BIFF Offscreen

BIFF Offscreen: The Vasulkas – Orbital Obsessions + Art of Memory

Burchfield Penney Art Center

BIFF Offscreen: The Vasulkas – Orbital Obsessions + Art of Memory

On View Oct 8–12 on The Front Lawn @ Burchfield Penney Art Center, nighly from sunset to sunrise

Orbital Obsessions, Steina Vasulka 1977, 24:30 min, black & white, sound, three-channel, ½” reel-to-reel video to HD video

In Orbital Obsessions, Steina Vasulka moves the moving image. Video imagery is simultaneously performed, recorded, and played live as source signals are processed, keyed and redirected to create a variety of events, wherein performance becomes a piece in real time. Using two cameras – one pointed into the studio and surveying it in a continuous, cyclic pan around the room, another pointed into a monitor and changing perspective throughout the piece. Woody zooms, pulls focus and pans while Steina walks with a monitor pointing back at the camera rotating slowly atop a tripod mounted to a motorized wheel, with a reel-to-reel player cycling through a ½” video underneath. Everything is spinning and the audience is drawn into the spatial distortion of the maelstrom that the motion and objects create in concert. Steina uses her body and movements to cut through interlacing signals and to further interrupt and interact with the physical and electronic spaces. A grey-black-white-bleeding image and mise-en-abîme highlight the interaction between body and machine, with the feedback distortion and the 60-cycle hum keeping time for the orchestral. Shot in their beloved Buffalo studio in ‘77, as Steina says as the video begins its twirl into a constantly kinetic, circular pan around the room – “that might be really interesting, alright.”

Art of Memory, Woody Vasulka 1987, 36:30, color, sound, three-channel, ¾” U-matic video to HD video

Shot on location in Taos, New Mexico, Art of Memory is one of Woody Vasulka’s most iconic works, and features landscape imagery of the American ideological West mixed together with seminal photographic and cinematic images of destruction from catastrophic events throughout world history – The Spanish Civil War, the Russian Revolution, World War Two, the dropping of the nuclear bomb, and more. Those images, seared into collective cultural memories across the globe – are stripped bare and represented as 3D armor made of 525 malleable lines, to reveal the thinking space of the cinema in its most honest form. An active poetics in image and text is performed as Woody reshapes, repositions and reforms these exoskeleton into the shape of memory itself.

Deeply saturated color is contrasted against black and white shapes and archival materials, drawing attention to the function of the media archive as artifact and tool. In this piece, memory is a form of forgetting and forgetting is a form of remembering.

Both video art works are also featured in BIFF’s Arthouse Centerpiece film – The Vasulka Effect by Hrafnhildur Gunnarsdóttir.

About the Artists:

Steina Vasulka and Woody Vasulka are major figures in video history, technical pioneers who have contributed enormously to the evolution of the medium. The Vasulkas' technological investigations into analog and digital processes and their development of electronic imaging tools, which began in the early 1970s, place them among the primary architects of an expressive electronic vocabulary of image-making. Applying an informal, real-time spontaneity to their formalist, often didactic technical research, they chart the evolving formulation of a grammar and syntax of electronic imaging as they articulate a processual dialogue between artist and technology.

The Vasulkas' early collaborative efforts, produced from 1970 to 1974, include phenomenological explorations that deconstruct the materiality of the electronic signal and analyze the imaging capabilities of video tools. Central to these increasingly complex exercises are explorations of the malleability of the image, the manipulation of electronic energy, and the interrelation of sound and image.

In the mid-1970s, working with such engineer/designers as Eric Siegel, George Brown, Steve Rutt and Bill Etra, the Vasulkas developed electronic tools specifically for use by artists. With Jeffrey Schier they developed the Digital Image Articulator, a device that allows the digital processing of video imagery in real-time. Steina's training as a violinist, and Woody Vasulka's background as an engineer and filmmaker, informed their invention of electronic devices to transform sound, image, space and time — themes that they have pursued independently in their later works. Though the Vasulkas continue to collaborate, since 1975 they have produced much of their work individually.

The Vasulkas immigrated to the United States in 1965, and began their collaborative exploration of electronic media in 1969. In 1971, they co-founded The Kitchen, a major alternative exhibition and media arts center in New York. From 1973 to 1979, the Vasulkas lived and worked in Buffalo, New York, where they were faculty members at the Center for Media Study, State University of New York. The Vasulkas have received numerous awards for their work in the media arts, including grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. In 1989, they received a United States/Japan Exchange Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. The Vasulkas have broadcast and exhibited their collaborative works extensively throughout the United States, Europe, and Japan, at institutions including The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse; Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo; and The Museum of Modern Art, New York, among many others. They had a retrospective at Berg Contemporary, Iceland in 2018.

– Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI)

Orbital Obsessions and The Art of Memory, and promotional materials courtesy of Steina Vasulka.

Our deepest gratitude to Steina Vasulka, and thank you to Rebekkah Palov + Peer Bode + Hrafnhildur Gunnarsdóttir + Don Metz + Luca Ceccarelli as well.

  • Still from Orbital Obsessions

    Still from Orbital Obsessions

    Directed by: Steina Vasulka

  • Still from Art of Memory

    Still from Art of Memory

    Directed by: Woody Vasulka

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