then amusingly reconstructed by the use of mirrors, pre-recorded video tape, photographs and 12 video monitors.43ibid.

In both works, as Stephen Goddard noted in his review of the exhibition, ‘there is something of an attempt to free the viewer from the confines of the conventional viewing situation’.44Stephen Goddard, ‘Plug in and switch on’, Access Video, vol. 5, no. 1, summer, 1979, pp. 32–4. In Identity puzzle, images of viewers – captured via discreetly placed video cameras and presented on three-level monitor stacks – were juxtaposed with popular culture heroes to seduce (as in those other galleries: the department stores) viewers into shopping for new identities.

The third, Patricia Milward-Bason’s installation Metamorphoses of an insect, 1978, was more of a video sculpture that utilised a hexagonal arrangement of video monitors. It did not attempt to contain the viewer but rather to emulate an insect’s mosaic vision through the hexagonal array and ‘through delay and feedback, [with] a 12 minute colour sequence depicting the stages of an insect’s metamorphosis’.45ibid. The videotapes presented during Plug in and Switch on included works by Warren Burt, Robert Randall and Frank Bendinelli, Malcolm Ellis and Robert Pollock, and the author of this article, plus selections of works from the Video Access Centres and works by students from several Melbourne tertiary colleges.

Plug in and Switch on was intended to introduce a younger audience to the possibilities of video technology, and to encourage experimentation with and critical analysis of, popular television, particularly through demonstrating that the non-expert could actually make their own programs and ‘find new styles [of production] appropriate to tools and the needs of the audience.’46Newton, pp. 5–7. Artists in the show, in the words of Les Levine, were ‘trying to use TV to express art ideas instead of simply to sell products … [and] many of the ideas in artists’ videotapes are far more interesting than broadcast TV’.47Les Levine, quoted in ibid.

Video art in Australia, therefore, appears to have gone through three identifiable stages. In the first stage, video was very much associated with the post-object framework and was largely something that established artists produced as documentation of their performances or as an adjunct to their already established oeuvres. In the second stage, video became more or less an independent medium, largely prefigured by Nam June Paik’s approach. At this stage, from the late 1970s to the mid 1990s, video gained an independent position and artists became recognised specifically as ‘video-artists’, having established themselves primarily with video works. In its third stage during the 1990s, video was displaced by interactive CD-ROM and similar computer-based approaches to the screen image. When it began to reappear in its own right again, video had leant towards the narrative form, becoming almost a medium of cinema; ranging from the video essay through to the preponderance of narrative video and large-scale multi-screen video installations (almost a form of ‘expanded cinema’) we witness today, which through oblique referencing present important narratives on matters such, for example, as recent ecological/political conditions.48With particular reference to Susan Norrie’s Undertow, 2002, and Havoc, 2007.

Similarly, within the American avant-garde art world, despite the work of Nam June Paik – which generally attacked and reconfigured the structure and technology of television, thereby rendering it video art – video began as a medium for the documentation of already established artists’ performance works. Outside this productive and significant, albeit narrow, framework, video art was seen as a medium for questioning the nature of the ‘profoundly … asymmetric’ social relations of one-way broadcast television,49Paraphrased from David Antin, ‘Video: the distinctive features of the medium’, in Suzanne Delahunty (ed.), Video Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1975. and for making it accessible to a broader range of people (perhaps not very successfully), as promoted by the journal Radical Software50Radical Software was published by the Raindance Corporation, New York, between 1970 and 1974. For more information see <http://www.radicalsoftware.org/e/index.html>. and collectives such as the VideoFreex.51See <http://videofreex.com/>. A similar position was adopted in Britain by the collective TVX in the late 1960s,52See <http://www.scanlines.net/object/tvx-uk>. and in Australia by Albie Thoms in 1971 and Bush Video at Nimbin in 1973.53Stephen Jones, Synthetics: Aspects of Art & Technology in Australia, 1956–1975, MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 2011.

The effect of the videotapes included in Some Recent American Art, and the similar collection acquired for the NGV by Annette Dixon in the short period thereafter, was that, at the institutional level in Australia, video was initially understood as a conceptual art medium; one in which the exploration of an idea could be pursued and represented over time, either through the video-enhanced recording of a performance, or through image compositing and the appropriation of broadcast television images. The curatorial understanding of video in Australia only began to change as works that were not simply performance documents were made. As discussed, the first examples of these more expanded works appeared in the 1975 NGV exhibition Performance, Documents, Film, Video. To a large extent, the new direction of these works grew out of the experimental visual synthesis works of Bush Video, Tim Burns’s wry and provocative early video installations and sculptures made over 1973–74, and the acceptance within E&GP of works based in a wider range of ideas; followed later in the work of Robert Randall and Frank Bendinelli shown in the 1978 NGV exhibition Plug in and Switch on.

