Video History

Passage to the North

Passage To The North is a companion film to Plowman's Lunch. It is set in the same location as Altered To Suit, and some of the players appear for a second or third time—Coosje van Bruggan and Kirsten Vibeke Thueson were in A Second Quarter; Thueson and Michael Shamberg were in Altered To Suit. Although there does not seem to be a relationship between the roles each has played from movie to movie, there are some similarities in the situations these characters find themselves in.

Perfect Leader

A satire of the political television spot, Perfect Leader shows that ideology is the product and power is the payoff. The process of political imagemaking and the marketing of a candidate is revealed, as an omnipotent computer manufactures the perfect candidate, offering up three political types: Mr. Nice Guy, an evangelist, and an Orwellian Big Brother. Behind the candidates, symbols of political promises quickly degenerate into icons of oppression and nuclear war.

Lawrence Weiner, Plowman's Lunch

Plowman's Lunch is called a documentary because its intent was to explore actual occurrences—be these the building of the work, or what befalls the players. It still uses an open form, but the characters are more developed; they have "names," and some of the scenes were truly dangerous for them to produce. As in the other films (with the exception of Done To) there is a nucleus of three characters—two women (Boris and Jamiee), and one man (Steentje, a tranvestite/hermaphrodite). The music, composed expressly for the piece, is harmonious with its developments.


Poison Ivy is an energetic activist response to conservative ideologies and their ‘Contract On America’.

Pop-Pop Video: General Hospital/Olympic Women Speed Skate

The "cross-over" in Olympic Women Speed Skating is juxtaposed against General Hospital's whites in reverse angle shots. A couple tries disparagingly to reach an understanding. Skaters continuously return to the starting line. Frustration and exertion combine with originally scored soundtracks of disco, rock, and jazz.

Pop-Pop Video: Kojak/Wang

Pop-Pop Video: Kojak/Wang takes a shootout from Kojak and extends the shot and counter-shot into a potentially endless battle. In the original TV fragment, images, gestures and actions rebound off one another like the echoes of repeated bursts of gunfire. Birnbaum compares gunfire with the beams of laser light from a computer in a Wang commercial, connecting destruction and violence with the products of advancing technology.

Primal Scenes

Over grainy, black and white images of a woman giving birth, Montano reads the story of a nun’s sexual self-discovery—recounting Sister Joan’s growing awareness of her body’s sensuousness and sexuality. Primal Scenes is an excellent example of women’s erotica, focusing on a woman’s experience of her body as both sexually powerful and deeply mysterious.


After seeing an installation of Steina’s Machine Vision, involving mechanized cameras moving to pre-programmed patterns, sculptor Bradford Smith suggested that his work be used as the subject of a video investigation. Slowly panning over the encrusted surfaces of the sculptures, Steina’s camera records a fantastic landscape of twisted figures and gruesome armor. The varying speed, orientation, and distortion of the images transforms the three-dimensional sculptures into a visceral four-dimensional experience.


This extraordinary performance carries a wealth of associative meanings in the sexual dynamics of privacy and power -- man and woman pitted against each other in a struggle for mental and physical control.

 "In Pryings, one of his earliest and least verbal tapes, the artist is seen trying to force open and gain entry into any and all of the orifices of a woman's face. His persistence outlasts the running time of the tape, as does the persistence of the woman under attack, who manages to persevere in her attempt to guard her metaphysical privacy."

Quad Suite (Six Vibrations for Agnes Martin, Hebes Grande...

Capitalizing on the visual aspect of musical performance, Quad Suite explores the essential link between the image of music and its sound. In Six Vibrations, the camera is riveted to a close-up of the four upper frets of Landry’s guitar, maintaining an image of the sound easily identified with the gridded field paintings of Agnes Martin. In Hebe’s Grande Bois, Landry improvises on a bamboo flute as the camera frames his mouth, again in extreme close-up, in the center of the screen. There is something sensual, almost obscene, about Landry’s lips.

Queen Mother Moore Speech at Greenhaven Prison

Two years after the riots and deaths at Attica, New York, a community day was organized at Greenhaven, a federal prison in Connecticut. Think Tank, a prisoners' group, coordinated efforts with African-American community members outside the prison walls to fight racism and poverty. The event was documented by People's Communication Network, a community video group founded by Bill Stephens, for cablecast in New York City, marking the first time an alternative video collective was allowed to document an event inside prison walls.

The Red Tapes

The Red Tapes is a three-part epic that features the diary musings of a committed outsider: revolutionary, prisoner, artist. The series offers a fragmented mythic narrative and a poetic reassessment of the radical social and aesthetic aspirations of the previous decade. Acconci maps a “topography of the self,” constructing scenes that suggest both the intimate video space of close-up and the panoramic landscape of film space.

Remote Control

Two performers, Acconci and a young woman, occupy two wooden boxes in separate rooms, connected via monitor, camera, and microphone. The situation is symbolic of a vicarious and distended power relation, a relationship built through and reliant upon technological mediation. Watching her on a monitor, Acconci coaches the woman through tying herself up, urging her to pretend he is winding the rope around her legs and neck.

Remy/Grand Central Trains and Boats and Planes

In a piece commissioned by Remy Martin, Birnbaum adopts the language of commercial advertising, using the body, gestures, and glances of a heavily made-up woman to create a scene of glamour and romance—while slipping in a disparaging narrative that touches on the actual use and abuse of Remy Martin's product. Birnbaum sets up a typical commercial, then allows the fictive narrative to intrude, upsetting the advertised fantasy with a dose of unpleasant reality.