Decoding Video Art

What is Video Art? How may we define it? Is it different from the films and videos accessible on the internet or shown in movie theatres? Such questions are likely to arise for those not familiar with the different ways in which art making has developed over time; one of which is the entry of video as a medium for making art. Like Painting, Sculpture, Collage, Printmaking, Installation or Performance, Video too is recognised as a relevant and valid form of art.

image credit: Ranu Mukherjee

The difference

One of the key differences between video art and other kinds of cinema is that video art does not rely on many of the conventions that define theatrical and artistic cinema. By definition artists’ videos are conceptual, not realistic. They do not necessarily adhere to a linear logic and reasoning but aim to affect the viewer through creating an experience for her. Their structure is not built on a story with a beginning middle and end the way we are accustomed to, but like poetry, they weave together different aspects of life seen through a personal vantage points. Art videos are not meant to be ‘understood’ but ‘felt’ and responded to; when cutting an onion, the tears that sting our eyes is our response to, not our understanding of, the situation.  

Space 

Conventionally, when viewing an art exhibition, the spectators have the freedom to walk around or towards and away from the art object they are looking at. Whilst watching a video, their movements are restricted and they have to go with the pace set by the video work. Just as in life, when we witness a live situation we are in the grip of those moments that are happening before us. The control on our physical and mental space is not with us but with the compelling situation facing us.

Notion of time     

“Perhaps one can call it (art video) a visual meditation, a meditation on screen, calling on you to be present, to be in the moment and notice your surrounding and be present with everything you do. Don’t get caught up in thinking. Just be…”

–From an article by Nadin Mai referring to the artist and filmmaker Chantal Akerman

The notion of time, stretching the limits of our attention span, making us aware of the moment itself, can generate an immersive experience if we have surrendered all preconceived expectations and are receptive to that which is going on before our eyes. This is the state of being we require to be in, to absorb and respond to that which we are viewing and hearing.

Seeing

To look is not the same as to see. One must look for a long time in order to see. Slow films follow this mantra, especially those films with very few characters and almost empty frames. Static cameras also support the idea of looking in order to see.”   
                                                
–Chantal Akerman, artist and filmmaker (1950-2015)

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