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Problematizing Pleasure / Punk Theory

VDB TV: Decades
1980s: Problematizing Pleasure / Punk Theory

An original program for VDB TV: Decades curated by Steve Reinke.

"I was born in 1963, and so the 1980s mean something to me, but I’m not sure what. I think it good, for instance, that I didn’t get AIDS and die. Also, that I only flirted with semiotics. Like cybernetics, which started in the 1950s, grew to dominance in the 1960s and simply faded away in the 1970s, we once believed in semiotics. In the 1980s, it was the way to understand how images contained meanings/produced discourses, and how texts circulate. (How do they circulate? Intertextually.) Perhaps semiotics was the dying gasp of modernism, a conservative strain of modernism posing as postmodernism. The death of the author resulting not in the birth of the reader, but in the birth of a severe, obscure, hermetic semiotician."

 — Steve Reinke

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 Possibly in Michigan Cecelia Condit 00:12:00 1983 United States
2 Grand Mal Tony Oursler 00:23:40 1981 United States
3 Damnation of Faust: Will-o'-the-Wisp (A Deceitful Goal) Dara Birnbaum 00:05:38 1985 United States
4 Earthglow Liza Béar 00:08:00 1983 United States
5 Evocation of Faust: Charming Landscape Dara Birnbaum 00:07:00 1987 United States
6 Hey Bud Julie Zando 00:11:00 1987 United States

Possibly in Michigan

Cecelia Condit
1983 | 00:12:00 | United States | English | Color | | 4:3 | Video


Possibly In Michigan is an operatic fairytale about cannibalism in Middle America. A masked man stalks a woman through a shopping mall and follows her home. In the end, their roles are reversed when the heroine deposits a mysterious Hefty bag at the curb. Like Condit's other video narratives, Possibly In Michigan shows bizarre events disrupting mundane lives. Combining the commonplace with the macabre, humor with the absurd, she constructs a world of divided reality.

"Putting on femininity with a visual and narrative vengeance; Condit's disconcerting irony and sweetly gruesome stories also 'put-on' and undo societal prescriptions and taboos regarding women's options to subjugation by violence or the gaze, letting us see and hear what often remains hidden, behaving with impropriety."

—Patricia Mellencamp, “Uncanny Feminism: The Exquisite Corpses of Cecelia Condit,” Afterimage 14 (September 1986)

This title is also available on Cecelia Condit Videoworks: Volume 1.

Grand Mal

Tony Oursler
1981 | 00:23:40 | United States | English | Color | | 4:3 | Video


"Oursler’s thematic concerns betray classic Freudian anxieties about sex and death. In Grand Mal, the hero takes a convoluted odyssey through a landscape of disturbing experiences. The video’s free association includes, "digressions about the difference between salt and sugar and a version of the creation myth that is both banal and terrifying."

— Christine Tamblyn, “Art Notes,” Scan (November/December 1981)

Damnation of Faust: Will-o'-the-Wisp (A Deceitful Goal)

Dara Birnbaum
1985 | 00:05:38 | United States | English | Color | | |


The second part of the Damnation of Faust Trilogy centers on the development of Marguerite, the female character in the Faust legend. Masterfully composing fragmentary "memory" images in elegant 19th Century Japanese compositions, Birnbaum traces the process of deception and abandonment through the heroine’s mournful description of her state of mind. Passing images are suffused with light, obscured in a blinding brightness, to suggest forgetting.

This title is also available on Dara Birnbaum: Damnation of Faust Trilogy.


Liza Béar
1983 | 00:08:00 | United States | English | Color | Mono | 4:3 | Video


Earthglow is a poem written for the character generator and switcher that conveys a writer's internal dialogue through both subtle and dramatic color changes and through movement, size, and placement of words. The ambient soundtrack evokes the confluence of past and present perceptions.

"A city dweller attempting to write a poem about a desert trip is distracted by a recent argument. Earthglow, whose only images are words, uses character animation to convey the writer’s internal dilemma through the shuttling of words across the screen, as well as color changes and ambient sound. Using an analogue character generator and switcher in a live edit, parts of the text are keyed in real-time and others are pre-recorded. On the score, an off-air burst from a Billie Holiday blues song (whose lyrics infiltrate the words of the poem) disrupts the strains of César Franck’s Violin Sonata. Earthglow is a film about the writing state of mind; past and present perceptions are reconciled in the act of writing."

— Liza Béar

Electronic engineering by Bruce Tovsky.



Evocation of Faust: Charming Landscape

Dara Birnbaum
1987 | 00:07:00 | United States | English | Color | | |


The final work in the Damnation of Faust Trilogy, ironically titled Charming Landscape, investigates the way in which the urban landscape is a place "where you lose your identity.” Two female residents of the inner city tell their stories in casual, on-the-street interviews. Building upon the theme of submerged violence, Birnbaum presents the fiery culmination of the legend in eerie slow-motion collage scenes of political unrest — from the lunchroom protests of Greensboro, NC, to the student revolts in Tiannanmen Square.

This title is also available on Dara Birnbaum: Damnation of Faust Trilogy.

Hey Bud

Julie Zando
1987 | 00:11:00 | United States | English | Color | Mono | 4:3 | Video


Hey Bud revolves around the suicide of Bud Dwyer, a government official who killed himself before a television audience. Zando compares the suicide to a kind of pornographic sex act that plays upon the tension created between exhibitionist and voyeur. It forces viewers to take either an empathetic position vis-a-vis the exhibitionist, or to act as voyeur through release of the repressed desire to see the forbidden face of Death. The piece attempts to understand the power gained through exhibitionism, and how that power is lost through death. Zando compares the suicide to the position of women who seek power through exhibitionism and exploitation, the price being death of the self.