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Positively video

Kathy Cleland reports on Video Positive 97

Kathy Cleland is a Sydney-based writer and curator. Her attendance at Video Positive 97 and the Cosmopolis Conference was arranged as part of the program curated by Linda Wallace, and financially assisted by the Australian Film Commission.

Video Positive 97: Escaping Gravity Video Positive 97: Escaping Gravity
Video Positive 97: Escaping Gravity (VP97), billed as the UK’s biggest ever festival of video and electronic art, spanned two cities (Liverpool and Manchester) and 12 venues. With approximately two hundred artists included in the various exhibitions, installations, film and video programs, festival audiences needed serious doses of caffeine as well as dedication to experience all that was on offer. The festival also included three conferences: LEAF 97 (exploring art, society and technology from an east-European perspective) Cosmopolis: Excavating Invisible Cities (investigating the transition from the post-industrial to the digital city) and Escaping Gravity: The Student Conference.

As well as presenting work at standard festival venues such as galleries and theatrettes, VP97 also placed work in less traditional venues including Cream at Nation, a popular nightclub venue in Liverpool, cafes, and the Museum of Science and Technology in Manchester. The Liverpool cathedral’s oratory was the site for Bill Viola’s video installation The Messenger, a mesmerising work showing a submerged, almost lifeless, human figure slowing rising to the surface and gasping air before again descending to repeat the sequence over and over again. Viola’s work was an eerie experience for viewers who became aware, as their eyes got used to the dark interior, that they were standing amongst lifeless stone statues. The VideoWall at Wade Smith, a sports store in Liverpool, was another imaginative but somewhat problematic foray out of the art institutions into the ‘real’ world. Audiences trying to view George Barber’s Video High Volume 2 were just as likely to be greeted with a half hour Nike ad which was alternated with Barber’s work.

There was a strong Australian presence at VP97 in the form of the program curated by Linda Wallace and financially supported by the Australian Film Commission. Jon McCormack’s startling and poetic ‘artificial life’ progeny were exhibited in his Turbulence installation in the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester.

In Lyndal Jones’ From the Darwin Translations: Spitfire 1.2.3. audience members moved through a room full of monitors displaying images of poppy fields with an accompanying soundtrack of birdsong into a darkened room dominated by a large screen showing footage of a pilot’s eye view from the cockpit of a Spitfire fighter plane. An intimate atmosphere was created by headphones which positioned the individual audience members in the cockpit’s aural interior (engine and propeller noises), as disembodied women’s voices told stories of their sexual fantasies about the archetypal warrior pilot.

Gordon Bennett’s Performance with Object for the Expiation of Guilt (Violence and Grief remix) was presented via video with artefacts from the performance (black whipping box and stock whip) adding a disturbing physical presence. Exploring the complexities of black/white racism and the construction of the Other, his was one of the most overtly political works in the festival.

Also included in the program were two video programs and five CD-ROMs: Martine Corompt’s The Cute Machine, Josephine Starrs’ and Leon Cmielewski’s User Unfriendly Interface, Brad Miller’s Planet Of Noise, Lloyd Sharp’s Invert and Patricia Piccinini’s Genetic Manipulation Simulator. These works were presented as part of a ‘CD-ROM Forest’ in the Museum for Science and Technology; inexplicably, the sound was turned down very low on these works creating a somewhat barren experience as audiences wandered between the discrete computer terminals.

Other highlights of the festival were Jaap de Jonge’s (Netherlands) Crystal Ball, a magical kaleidoscope eye mounted into the wall of the Cornerhouse Gallery in Manchester. Viewers responding to the message touch me were rewarded with fragmentary images of TV and cable broadcasts scanned from the mediascape. In Liverpool at the Open Eye gallery, Thecla Schiphorst’s (Canada) Bodymaps: Artefacts of Touch incorporated sensors under a white velvet surface. A near life-sized figure projected onto the surface twisted, turned and moved in response to audience members touching and stroking the velvet. Jane Prophet’s (England) high-tech fibreglass cyborg Sarcophagus was animated by the audience passing their hands over different ‘body’ zones—head, heart and stomach—which displayed images representing biological and informational systems.

The success of the exhibition installations was due in no small part to the impressive array of equipment the organisers of the festival, FACT (Foundation for Art & Creative Technology), based in Liverpool, were able to secure for the artists. A pool of equipment from MITES (Moving Image Touring & Exhibition Service)—including 25 video projectors as well as computers and laser disc players—made up approximately half of the equipment used, with the remainder secured through various sponsorship deals.

ISEA98 (themed ‘revolution’) is set to build on the VP97 collaboration between Liverpool and Manchester and is being organised by FACT in conjunction with Liverpool University and Manchester Metropolitan University, and with the support of local councils which are demonstrating a high level of commitment to the cultural and economic opportunities presented by new digital technologies.

Video Positive 97, Liverpool and Manchester, April 11–May 18

More information on the festival and the artists can be found online at: [expired]

The homepage for the program can be found online at:

Kathy Cleland is a Sydney-based writer and curator. Her attendance at Video Positive 97 and the Cosmopolis Conference was arranged as part of the program curated by Linda Wallace, and financially assisted by the Australian Film Commission.

RealTime issue #19 June-July 1997 pg. 25

© Kathy Cleland; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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