How does video art operate within the age of social media? With our daily image consumption rising, and our attention spans falling in parallel, video artists are questioning and exploring the medium's complicated future. In this !GWAK panel, video artists Mia Buonaguro and Cecily Grant speak to us about the plurality of ways video art can be consumed, its relationship to other disciplines, and the questions of accessibility, surveillance and sustainability that surround it.
LEFT: Mia Buonaguro, stills from 'Dietrologia'; RIGHT: Cecily Grant, still from 'Constructing Realities'
MN: Communications scientist Vilem Flusser saw video as ‘dialogical memory’. To what extent do you see video art as a recall of dialogue – relating to societal narratives; things said or unsaid. Or perhaps a dialogue with other mediums?
MB: I wouldn’t necessarily say that I think video art HAS to be a recall of dialogue, but it definitely tends to be more exciting for me when it is! Video art often works as a stimulation, transporting us to deeper connections we’ve all made individually. For example, a video of an old fashioned living room could remind one person of their grandparents' house, and make another imagine times before they even existed. Video definitely allows for a lot of freedom when it comes to presenting narratives and certain dialogues; there’s always the opportunity to combine the old and the new, to include spoken audio and to add text on screen etc. I tend to work by collaging together a variety of imagery, clips and audio and then placing these videos within a setting that relates to my intentions even further. When you put a video into a setting, it automatically encourages curious questions about why and what this means, this forms a personal dialogue and narrative for the viewer, often leading to a personal state of reflection. Although I always allude to certain dialogues, societal messages and themes I want to comment on, I always like to leave enough space for speculation; I think to some extent, all video art does this.
CG: I would agree that video art can be a funnel of a recall of dialogue, in terms of a traditional understanding, but also in a more ambiguous way - which isn’t obviously a recall, but more of an untold, intuitive narrative. However, I think that video art itself is not just a recall of dialogue. Quite frequently video art is used in conjunction to other mediums, and the video aspect is completely abstract, possibly shapes and colours designed to form an atmosphere. Although, the other medium combined may possess the narrative to the piece. Overall, I think that video art can be far more ambiguous than that.
MN: In a gallery space, total comprehension of video work is difficult – viewers enter the space and encounter the piece at different points, and the duration in which they might stay is variable. With the increased accessibility of platforms like Vimeo as a means through which video artists can show their work, the artist is given increased autonomy of the way in which the viewer receives the work, because of a definitive start and end. What role does linear structure play when you are making your work? Do you account for different possibilities of encountering the work – or enjoy the idea of having a plurality of ways your work might be consumed?
CG: I’ve always enjoyed the idea of a gallery space, as you can use the space to your advantage, to make more of a moment/experience. I understand how online platforms encourage commencing the viewing process in a more linear structure. However, this linear structure isn’t something which has concerned me greatly. I try to make work that would fit in a gallery space; my videos are more focused on the overall look and feeling, which I often try and combine with sculpture to help transform the space. I find looking at a video online momentarily creates transportation; however, I find being in a gallery really indulges your immersion into that space. When thinking about the how I would like my work to be encountered, my initial thoughts are around how important it is for the video to be watched start to finish: if so, I would have to think about adding seats, and limiting the visual surrounding. However, usually, I like to make work that can be encountered at different points, creating more of an experience of being, seeing and hearing. I would rather not tell, but show, and allow for the work to be picked up and consumed in an individualised way.
Time (Installation) - Cecily Grant, 2020
MB: I think structure is always considered when composing any form of artwork; whether that structure is necessarily linear, I guess, is out for interpretation, and varies with the opinions of the artist and the audience. I would argue my work frequently aims to imitate a form of ritual. I naturally try to apply a somewhat linear structure, presenting the audience with a range of objects, video clips and narratives to present whatever I am trying to say, but I toy with making it loose enough to allow for personal interpretations. 'A Spell For Women' presents itself in a very ritualistic and formulaic manner: the narrative took the format of a "typical spell", but the components of this spell were made from using the 28th line or the 28th page of books found in Bournemouth Natural Science Society Museum written by women. The narrative isn’t necessarily coherent with lines like ‘sand to settle, they show great patience in waiting for the water’ but the structure is still linear enough to imitate a spell.
