A fine mess: video art and video criticism in the 1970s and 1980s

Document Type

Book chapter

Publication details

Hayward, P 1996, 'A fine mess: video art and video criticism in the 1970s and 1980s', in J Knight (ed.), Diverse practices : a critical reader on British video art , John Libbey Press/Arts Council of Great Britain, Luton, pp. 37-44. ISBN: 9781860205002


The problem of history troubles nearly every essay in Julia Knight's anthology, Diverse Practices: A Critical Reader on British Video Art, though some more productively than others. Perhaps it is better to say that the intimation of some ineffable history - audible as the background hiss of all the other thoughts one might have about a given set of videographic data - renders each of the collection's accounts virtual in some significant way, threatening their rhetorics of coherence. Knight's introduction to the volume admits that "the single term 'video art' as it was used in the 1970s and 1980s covers such a diverse array of work that it is impossible to think in terms of 'a history.' Any critical consideration of video art has to address a whole range of creative practices . . . which can only result in the construction or articulation of multiple histories." Despite this awareness, the imbrication imbrication surgical pleating and folding of tissue to realign organs and provide extra support, e.g. chronically stretched joint capsule. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Flo imbrication of "history" and of theories of contemporary image-history - as a problem to be solved - is left aside by the primary divisions of the book's contents. Section 1 is entitled "Histories," Section 2 is entitled "Theories and Criticism" and Section 3, while a useful tool, resorts to a quasi-medieval method of taxonomy under the heading "A Chronological Guide to British Video Art." Such a 1-2-3 is hardly a dialectical tour de force. As one hungrily scans this final list for information, one cannot help but confront the non-sensicality of the timeline as organizational paradigm for a guide to a time-based medium that profoundly disrupts nearly all sustainable notions of narrative, temporalitytem·po·ral·i·ty n. pl. tem·po·ral·i·ties 1. The condition of being temporal or bounded in time. 2. temporalities Temporal possessions, especially of the Church or clergy. Noun 1. ..... Click the link for more information. and historiography. It is as if the form of the book were broken apart by the video art it would conceptualize con·cep·tu·al·ize v. con·cep·tu·al·ized, con·cep·tu·al·iz·ing, con·cep·tu·al·iz·es v.tr. To form a concept or concepts of, and especially to interpret in a conceptual way: . Nonetheless, for this reader, Diverse Practices fortuitously undergoes a kind of Hegelian transformation at the affective level, in which the sheer quantity of diversity documented, asserted, theorized and otherwise cataloged, announces that we are immersed in a qualitatively new type of endeavor. This omnisemous overload itself signals a shift in the technological capacity to affect bodies and the theoretical capacity to understand these affects.