Skip to main content

Knitting and Feedback


1970 00:32:54 United StatesEnglishB&WMono4:31/2" open reel video


Eerily drifting through soft fades, superimposed images, close-ups, and visual feedback, this tape follows less a narrative structure and more a stringing together of seemingly random activities, set against two very different soundtracks. The video opens with David Cort reclining on the ground as psychedelic rock plays in the background. Two shots alternate between frontal and profile as he lazily plays with his beard and face – the streams of footage melding together with the use of live editing. An abrupt cut brings the viewer to the source of the other video-camera, Mary Curtis Ratcliff. She poses as a close-up zoom on her face eventually dissolves into a grainy, grey-scale undecipherability. As the field of view returns to normal, she laughs and the camera cuts again. From here, and for the remaining duration of the tape, the viewer is shown Carol Vontobel quietly knitting – as the voice of Richard Nixon is heard via radio delivering a speech at a university.

Comprised of alternating, meshed images – Vontobel steadily at work, and passages of televisual feedback – the video gets its title from the interplay of these two sequences. It subtlely combines socio-political commentary with formal experimentation, existing between the two dominant modes of video art. Traditionally associated with femininity, and subordinated as women’s “busy work,” Vontobel’s knitting provides a source of distracted attention, displaced away from, and in spite of, Nixon’s anti-protest rhetoric droning on out of frame. As images of her bleed into closed-circuit feedback, one gets the feeling of human-machine parallels. Just as she is engaged in the continuous looping of threads, the video-apparatus itself is looping its own signals between screen and viewfinder.

— Nicolas Holt, 2016

VDB Videofreex

Videofreex, one of the first video collectives, was founded in 1969 by David Cort, Mary Curtis Ratcliff and Parry Teasdale, after David and Parry met each other, video cameras in hand, at the Woodstock Music Festival. Working out of a loft in lower Manhattan, the group's first major project was producing a live and tape TV presentation for the CBS network, The Now Show, for which they traveled the country, interviewing countercultural figures such as Abbie Hoffman and Black Panther leader Fred Hampton.

The group soon grew to ten full-time members--including Chuck Kennedy, Nancy Cain, Skip Blumberg, Davidson Gigliotti, Carol Vontobel, Bart Friedman and Ann Woodward--and produced tapes, installations and multimedia events. The Videofreex trained hundreds of makers in this brand new medium though the group's Media Bus project.

In 1971 the Freex moved to a 27-room, former boarding house called Maple Tree Farm in Lanesville, NY, operating one of the earliest media centers. Their innovative programming ranged from artists' tapes and performances to behind-the-scenes coverage of national politics and alternate culture. They also covered their Catskill Mountain hamlet, and in early 1972 they launched the first pirate TV station, Lanesville TV. An exuberant experiment with two-way, interactive broadcasting, it used live phone-ins and stretched cameras to the highway, transmitting whatever the active minds of the Freex coupled with their early video gear could share with their rural viewers.

During the decade that the Freex were together, this pioneer video group amassed an archive of 1,500+ raw tapes and edits.

In 2001, the Video Data Bank began assembling this unique archive of original 1/2-inch open-reel videos, collecting them from basements and attics where the tapes were stored. A restoration plan was hammered out in 2007 and a distribution contract was signed between VDB and the newly formalized Videofreex Partnership (administered by Skip Blumberg).

The Videofreex Archive, now housed at VDB, chronicles the countercultural movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The  titles listed here are the first wave of an ongoing project to preserve and digitize important examples of this early video.

More About the Videofreex Archive Preservation

Also see:

Parry Teasdale: An Interview

Videofreex Official Website