Storyboarding the Future's Past

Broad MSU's 'Moving Time' exhibition shows how 50 years of video art represents an epoch of major changes.
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If one were to feng shui an art show for a powerful result, this would be the way to do it.

Energy flows propulsively through the carefully arranged exhibition Moving Time: Video Art at 50, 1965-2015, carrying video art beyond the screen and into a context that readily depicts the rapidly evolving vernacular of the form. The show, which explores the history and progress of video as an art form over the last 50 years, runs Oct. 17, 2015, to Feb. 14, 2016, at Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University.

Abstract, performative, conceptual and documentary video works will gain an extra layer of narrative from their placement within the larger framework of the undulating galleries of the Broad MSU's two-year-old Zaha Hadid-designed museum space. And what better venue to provide a thorough course on video art than the museum whose founding director was Michael Rush, who led discourse on the subject through his writing and curatorial efforts. Rush passed away earlier this year, before Moving Time was fully realized.

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From Nam June Paik's Button Happening

Fortunately, a passionate curator who joined the Broad MSU curatorial team months before Rush's passing was there to see things through. Noting that she "traveled halfway around the world to work with him," Caitlín Doherty, Broad MSU curator and deputy director of curatorial affairs, translated an enthusiastic list of ideas, impacts and impressions she and Rush sought to convey with Moving Time and made them manifest in a specific and expansive selection of works.

Doherty treats the museum's galleries as a wheel of progress and context rotating around a central axis of Hadid's commanding second-floor entrance. There, visitors will find a central anchor point weighted by works produced in 1965 by seminal artists in the medium, Nam June Paik and Andy Warhol.

The first of these, Button Happening, was videotaped the day that Paik obtained his first Sony Portapak camera. Video technology first became accessible to visual artists in the mid-20th century in the form of more affordable and easy-to-use portable devices. Where previously the technology was limited to the rarified world of film and television production, it was in the 1960s that video technology became widespread.

Next to the CRT monitors showing Paik's piece is Warhol's Outer and Inner Space, his first double-projection piece. One of the earliest examples of video installation art, Outer and Inner Space is a 16mm film of Edie Sedgwick interacting with a prerecorded videotape of herself displayed on a television monitor.

Andy Warhol, Outer and Inner Space

The technological component to the display of video art presents an interesting philosophical question. Some works use video as a direct commentary on the medium—or more specifically "the media" as a cultural force—and some merely employ the technology as a tool to realize a vision.

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From Martha Rosler's Semiotics of the Kitchen

Regardless, Doherty observes, a mastery of the tools has been essential, from the Sony Portapak in the beginning stages of video art right up to today's digital works. "It's important to recognize the number of technical advances within this short period of history, and how they have been so significant in our understanding of contemporary art," she points out.

In the meantime, video-making tools moved from the hands of very few into the pockets of anyone with a smartphone. But this ubiquity of video images in broader society makes it "even more pertinent that right now we look at work being produced by artists, and view it as artworks distinct from everything else that's going on, in a gallery environment," Doherty asserts.

Upon entering the museum, visitors will gain quick perspective on the progress made in this medium. Five works from emerging, international contemporary video artists are hung across from a "historic" work they cite as an influence. Some of the works selected by these relative newcomers, who originate from five continents and include Sam Jury, Michelle Handelman and Weng Yunpeng, are historic only in the sense that they came before they began producing their own work.

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From Joan Jonas' Vertical Roll

"Sometimes that work was produced only a decade before," Doherty says, using as an example the Charles Atlas work, from 2002, selected by Handelman because it influenced her while she was in art school. Visitors will don headphones for a more intimate immersion in what Doherty describes as an intentionally broad and deep examination of the range of works in what will be a relatively truncated portion of the exhibit producing a tremendous impact. The rapid evolution of conceptual, technical and artistic elements of video art will seem all the more remarkable given "how, in the broader sweep of art history, what a blink the progress of video art has been."

Upstairs, extending from the Paik and Warhol pieces, the first of two gallery branches features an installation dedicated to the performative videos of women artists, including Marina Abramović's AAA-AAA (1978), Joan Jonas' Vertical Roll (1972) and Martha Rosler's Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975).

Marina Abramović, AAA-AAA:

Joan Jonas, Vertical Roll

Martha Rosler, Semiotics of the Kitchen

These are "seminal artists who maybe haven't had the same attention paid to them," Doherty notes, "but in addition to the broader issues having to do with the development of video art, these works explore performance and its connection to video, and a connection to social issues—for example, feminism, the role of the female body and self-awareness around the inequalities faced by women. That space will almost be a mini exhibition."

The adjacent gallery is a big idea space, revealing the power of video art to create impact, with large-scale immersive works and examinations of the history of film. Here, the timely nine-screen installation of Asylum (2001-02) by Julian Rosefeldt explores the stereotypes given to asylum-seekers across the globe. A foundational work representing the big think category is Harun Farocki's Workers Leaving the Factory (1995).

Harun Farocki, Arbeiter verlassen di Fabrik (Workers leaving the factory)

The sweep of the exhibit also covers fan favorites like Jean Luc Godard and a wide list of others. One gets the impression that this exhibition will be an important benchmark in the future history of video art, which is changing very quickly, so hurry up and check it out.