Perhaps the more crucial shift in video’s dimensions, however, came with the output of Melbourne’s La Trobe University Music Department studio and the visual synthesis work of Warren Burt54John Jenkins, ‘Warren Burt’, 2001, New Music Articles, <http://www.rainerlinz.net/NMA/22CAC/burt.html>, accessed March 2012. and David Chesworth,55John Jenkins, ‘David Chesworth’, 2001, New Music Articles,
<http://www.rainerlinz.net/NMA/22CAC/chesworth.html>, accessed March 2012.
among a small group of others. Here the idea that video could also have a musical function and be part of a new kind of musical performance took off; largely represented by the work of artists associated with the Clifton Hill Community Music Centre in Melbourne, and of those included in the NGV’s Plug in and Switch on. Video’s new dimensions were, in effect, abstraction and installation. It was as though the medium rediscovered the painterly at the same time as it realised the potential of its closed-circuit nature and immediacy: its multiple layers of memory becoming evident when used in installation, when viewers could see and reflect upon their presence in the image. Installation accorded video a more sculptural form at the same time that it turned the new medium inside out. Rather than having to walk around a three-dimensional object, the audience could be enclosed within it, either physically or in an early kind of virtual manner; as in, for example, Burns’s A change of plan, 1973, shown at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Video received its greatest initial support in Australia in the mid 1970s through institutions such as the NGV, the Ewing and George Paton Galleries, and the Video Access Network, as well as through exhibitions such as the 1976 Biennale of Sydney. While the curatorial notion of video within exhibiting institutions was initially narrow – largely the result of work available at the time – it slowly expanded to include the considerably wider range of dimensions in video making that emerged later in the decade.

Stephen Jones, video artist, curator, author of Synthetics: Aspects of Art and Technology in Australia 1956–1975 (in 2013).

Notes

1        Donald Brook, Flight From the Object, Power Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Sydney, 1970.

2        Frances McCarthy & Daniel Thomas (curators), Recent Australian Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 18 Oct. – 18 Nov. 1973. See also Daniel Thomas, ‘Museum pieces: 3D TV, 1973’, Art and Australia, vol. 41, no. 4, winter 2004, pp. 550–1; and Stephen Jones, Synthetics: Aspects of Art and Technology in Australia, 1956–1975, MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 2011.

3        Based on the list of installations in the program for Events/Structures. It is known that Ariel was engaged in biofeedback experiments with Philippa Cullen at the Bush Video facilities in Paddington, Sydney, and recorded documentation of these experiments (now missing).

4        For images and a description of the work see Helen Vivian (ed.), When You Think About Art: The Ewing and George Paton Galleries, 1971–2008, Macmillan Art Publishing, Melbourne, p. 33; for further discussion see Elena Galimberti & Matthew Perkins, ‘Historical continuums: video art at the George Paton Gallery’, in Vivian, p. 212.

5        For a description of the work see Galimberti & Perkins, p. 212.

6        Vivian, p. 38.

7        Annette Dixon, the NGV’s curator of European and American Art at that time, has noted: ‘The equipment for showing the American videos was left behind by MoMA. Previously we could only use the English PAL, which was not adaptable’. (Dixon, notes in a letter to the author, 12 March 2012). Even then, much of the video equipment that was available was, operationally, somewhat unreliable and there were no means of setting the work up to play unattended in the gallery. Despite some of the videotape players having auto-rewind (such as the early U-matic VCRs), unless the program exactly filled the length of the tape there would be long periods of black during play each cycle. With ½-inch open reel videotape, which was the format most artists had access to here until around 1976, there was no available auto-rewind function and each play cycle of the tape had to be manually started.

8        The collection toured Australia and New Zealand from Feb. to Nov. 1974, going first to the NGV, Melbourne (12 Feb. – 10 March), then to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (5 April – 5 May), the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide (31 May – 30 June) – where a campaign accusing the show of being a part of recent American cultural imperialism was brought against it – then to the West Australian Art Gallery, Perth (26 July – 21 Aug.), and finally the City of Auckland Gallery, New Zealand (14 Oct. 14 – 17 Nov.). There are actually two different published sets of dates and lists of cities to which the exhibition travelled. One set (Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond, European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870–1970 in the Australian National Gallery, 1992, p. 398) has the tour starting at the NGV in Dec. 1973 and also going to the Queensland Art Gallery, whereas the other (‘John Baldessari: biography’, Company, <http://www.welcometocompany.com/sites/default/files/cv_john_baldessari.pdf>,  accessed March 2012) is consistent with the dates of newspaper reviews of the exhibition and does not include Queensland Art Gallery.

