SVA presents “Life & Death,” an exhibition of works produced over four decades by pioneering video artists Dara Birnbaum, Peter Campus, Frank Gillette and Bill Viola, on view October 17 – November 17 at the Visual Arts Gallery, 601 West 26 Street, 15th Floor, New York City (reception on Thursday, October 18, 6-8pm). “Life & Death is curated by MFA Art Practice Department Chair David Ross, who notes in his curatorial statement, “the exhibition is an attempt to distill a central metaphor found in four very different works, each dealing in its own way with issues of transcendence and mortality.”
First known for her 1978-1979 video mash-up/collage of television actress Linda Carter in the role of Diana Prince transforming into Wonder Woman, Dara Birnbaum is among the first generation of artists to appropriate television imagery, recontextualizing pop icons through fragmentation and repetition to expose the mechanisms of collective memory. By the early 1980’s she began creating complex metaphorical video works, generally eschewing the use of found or appropriated footage.
Peter Campus earned a degree in Experimental Psychology before taking up video in the early 1970s to investigate the role of the spectator and the relationship between illusion and reality. In his 1979 installation work Head of a Man with Death on His Mind—produced shortly before the artist took a 17-year hiatus from making video work—Campus closely frames a face staring directly at the viewer, immobile except for an occasional, monumental (the projected face is 12 feet high) blink of the eyes. The video loops continuously, giving the impression that the man will bear his thoughts of death silently, impassively, forever.
A founding member of the Raindance Corporation, the alternative-media think tank that published the influential Radical Software magazine beginning in 1970, Frank Gillette produces multi-channel video installations, photographic works and single videos in which empirical observations of natural phenomena are reorganized into complex audiovisual compositions. In his first new video installation work since 1984, Conjunction, he stages a conceptual faceoff by placing four identical monitors at right angles to one other.
Widely acknowledged as having expanded the scope of video art in terms of technology, probing intellectual and spiritual content and the use of images and motifs from the history of art, Bill Viola began experimenting with sound and visual recording techniques as a teenager and studied visual art and electronic music at Syracuse University in the early 1970s. He and Ross worked together as undergraduates, and then again during Ross’ pioneering video curatorial work at the Everson Museum. His 1992 installation Heaven and Earth is a deeply personal work reflecting his ongoing engagement with archetypal imagery from eastern and western spiritual traditions.
For more information about ”Life & Death” and all of the artists above, visit SVA.edu/events.
Images from top down: Frank Gillette, Conjunction (image still), 2012; Dara Birnbaum, Will-O’-The-Wisp, 1985, courtesy Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York; Bill Viola, Heaven and Earth, 1992, Video installation courtesy of Bill Viola Studio, Photo: Robert Keziere.