WIPE CYCLE

 

In the 60s and 70s video was a totally new art form and television flourished outside of the art world, which may explain why critical arts writing of—and about—the 1960s only credited Pop, Minimalist and Conceptual art with the emancipatory potential of these new creative forces. Such conventional criticism overlooked the medium of video and its influence over the emergent form known as video art. Yet, as seen with Happenings and other experimental art movements of the 1950s, the incorporation of video followed the desire of many artists to break away from Modernism while at the same time looking for ways to dematerialize the art object. Ignoring this aim, many art historians have only credited the fascination with new technology as the major impetus behind this new way of making art. More perceptive critics have pointed out a variety of stimuli: the prospect of changing the rules of the [art] game and of how art is made and received, the real-time aspect of the medium, the possibility of manipulating images, and video ́s low cost and rapid reproducibility, among others.

 

At these decades, video was increasingly employed as artistic tool by musicians, performance artists and other artists. The discovery of video as a mirror, as a possibility of self-portrayal, of the audience’s potential participation in the events created the effortless realization of synchronization between reality and its presentation. Live environments made possible through ‘closed circuits’ (Nam June Paik: Video-Buddha, Bruce Nauman: Video-corridor, or Peter Campus: Interface, Frank Gillette among others). Together with the electronic experiments of Fluxus, which hoped to break “the pseudo-transparency of the medium television,” using the expression of the French theorist René Berger shaped the early stage of video art. The artistic uses of the video of the 70's, the “anti-television,” as the late Douglas David, an experimental artist himself, wrote back in 1973 in his pioneer book on the connections between art, technology and science, Art and the Future. Today a classic in its field, on page 85-86, Davis points out the difference between works by Nam June Paik, Wolf Vostell or Earl Reiback, among others, that “disabled normal TV reception, turning the cathode-ray tube into an electronic canvas” from works that “dealt basically with feedback.” Although he mentions other artists interested in the idea of feedback, Wipe Cycle is described as a “Television Mural,” that mixed live images of the viewers with previously videotaped material and regular TV programing.

 

First exhibited at the Howard Wise Gallery in New York in 1969, in the groundbreaking exhibition TV as a Creative Medium, the artists ́ intention was to integrate the viewer and his local environment into the larger macro-system of information transmission. One of the first video installations to involve the viewer in an active role on the screen Wipe Cycle provided an element of surprise with its correlation between the viewer's image and broadcast imagery, emphasizing the individual's relationship with information. Gillette described the piece as a television mural designed to engage and integrate the viewer's television "image" at three separate points in time and five exchanging points in space...The intent of this overloading ("something like a play within a play within a play") is to escape the automatic "information" experience of commercial television without totally divesting it of its usual content. Wipe Cycle was the work that fermented the idea and developed groups such as Global Village and Raindance Corporation that thought to distribute “pure information,” videotaping in the streets daily events or panel discussion while playing them back on multible monitors for small audiences. On their side, Gillette and other artists wished to initiate a large network of videotape distribution covering ideas and news not broadcast via the usuale corporate news. Despite this successful start and the thinking that Wipe Cycle generated after Wise exhibition it was exhibited three other times: at the Video-Skulptur, retrospektiv und aktuell, Kölnischen Kunstverein, Cologne 1989 which toured to two other locations: Congress Hall (Haus der Kulturen der Welt), Berlin and Kunsthaus Zurich in the only color version.

 

Wipe Cycle remains a complex and intriguing work. The spectator feels caught in an intelligent, watchful, oblivious system whose incessant and variable observations remain compelling and mysterious even after their operation is explained. The competed installation consists of nine monitors whose displays are controlled by synchronized cycle patterns of live and delayed feedback, broadcast television, and taped programming, shot by Gillette and Schneider. The images are displayed through alterations of four programmed pulse signals every two, four, eight, and sixteen-seconds. Each of the cycles acts as a layer of video information, while all four levels in concert determine the overall composition of the work at any given moment. The piece consists of a grid of nine monitors; a hidden camera with a monitor feeding a live image in the center screen. This image switches to the outer monitors in 8 and 16-second intervals such that at any given time the viewers see themselves at three layers of time and eight locations in space. The live images are intercut with broadcast images, and at periodic intervals the screens are wiped blank. And the process resumes again.

 

 

Richard Kostelanetz

The Chicago Revue / 1970