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The Electric Mirror: Reflecting on Video Art in the 1970s

Curated by Video Data Bank

An original program for VDB TV: Decades curated by Robyn Farrell. Taking inspiration from Lynn Hershman Leeson’s essay Reflections on the Electric Mirror, this program concentrates on work from the first decade of American video art and focuses on artists, who were influenced by and who pushed against the televisual impulse. The works in this program — by Lynda BenglisKeith SonnierSusan MogulWilliam WegmanNancy HoltJohn BaldessariSimone FortiPaul and Marlene Kos, and Barbara Aronofsky Latham — derive from television both technologically and culturally, and serve as a catalogue of early experimentation with and in the closed circuit system.

This program is also avaliable on VDB TV: Decades, a unique five-disc compilation that casts a distinctive eye over the development of video as an art form from the early 1970s to the present. This five-disc compilation was released during 2017 in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Video Data Bank. Each program was curated by an inspiring artist, scholar or media arts specialist who has focused on a specific decade, diving into the archive of the VDB to create personal, distinctive, and relevant programs, accompanied by original essays and texts. VDB TV: Decades is the perfect accompaniment to VDB’s iconic anthology Surveying the First Decade: Video Art and Alternative Media in the U.S. 1968-80, providing another essential tool for understanding the development of video and media art over the past five decades.

# Title Artists Run Time Year Country
1 On Screen Lynda Benglis 00:07:45 1972 United States
2 TV In and TV Out Keith Sonnier 00:12:38 1972 United States
3 Dressing Up Susan Mogul 00:07:06 1973 United States
4 Going Around in Circles Nancy Holt 00:15:15 1973 United States
5 Inventory John Baldessari 00:24:14 1972 United States
6 Lightning Paul Kos, Marlene Kos 00:01:23 1976 United States
7 Arbitrary Fragments Barbara Aronofsky Latham 00:12:44 1978 United States

On Screen

Lynda Benglis
1972 | 00:07:45 | United States | English | B&W | Mono | 4:3 | Video


"Benglis manipulates generations of video footage to confound our sense of time; she implies an infinite regression of time and space — Benglis making faces in front of a monitor of her making faces in front of a monitor of her... ad infinitum. The viewer retains a sense of the images sequentiality, although the sequence of creation is not revealed in a logical, orderly fashion, and is heavily obscured by the random layering and continual repetition of aural and visual components."

— Carrie Przybilla,"Synopses of Videotapes", Lynda Benglis: Dual Natures (Atlanta: High Museum of Art, 1991)

This title was in the original Castelli-Sonnabend video art collection.

TV In and TV Out

Keith Sonnier
1972 | 00:12:38 | United States | English | Color | Mono | 4:3 |


In Sonnier’s video tape TV In and TV Out, two images are superimposed, one shot off network television and the other shot from a studio performance situation involving some of the materials and visual qualities of his sculptures. This live image is colorized by a device which adds color to a black and white image and in turn manipulates the color. Colorized color is more opaque and less three-dimensionally tactile than synthesized color, but it is tactile in its video scan-line texture.

“The measure of Sonnier’s color video tapes is not the extent to which he extends painterly values, though there is some continuity there, but the extent to which he defines the surface, space, and color of the material of video.”

— Bruce Kurtz, “Video Is Being Invented", Arts Magazine (December/January 1973)

Dressing Up

Susan Mogul
1973 | 00:07:06 | United States | English | B&W | Mono | 4:3 | 1/2" open reel video


A reverse striptease, non-stop comedic monologue about shopping for clothes, while eating corn nuts. Dressing Up was inspired by the artist’s mother’s penchant for bargain hunting. Mogul produced Dressing Up as a student in the feminist art program at the California Institute of the Arts in 1973.

This now classic video was shown in Southland Video Anthology in 1975 at the Long Beach Museum of Art. Curated by David Ross, it was one of the first museum surveys of video art in the United States. Thirty years later Dressing Up has been exhibited internationally, and was exhibited at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, in 2008.

"On mother-daughter relationships and clothes that make the woman. Turning her barbed wit both inwards and outwards, this pioneering video artist reflects on women’s private and public lives."

— Josh Siegel, Curator, Museum of Modern Art, New York City

"One of the great things about Dressing Up is that it totally just undoes every notion of how in society at the time you might be expecting a woman to act, and then the fact that Mogul is naked eating corn nuts, which is the most unglamorous type of image, just puts it over the top."

— Glenn Phillips, Curator, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

"Susan Mogul's very funny video stories, in one of which (Dressing Up) she proceeds from disrobed to robed, reminiscing about the history of each item of clothing."

— Lucy Lippard, MS Magazine

Going Around in Circles

Nancy Holt
1973 | 00:15:15 | United States | English | B&W | Mono | 4:3 | Video


Going Around In Circles continues Holt's interest in perception and point of view. A board with five circular holes is placed in front of the camera. The holes are covered and uncovered to reveal five people enacting a set of activities that involves walking between five spots and turning in circles. A discussion takes place between the artist and several of the "performers" which addresses the various physicalities of the action: the experience of being on the ground, watching the actions take place through the prop, and through the playback monitor, as well as notions of scale, and the chance happenings that take place within any system.

Copyright Holt/Smithson Foundation.


John Baldessari
1972 | 00:24:14 | United States | English | B&W | Mono | |


“In Baldessari’s wonderful Inventory, the artist presents to the camera for thirty minutes an accumulation of indiscriminate and not easily legible objects arranged in order of increasing size and accompanied by a deadpan description — only to have the sense of their relative size destroyed by the continual readjustment of the camera [in order to] keep them within the frame. Who can forget Adlai Stevenson’s solemn television demonstration of the ‘conclusive photographic evidence’ of the Cuban missile sites, discernible over the TV screen as only gray blurs?”

— David Antin, “Video: The Distinctive Features of the Medium,” Video Art: An Anthology, eds. Ira Schneider and Beryl Korot (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: 1974)

This title was in the original Castelli-Sonnabend video art collection.


Paul Kos, Marlene Kos
1976 | 00:01:23 | United States | English | B&W | Mono | 4:3 | 1/2" open reel video


When I look for the lightning, it never strikes. When I look away, it does. Filmed inside a car, this tape focuses on observation of natural phenomena, presenting the obverse of the, "If a tree falls in the woods..." conundrum. Does observation change the course of events? Can you believe in things you don't see? In this experiment, the camera occupies a privileged position — showing the woman and what she sees, as well as what she cannot see.

This title was originally part of the the Castelli-Sonnabend video art collection.

This title is also available on Surveying the First Decade: Volume 1.

This title is also available on Sympathetic Vibrations: The Videoworks of Paul Kos.

Arbitrary Fragments

Barbara Aronofsky Latham
1978 | 00:12:44 | United States | English | Color | | 4:3 | Video


Using highly-manipulated and over-processed images, Latham investigates the process of video as inherently fragmented. Weaving together various people’s impressions of the artist and her work, the work demonstrates important parallels between video, storytelling, and the formation of identity — all processes of active fabrication that blend “lies” and truth in the construction of a certain reality, history, or past. Labeling an image of herself talking as “her most recent explanation,” Latham addresses “the construction of her video personality” as an identity outside of herself.

This title is also available on Barbara Latham Videoworks: Volume 1.