Displaying video art in an exhibition is always challenging. To start with, I think it’s much easier for some people to approach more tangible things in art spaces than it is for them to relate to a screen or a projection. Because of this, I think it’s important that there is a plurality of ways my work might be consumed. I think for me this is partly enforced by showing the work in some kind of mini installation, or at the very least creating some kind of small setting and atmosphere. In my work 'Dietrologia' the audio was purposely playing completely separately to the video through headphones on a table, I wanted people to be able to step in and out of the audio. The fact that people can come in at any point and stay for however long they see fit, making their own connections and interpreting it however they choose is important to me.
MN: In the age of social media, we process obtuse amounts of information on a daily basis, but in soundbite chunks. How do you think our decreasing collective attention spans have affected how we consume or create video art?
CG: In a way, I think being consumed in a world of social media has helped the rise of video art - people aren’t alienated by the medium. In fact, we spend hours looking at screens and watching videos, so it seems like an appealing way to view art for the modern day person. I would argue that our decreasing attention span is drifting more so away from our realties, and but is re-directed into screens. At schools now, as even I remember, it's often found that ideas are more interesting, and easy to concentrate on, when a video was shown. That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if when the next invention up from video arises, we have a hard time staying engrossed in what we are watching. On the creating side, I worry about pieces being not ‘exciting’ enough to keep the attention of the viewer, due the world of flashy and punchy videos that are designed to grab our attentions. But I have to remember that this is just a scheme for a quick absorption: the best videos can be slow and built up - just think of Tarkovsky's film masterpieces.
MB: As a generation, we are definitely accustomed to the constant consumption of information. I think although our attention spans have collectively decreased, having access to such a vast amount of knowledge and art is also highly beneficial to us as a generation and if we choose to, we can find whatever we desire. Due to the boundless amounts of "stuff", there is definitely a need to stand out, to grab the attention of your audiences and keep it. I think we all have a tendency to move past something that doesn’t capture our interest within seconds of viewing it. When it comes to creating work, I think most creators primarily produce things for themselves, but to some extent, we can utilise trends and aesthetics to attract viewers, and the evolution and build up of the video can hopefully encourage people to stick around and watch the whole thing!
MN: I really love the title of your work, Cecily, ‘Constructed Realities’ – it refers to this sense of drifting in and out of consciousness in the film, but also the construction and selectivity of reality at work in video as a medium itself. Video and photography were traditionally understood as being ‘closer’ to real life – how do you understand or negotiate the relationship between video and reality?
CG: Video and reality can sometimes be parallels. They are very similar, but not quite the same - just showing a version of a reality. But on the other hand, they are also complete enemies. The reality can be completely dissolved and lost within a video. Or, a video can completely transform into a sort of ‘reality’, which isn’t really a reality, because you are watching something which has happened in the past. The video is also being projected into your eyes, blasting into your world, forcing itself to become a reality. Tricky concept I guess - video and reality go as far you deem as what’s to be ‘real’ and what isn’t.
Constructing Realities - Cecily Grant, 2020
MN: What role does performance play in your work, if at all?
MB: To some extent, I guess, performance is used in my work. I’ve never thought to say that I am an artist who uses performance frequently, though; it just tends to happen by chance in certain works. I think through the process of looking at rituals and having myself and others act out certain things, it can become performance-y, but I also really love just having the camera on and recording things when people aren’t as aware of its presence, and therefore they’re not actively acting for the lens.
CG: Performance has been a new and exciting medium that I’ve just started experimenting with. I’ve been trialling performance in an improvised way, by filming myself moving my body, while thinking and feeling the essence of my project. I would like to work on something more structured. It's definitely something I would like to engage with further in my practice. I think that performance has always been an interesting way to work with the energy of a piece.
