Video Art

The history of Russian video art began in 1985, when artist Andrey Monastyrsky asked Sabine Haensgen – a doctoral student from West Germany, who had gone to Russia to collect material for her PhD thesis on Moscow Conceptualism – if he could borrow her Blaukpunkt VHS camera to record a “performance for the video camera” called Conversation with a Lamp.

The Moscow-based “Collective Actions” group  were the first artists to use the video camera as an active participant in their performances, rather than just as a recording device for documentary purposes.

Boris Yukhananov was a member of “Cine Fantom” – an underground organisation of independent Soviet filmmakers – and a renowned theatrical director. From 1986, he made films, which he called “slow video,” and widely wrote about the differences between cinema and video.

Led by Bulat Galeev, the Prometheus Institute from Kazan started experimenting with video technology in 1986, making a series of video works which they called “light music films.” Most importantly, they were the first artists in Russia to make video installations and show them to the public.

“Pirate Television” was the “first independent television channel” in the Soviet Union. From 1989 to 1992, a group of nonconformist artists from Leningrad (renamed St Petersburg in 1991), led by Juris Lesnik, Timur Novikov and Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe recorded a string of television programmes, which were completely different to what was being broadcast at that time on Soviet national television.

In the Post-Soviet Period, the nonconformists, who had disobeyed the canons of Socialist Realism, emerged from the podpolye (Russian for “basement” or “underground”). The first ever independent art venues devoted to contemporary art opened. The first exhibitions of video art were held in the new galleries open to the public; the work of Kirill Preobrazhensky and Sergey Shutov was of great importance.

The TV Gallery in Moscow enjoys a special place in this history, because it was founded in 1991 with the express purpose of promoting video art. Gia Rigvava's commitment to video made him the first member of the Russian art community to be acclaimed on a national scale as a “video artist.”

The Art Technology Institute and the Theremin Centre for Electro-Acoustic Music and Multimedia were the first organisations in Russia to offer educational programmes and technical assistance to artists interested in working with video and computer technology. In the mid-1990s, the “DabluCITY”exhibition attempted to systematise the video art created in the country by that time.

Video technology was used by Timur Novikov’s New Academy of Fine Arts. In direct opposition to the Russian avant-garde of the early twentieth century, the New Academists celebrated the employment of video and computer technology as essential instruments in their programme to restore the pre-eminence of classical art.

Besides the “klub culture” and the phenomenon of “psychedelic videos” – single-channel videos and video installations made exclusively for the discothèque – video technology was employed by the “Moscow Actionists,” a group of young artists whose public performances caused uproar and controversy. Video was an effective way for them to promote their programmes and was, in a few cases, used as an active part of their performances.

The “NewMediaTopia/NewMediaLogia” project consisted of an exhibition, a conference and a book (1994–96). These three interrelated events signalled an important shift in the evolution of video art in Russia. Throughout its early years, video had suffered from a lack of funding and, most importantly, from a lack of theoretical support from the critics. For the very first time, government institutions, international funding agencies, artist-run organisations and private companies joined forces and organised a large-scale exhibition of original works, held a conference with the participation of internationally renowned critics, theoreticians and artists, and published a book of essays on media arts. This enterprise helped to acknowledge the importance of video. Afterwards, it became much easier for artists to secure financial help. The growing number of essays, articles, press-releases and artists’ statements related to video in the literature proved the relevance that video art had acquired.

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