9        Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 31 May – 30 June 1974.

10      Brian Medlin, ‘Cultural imperialism’, CAS Broadsheet, vol. 4, no. 3, Sept. 1974, and reprinted in Broadsheet: Contemporary Visual Art + Culture, vol. 40, no. 4, 2011, p. 265.

11      ibid.

12      Jennifer Licht, Some Recent American Art, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1973. The order of sentences in this quote
has been slightly altered so as to capture the main ideas expressed by Licht.

13      See John Brown, ‘Peter Cripps: biography’, Oct. 2004, Anna Schwartz Gallery, <http://www.annaschwartzgallery.com/works/exhibitions?artist=52&year=2004&work=1320&exhibition=154&page=1&text=1&c=m/>, accessed March 2012. Cripps was Assistant Curator of exhibitions at NGV at the time of Some Recent American Art.

14      See Michael Shannon, ‘If it’s in a gallery it must be art’, The Australian, 16 Feb. 1974, p. 25.

15      Annette Dixon, notes in a letter to the author in response to an early draft of this paper, 12 March 2012.

16      ibid.

17      ibid.

18      ibid.

19      Castelli-Sonnabend Tapes and Films Inc., New York, was established on 12 June, 1974.

20      David Dunn (ed.), Eigenwelt der Apparatenwelt: Pioneers of Electronic Art, Ars Electronica, Linz, 1992. See Paik & Abe, p.126; Eric Siegel, p.116; and Steven Beck, p. 122.

21      Annette Dixon, telephone conversation with the author, 4 Nov. 2011.

22      Les Levine, interviewed by Asa Wahlquist, Nick Gray & Ian McOrist, in A. M: Arts Melbourne and Art Almanac, vol. 1, no. 3, Sept. 1976, p. 12.

23      Vivian, p. 54.

24      Both tapes were purchased through Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI).

25      This work was also shown in the 1976 Biennale of Sydney.

26      First shown in Australia in Nam June Paik’s TV Garden as part of John Kaldor’s Art Project no.5: Charlotte Moorman and Nam June Paik at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, April 1976.

27      Annette Dixon, ‘Videotapes from New York’, Art Bulletin of Victoria 1975, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1975, p. 32.

28      Annette Dixon, telephone conversation with the author, 4 Nov., 2011.

29      Dixon, ‘Videotapes from New York’, p. 32.

30      See Brook, Flight From the Object.

31      ibid., p. 33.

32      Geoff Burke & Jennifer Phipps (curators), Performance, Documents, Film, Video, National Gallery of Victoria, 28 Aug. – 28 Sept. 1975.

33      For the full list consult Geoff Burke & Jennifer Phipps Performance, Documents, Film, Video, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1975.

34      This work was shown again at the Post-Object Show, Experimental Art Foundation (EAF), Adelaide, May 1976.

35      Shown again at the Post-Object Show, EAF, Adelaide, May 1976.

36      Shown again at the Post-Object Show, EAF, Adelaide, May 1976.

37      Phipps, in Burke & Phipps.

38      Burke, in ibid.

39      National Gallery of Victoria, 6 – 31 Oct. 1976.

40      Plug in and Switch on, National Gallery of Victoria 14 Nov. – 3 Dec. 1978.

41      Robert Newton, Plug in and Switch on, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1977.

42      ‘Video Installations at the NGV’, Access Video, vol. 4, no. 4, spring 1978, p. 8.

43      ibid.

44      Stephen Goddard, ‘Plug in and switch on’, Access Video, vol. 5, no. 1, summer, 1979, pp. 32–4.

45      ibid.

46      Newton, pp. 5–7.

47      Les Levine, quoted in ibid.

48      With particular reference to Susan Norrie’s Undertow, 2002, and Havoc, 2007.

49      Paraphrased from David Antin, ‘Video: the distinctive features of the medium’, in Suzanne Delahunty (ed.), Video Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1975.

50      Radical Software was published by the Raindance Corporation, New York, between 1970 and 1974. For more information see <http://www.radicalsoftware.org/e/index.html>.

51      See <http://videofreex.com/>.

52      See <http://www.scanlines.net/object/tvx-uk>.

53      Stephen Jones, Synthetics: Aspects of Art & Technology in Australia, 1956–1975, MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 2011.

54      John Jenkins, ‘Warren Burt’, 2001, New Music Articles, <http://www.rainerlinz.net/NMA/22CAC/burt.html>, accessed March 2012.

55      John Jenkins, ‘David Chesworth’, 2001, New Music Articles,
 <http://www.rainerlinz.net/NMA/22CAC/chesworth.html>, accessed March 2012.