MN: In your work, Mia, you explore and critique how womanhood is depicted and experienced in patriarchal society. Is your choice of medium important to this critique? For example, many of the patriarchal messages transmitted subliminally to girls and women alike come from popular media, like films, TV shows, the news…
ODE TO HER. - Mia Buonaguro, 2018
MB: Yes definitely, like you said, the depiction and experience of womanhood is fundamental in my practice. My work revolves around the commentary of themes such as witchcraft, mythology, ancestry and patriarchal systems. I think to some extent the use of video work to imitate the media and to counteract the messages we are consistently fed is important. Although, I think I am drawn to how current digital and video art feels to me when I am considering past archetypes and portrayals. For example, considering a modern and contemporary use of witchcraft through a digital format feels compelling and almost like a new form of magic; as I said before, certain works feel almost ritualistic and ‘spell-like’ which I think can become a shared experience through video. I also think it’s important to me that the work can exist digitally in our ever changing digital society. I compare our histories and how they have or haven’t transpired into modern day - it feels apt for me to use a media that is still very new and constantly developing.
ODE TO HER. (Installation View) - Mia Buonaguro, 2018
MN: How do you understand the relationship between the visual and audial in your work?
CG: I think the visual and the audial are crucial counterparts, which help to induce one another. Even the lack of sound becomes a statement in itself. Within my work, I find their relationship fundamentally important, as its stimulates more than just your visual senses, creating more dynamic piece. I try to create my own sound pieces, sampling sounds from my personal and everyday environments. This way I can adapt and form an audio to merge with the visual exactly how I envisioned.
MB: Audible and visual components are both massively important in my work; I often employ disembodied voice techniques to inform the viewer about the visual elements whilst once again leaving the overall narrative loose enough for some personal inquiry and insight. I tend to start out with a stream of consciousness scribbled on to paper that relates to my own thoughts, feelings and information I’ve learnt. The audio and visual parts of my work generally both relate to this, so automatically have an inherent relationship surrounding it, although it can be tenuous in terms of them making complete sense. Instead I think I enjoy adding the audio narratives and elements to my work to present the viewer with further questions about what the work means.
MN: Installations alongside the video work seems to be particularly important in your work Mia – the visual symbolism that you play with in your videos steps out of the frame and into the gallery space. In ‘Dietrologia’, in particular, there is a sense of tactility and encouraged engagement. How do you negotiate this participatory and environmental aspect of your work outside of the gallery space, when on a digital platform?
Dietrologia - Mia Buonaguro, 2019
MB: It can be frustrating when you’ve spent some time considering the installation of a piece to have it translated onto a 2D screen, but I do actually enjoy keeping these as separate things. I think it makes the exhibitions showing the installation alongside the video a lot more intimate and personal. Certain works do definitely thrive in an installation piece where people can interact with the work, but I do like the flexibility of being able to display the video, or excerpts of it online and present it to different audiences this way, and the chance that they’re getting a different experience from it than those who have seen it first hand in the installation.
Dietrologia (Installation View) - Mia Buonaguro, 2018
MN: Your work ‘Ants’, Cecily, engages with archive television and home footage, re-contextualising it in a work about the insignificance of humans. There is also this surveillance-like element to the work, through filming the public space of a train station in a disengaged way. What role does adopting(literally in the sense of appropriating and re-contextualising footage, but also in appropriating the style of certain forms of footage, such as surveillance) elements of both mass and state-owned media play in your work?
CG: I found the use of mass and state owned footage easy to contort and re-contextualise into a manipulated way of viewing, that is far from its original purpose. This always gives me a slight snarky feeling that I enjoy. Using found archival footage of advertisements, sped up and looped, the humans appeared like scurrying ants hopelessly trying to get you to buy their products, feeding our materialistic brains. It then becomes pathetic in the context I’ve placed it in. Placing my personal footage in a surveillance-like format was a method of communicating the disconnectedness of the bustling world; to me, it is these ant-like, robotic humans, conducting their lives within society - too busy making our strange world go around to notice a fellow ant recording them in their public spaces.
Ants - Cecily Grant, 2020
MN: What do you see in the future of video art?
CG: GREAT ART. Lots of it. Also the rise of a new movement formed around advances in technology.
MB: I am really excited about the future of video art - it feels like the most fastly adapting and changing media there is at the moment, so who knows where it’ll go. For me, it feels like there are infinite possibilities with video art even now, and I think time will only work in its favour as new softwares and technologies become more readily available.