It is the centre of art-world fashion. It is usually bad, boring and pretentious. So what is it that video art is trying to do that television can't do better?by Ben Lewis / October 22, 2005 / Leave a comment
There is nowadays only one kind of artist who can obtain a solo show at a leading public art gallery with only seven works to his or her name while still less than 30 years of age. A video artist.
Evidence of this is the show that Nick Relph (26) and Oliver Payne (28) are enjoying for a month at the Serpentine Gallery. Both the Haunch of Venison and White Cube galleries are also exhibiting video art. It is the drug of choice among the young of the art world. But it is easy to overdose on this powerful tranquiliser and lapse into a catatonic state.
This year’s Venice biennale was swamped with overhead projectors and wobbly blown-up DV images. Why is there so much video art? It occasionally has something to do with the talent of the artists, though not often enough to measure scientifically. But most of the time it has to do with the fact that curators are more naive when it comes to video than other mediums. And that is because art theory is particularly accommodating towards video art.
Payne and Relph’s supporters will tell you that they are the most significant young British artists to have emerged since the Britart phenomenon. They produce poetic short films which, ten years ago, might have had a slot late at night on Channel 4. These have very charitably been described as low-budget art-pop videos. The films last ten or 20 minutes, have a rhythmic soundtrack, abstract patterns, bands playing, and people dancing. They include a voiceover, or subtitles, usually discussing the corporate commercialisation of youth culture. These appear to be the hackneyed musings of any group of twentysomethings enjoying a spliff after a rave. But curators of the Serpentine and other influential gallerists take a different view. For them, the wobbly camera and out-of-focus shots reference the aesthetic of consumer video, while the beautiful patterns of London’s blurred lights and reflections in puddles are a modern-day version of Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera. The zany sense of humour of this duo produces offbeat dada collages of modern icons—a girl giving two fingers against a background of baked beans, or two guys dressed in Scream masks and mobile phone suits. It is significant, the exhibition catalogue will tell you, that Payne and Relph’s camera moves at a snail’s pace (in and out of focus because it is…