Illuminating Video: An Essential Guide to Video Art. is a collection of essays I bought in a bookstore in New York City many years ago, which I keep in my room and turn to from time to time. In my past year, inspired by a class in gender studies, and looking for material which may have been of interest to me - with which I could engage in light of this course - I found the essay in this collection, The Feminism Factor: Video and Its Relation to Feminism by Martha Gever.
Martha Gever, I would later discover, is Associate Professor Emerita of Art at the University of California, Irvine and has published many critical works on the topics of video art and its relation to gender, race, sexuality, and economic inequality. She is author of the book entitled Entertaining Lesbians: Celebrity, Sexuality, and Self-Invention (2003) and her essays have appeared in anthologies such as the one I previously mentioned and others including AIDS: Cultural Analysis, Cultural Activism; Stolen Glances: Lesbians Take Photographs; Cultures in Contention; and Transmissions: Theory and Practice for a New Television Aesthetic.
I was quite impressed with the author´s ability to use gender and feminism as an analysis tool, which was new to me, and the way this method opened up the video works in question in a fresh way - not to mention opening me up a whole series of art works to which I was previously unfamiliar. Impressive, how all at once I experience a way of seeing the world, a way of engaging with art, and a demonstration of how art engages back with the world around us.
The essay attempts to demonstrate, that although a work may not specifically be about women, an understanding of the themes in relation to women is essential. The works deal with issues ranging from torture, alcoholism, family life, popular television, and more. Each of these themes themselves are more profound when thought of in the ways they effect woman particularly. Not to mention the issues relating to women which surrounded the very creation of the genre.
The videos discussed are:
Fuego de Tierra (1967) by Nereyda Garcia-Ferraz and Kate Horsfield (http://www.vdb.org/titles/ana-mendieta-fuego-de-tierra)
Secret Sounds Screaming (1986) by Ayoka Chenzira (https://www.bfi.org.uk/films-tv-people/4ce2b6e3697b4)
Trick or Drink (1985) by Vanalyne Green (https://vimeo.com/61344446)
Flag (1989) by Linda Gibson (can´t find it - help!)
Scenes from the Microwar (1985) by Sherry Millner (http://www.vdb.org/titles/scenes-microwar)
Joan Does Dynasty (1986) by Joan Braderman (https://vimeo.com/203886769)
A Simple Case for Torture (1983) by Martha Rosler (http://www.vdb.org/titles/simple-case-torture-or-how-sleep-night%C2%A0)
Trick or Drink (1985) by Vanalyne Green
I made a list of topics, viewpoints, and themes (all found in the essay) which relate to these videos and to women and video art in the 1980s in general. I found this list illuminating, and a good starting point for looking back at other works of art, and the world in general. Each of these can be turned into 3-fold meditations - how they are related to artists and artworks, how they influence women in relation to art, and how they influence men and women in relation to art in society. The field is rich!
1) access to low-cost production equipment
2) counteracting depictions of reality and the question of truth
3) systems of representations
4) recognition of the artificiality of clean performance
5) awareness to levels of stylisation and other devices
6) performance art
7) examining social institutions
8) the female body - compliant or active
9) autobiographical material
10) the contrast between what is deemed as natural, and what which is subject to change
11) stressing and denaturalising - thus politicising - accepted social arrangements.
12) working against cliche´s to provide alternatives to normal morality - to fight the idea of state interventions on behalf of social purity etc.
13) the secrecy of intimate relationships - sexual abuse of children - the shame and guilt felt on the abused
14) isolated personal trauma casting a political light on areas where sexuality and power meet.
15) juxtaposing the idyllic version of things - the American Dream family vs the way things are or were
16) the female body as non mute - non compliant
17) the use of autobiographical material - while definitely not inherent to feminism, features in many works of this time period, following the calls for the personal to be political. (it challenges masculine modes of production which often see the masterwork as a rational indecently created object that stands outside of the creator, the closer one is to the body the less rational the work presumes itself).
18) mundane events of everyday life
19) the Average American Family - the mythical site where rigid rules governing gender divisions prevail
20) the connection to national security and the danger to the institution of the nuclear, biological family
21) domesticity, marriage, power mongering
22) employing vocabulary of feminist theory
23) personhood vs the state - is always a work about women insofar as the social position of women vis a vis the state differs from men
24) conceptions of public and private spheres
25) racial identity
26) consumer culture
27) corporate power