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Sandwiched Between Trauma and Apocalypse: history as it intersects with biography and the rewriting of the past

An original program for VDB TV: Decades curated by Aily Nash.

"By relating history to biography in this way, we find ourselves snuggly positioned between trauma and apocalypse. It is between these two points that this program unfolds, each work radically reconfiguring this relationship between history and biography to make meaning of the present. These videos by Paul Chan, Ximena Cuevas, Jesse McLean, Steve Reinke and Walid Raad propose subjective rewritings of historical events, claiming agency over how these pasts are understood. The works variously articulate the irreconcilability of worlds — we live together in alternate, yet parallel realities."

— Aily Nash

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. 1968-80providing another essential tool for understanding the development of video and media art over the past five decades.

# Title Artists Run Time Year Country
1 Hobbit Love is the Greatest Love Steve Reinke 00:14:00 2007 Morocco, United States
2 The Burning Blue Jesse McLean 00:09:15 2009 United States
3 Hostage: The Bachar Tapes (English Version) Walid Raad, Souheil Bachar 00:16:17 2001 United States
4 La Tombola (Raffle) Ximena Cuevas 00:07:53 2001 Mexico
5 RE:THE_OPERATION Paul Chan 00:27:30 2002 United States

Hobbit Love is the Greatest Love

Steve Reinke
2007 | 00:14:00 | Morocco, United States | English | Color | Stereo | 4:3 |


A desktop video in five parts that modestly propose ways of existing with or against history and politics.

#1. My Calling Card Proposes an updated version of Adrian Piper's My Calling (Card) #1 (for Dinners and Cocktail Parties).

#2. The True Legend of Stereo Stereo is made for dogs and blind people.

#3. Trauma in Retrospect Superimposes history and biography.

#4. Thusly Spaken Teaching Nietzsche to schoolchildren.

#5 The Fallen Applaud friends, the comedy is over.

The Burning Blue

Jesse McLean
2009 | 00:09:15 | United States | English | Color | Stereo | 4:3 | DV video


A video that observes the thrill, terror, and boredom found in watching mass spectacles, and the unexpected loneliness when you miss them. This video speaks of both the power and the failure of the televised experience to bind us to one another.

Part three of Bearing Witness Trilogy. Bearing Witness is a trilogy concerned with how we as a culture watch ourselves, especially in moments of great emotional significance. With footage culled from mainstream media and television, the single-channel videos (The Eternal Quarter Inch, Somewhere only we know, The Burning Blue) distill moments of sincerity from perhaps insincere sources (televangelists, reality show contestants, screensavers, B-movies). This trilogy puts pressure on the infrastructure of distributing images, particularly those that represent what might have normally been private experiences made public for the sake of entertainment. Located in interstitial spaces, these videos continually shift the role of the viewer between voyeur and participant.

Hostage: The Bachar Tapes (English Version)

Walid Raad, Souheil Bachar
2001 | 00:16:17 | United States | English | Color | Mono | 4:3 | Video


Hostage: The Bachar Tapes (English Version) is an experimental documentary about "The Western Hostage Crisis." The crisis refers to the abduction and detention of Westerners like Terry Anderson, and Terry Waite in Lebanon in the 80s and early 90s by "Islamic militants." This episode directly and indirectly consumed Lebanese, U.S., French, and British political and public life, and precipitated a number of high-profile political scandals like the Iran-Contra affair in the U.S.

In Hostage: The Bachar Tapes (English version), the "Western Hostage Crisis" is examined through the testimony of Souheil Bachar, who was held hostage in Lebanon between 1983 and 1993. What is remarkable about Souheil's captivity is that he was the only Arab to have been detained with the Western hostages kidnapped in Beirut in the 1980's. In fact, Souheil was held for three months in 1985 in the same cell as five American men: Terry Anderson, Thomas Sutherland, Benjamin Weir, Marting Jenco, and David Jacobsen.

In 1999, Bachar collaborated with The Atlas Group (a non-profit cultural research foundation based in Lebanon) to produce 53 videotapes about his captivity. Tapes #17 and #31 are the only two tapes Bachar makes available outside of Lebanon. In the tapes, Bachar addresses the cultural, textual, and sexual aspects of his detention with the Americans.

This title is also available on Radical Closure.

La Tombola (Raffle)

Ximena Cuevas
2001 | 00:07:53 | Mexico | Spanish | Color | Stereo | 4:3 | Video


“Take back the airwaves: Mexico’s video art doyenne Ximena Cuevas books herself onto the tabloid talk show Tombola (Raffle), toying at first with whimsical deconstruction until she turns the whole affair on its head by seizing the televisual flow itself.”

— MIX: The New York Queer Film/Video Festival (2002)

This title is also available on Ximena Cuevas: El Mundo del Silencio (The Silent World) and Half-Lies: The Videoworks of Ximena Cuevas.


Paul Chan
2002 | 00:27:30 | United States | English | Color | Stereo | 4:3 |


Based on a set of drawings that depict George W. Bush's administration as wounded soldiers in the war against terrorism, RE:THE_OPERATION explores the sexual and philosophical dynamics of war through the lives of the members as they physically engage each other and the "enemy." Letters, notes, and digital snapshots "produced" by the members on their tour of duty become the basis of video portraits that articulate the neuroses and obsessions compelling them toward an infinite war. Part M*A*S*H*, part Three's Company, part philosophical meditation (with a dash of character assassination thrown in) RE:THE_OPERATION exists as a single channel video and a set of desktop replacement icons for MAC and PC.

"The public to which Mr. Chan’s video speaks is mostly anti-war, although whatever your views on the conflict, you cannot help laughing at what appears to be the voice of Colin Powell reading from the writings of Michel Foucault on the inevitability of history, or Condoleeza Rice at the front line dictating a letter to her family back home. My favorite is a voice sample of Donald Rumsfeld saying, 'We must learn to live with low-density hope.'"

— Benjamin Genocchio, The New York Times (3/30/03)

This title is also available on the DVD box set Tin Drum Trilogy.