Video art exhibition this Fall at Real Art Ways
Oct 21, 2023 – Jan 14, 2024
Real Art Ways
56 Arbor St, Hartford, CT 06106-1222
+1 860 232 1006
Opening Oct 21, 4-7PM
Curator’s discussion of the work Dec 9, 4PM
statement by curator Terri C. Smith
Tubular Times is a group exhibition that features significant video art made from 1981-1993. The show also includes thematically related satellite installations with newer works by contemporary artists Am Schmidt and Willie Stewart. The historic component will be on view in the main gallery and black box room and will feature approximately twelve artists, including Peggy Ahwesh, Max Almy, Ericka Beckman, Gretchen Bender, Dara Birnbaum, Cecelia Condit, Cecilia Dougherty, Ulysses Jenkins, Nam June Paik, Ann Magnuson, Pipilotti Rist, and Michael Smith.
Terri C. Smith is showing my little-known 1986 video, SICK, a visual monologue about being disabled and closeted about my disability. But it’s not all doom and gloom – it’s an experimental piece created at the San Francisco Art Insitute, in Studio 9, which was equipped with a gigantic Grass Valley Switcher and Downstream Keyer. All our effects and colors were created in the live mix. Very analog, and lots ‘n lots of fun!
The exhibition is inspired by Vestron video, which was a production company and VHS distributor located in Stamford, Connecticut in the eighties and early nineties. Sharing qualities with Vestron’s catalog of B-horror, music video, and campy humor, many of the works in Tubular Times layer comedy, horror, and music to address 1980s political themes in the U.S., including the AIDS crisis, a growing wealth gap, and Reagan-era backlash to the civil liberties of the 1960s and 1970s. The show’s title references: cathode-ray tube (CRT) televisions used in the 1980s; that decade’s saying “totally tubular”; and phonetically suggests the word turbulent.
1981 was the first year of MTV and the first year of the AIDS epidemic, setting much of the tone for a decade. It’s not surprising, then, that the video art of the 1980s exhibited a unique mix of urgency, desperation, camp, and techno celebration. In the video art of that era, gender identity, a sense of life-and-death urgency, theatricality, satire, and experimental digital techniques coalesced. During this time, we see irreverent divergences from the conceptual video art of the 1970s which, while often addressing sociopolitical themes, was rarely directly influenced by television and movies. With cable television growing in the mid-1970s and being in sixty-percent of American houses by 1992 and with VHS bringing movies into the home, the topographies of entertainment shifted dramatically during this time. Video editing also became more sophisticated, allowing artists to appropriate imagery from pop culture.
Vestron’s catalog was a mix of comedy, satirical spoofs, and thriller/horror genres. The company also was involved in music videos and released Making of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Vestron is best known for the film Dirty Dancing, but other movies they released include: quirky comedies like Earth Girls are Easy and The Princess Bride; horror movies such as Slaughter High and Horror Hill; and comedy-horror films such as Sundown: the Vampire Retreat and Lair of the White Worm. For some of the artists in Tubular Times, horror—a genre inextricably linked to VHS—becomes an allegory for the othering of the LGBTQ+ community as well as the systemic failure and loss of life during the AIDS crisis, which was further exacerbated by Reagan-era policies that centered cisgender, heteronormative, white, capitalist ideals. The resulting ethos of these videos is to varying degrees harrowing and hysterically funny.
It is fitting to locate Totally Tubular—an exhibition inspired by this piece of Connecticut film history—at Real Art Ways, a contemporary art space that has a long, rich history of supporting independent cinema through its film programming.