While Kalin's kissing interludes were developed in his individual practice, this motif was subsequently translated into his work with the visual collective, Gran Fury. This program includes four versions of Gran Fury/Kalin's Kissing Doesn't Kill, which circulated as discrete 30-second television interventions as well as still on buses and billboards.
"So what would the sixties have been like if Jim Morrison had no cock? This is the vulgar, surprising, and subversive question posed by Suzie Silver's video, A Spy (Hester Reeve Does the Doors)."
—Laura Kipnis, Female Transgression (1995)
Gilliam's title is a combined reference to Willa Cather's novel about the repressed interracial desire and violence of a white slave-owner, Sapphira and the Slave Girl (1940), and the British thriller Sapphire (1959), a meandering film noir about the character Sapphire's perceived transgression of passing for white.
Utilizing bold monochrome color backgrounds, rapid editing, and direct address to the viewer reminiscent of MTV, INFORMATION GLADLY GIVEN... continues Gran Fury's focus upon metaphors of contract across borders.
About this Program:
This program focuses on a form of double vision — seeing the 1960s through the lens of the 1990s — in American video art in the 1990s. It argues that the stakes of the 1960s in this later period corresponds to a sense of the unfinished political promise of nonviolent direct action, and in turn, the unfinished art historical promise of early video. The videos in this program by Tom Kalin, Gran Fury, Dara Birnbaum, Leah Gilliam, Tom Rubnitz (in collaboration with David Wojnarowicz), Suzie Silver (in collaboration with Hester Reeve) and Sadie Benning all move beyond mere ‘returns to history.’ While sometimes wary about the limitations of Sixties era social movements and urban policies, each approach the 1960s as a site of innovation in media and as a site of innovation in politics. “The whole world is watching” was a chant made famous by the responses of activists to clashes between police and demonstrators at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention. Iterations of the phrase emerged earlier however, for example in the newspaper coverage of the Little Rock integration crisis in 1957, an event that is referenced in Leah Gilliam’s work, and in activist Medgar Evers’ 1963 televised speech that reversed the direction of the phrase to insist that black Americans were watching “what happened today all over the world.” I suggest that artists working in video in the 1990s picked up on the question of not only what was being watched, but how. I selected the title for this program because the question of media is central to both the activist chant and its invocation in art contexts. Further, I wished to quote from Randolph Street Gallery exhibition’s iteration of the “whole world is watching” because many of the artists (especially Suzie Silver) participated robustly in Chicago’s alternative arts institutions that highlighted the medium of performance. While “culture wars” debates about government censorship of the arts have tended to foreground photographic work created primarily in New York, Chicago exemplifies a broader phenomenon of alternative institutions in cities throughout the U.S. that created the space for artists to respond to politics in real time, within their art works.
Continue reading Solveig Nelson's The Whole World is (Still) Watching
Solveig Nelson is an art critic and current Chester Dale Fellow in the Department of Photographs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. She is a PhD Candidate in Art History at the University of Chicago. Nelson’s work focuses on the history and criticism of early video art, the visual and performative strategies of nonviolent direct action, and questions of art and the televisual. She has written art criticism for Artforum since 2012, including longer pieces on Steve McQueen, Anna and Lawrence Halprin, and Gretchen Bender. Her M.A. thesis at the University of Chicago considered Ken Dewey's mixed media installation Selma Last Year (1966). Previously she has worked as the fiction editor of The Baffler, collaborated with Sadie Benning on the video installation, Play Pause, 2006, and programmed literary events at the Seminary Co-op Bookstore in Hyde Park, Chicago.
Made in 1989, They are lost to vision altogether is an erotic counterstrike to the Helms Amendment, the U.S. government’s refusal to fund AIDS prevention information explicitly for gay men, lesbians, and IV drug users. Kalin paints a portrait of the national fear and hysteria that has usurped compassion and care for people with AIDS.
Part of a campaign initiated in 1989, this video is a component of Gran Fury’s plan to raise consciousness and advance medical and federal reform on AIDS policy. These ads ran on TV as a counterpart to controversial bus posters, which generated some intensely negative reactions. Using Benneton’s "United Colors" ad campaign to a decidedly different end, simple but powerful images and modern text deliver an enlighteningly direct message.
Starting with student-recorded VHS footage of two successive Take Back the Night marches at Princeton University, Birnbaum develops a saga of political awareness through personalized experiences. This localized student activity then progresses to, and is contrasted with, the 1988 National Student Convention at Rutgers University. Through this dynamic portrait, Birnbaum posits a series of compelling questions: How can the voice of the individual make itself seen and heard in our technocratic society? What forms of demonstration support this expression? How is a voice of dissent made possible?
Listen To This is a fragment of collective memory that finds critical relevance in contemporary Queer discourse. Tom Rubnitz weaves narration, image, and a form of temporality, dislocated from ‘real time’, into a video where artist and AIDS activist David Wojnarowicz’s loss and anger is palpable.
A Spy is a gender-bending and thought-provoking mixture of pure visual pleasure with disturbing undercurrents. As Reeves lip-syncs to a Doors’ song (“I am a spy in the house of love. I know the dream that you’re dreaming of, I know your deepest secret fear...”), we see a new manifestation of Jesus walking in a video field of pulsing rainbows, amoebic forms, and B-movie girls in black panties — suggesting the desires we try to hide from ourselves and others.
Loosely based on the 1950s British detective film Sapphire, in which two Scotland Yard detectives investigate the murder of a young woman who is passing for white, Sapphire and the Slave Girl examines the determinants of Sapphire's murder investigation through its cinematic representation.
I borrowed this absurd phrase from a sign posted on the conductor’s booth in the Washington, D.C. subway. The language of civil service here borders on unintentional parody, with its blankly polite tone and bureaucratic single-mindedness. I.G.G.B.S.R.A.U.C. revisits my 1992 tape Nation, and features a dense chorus of faces and voices. These strangers ask us to consider the question, 'Who is the public?'
— Tom Kalin
About VDB TV
VDB TV is an innovative digital distribution project which provides free, online streaming access to curated programs of video and media art. Sourced from the historically significant archives of the Video Data Bank, VDB TV will include work from early video pioneers active in the 1960s and 70s, through to emerging contemporary artists. VDB TV offers viewers across the United States and beyond access to rare video art, the opportunity to engage with programs conceived by a wide range of curators, and original writing, all while ensuring that artists are compensated for their work.