Contact theSOPAbout theSOPSupport theSOPWritersEditorsManaging Editors
theSOP logo
Published:December 28th, 2008 15:40 EST
Technology and art

The dawn of video art 2.0

By Alvaro Collar

It is commonly accepted that video art began in the year 1965 in New York City and Nam June Paik was the first artist. Paik recorded the Pope`s visit to the city from the back seat of a taxi, stuck in a traffic jam caused by the parade, and his footage was screened that very same night at a place in Greenwich Village called Café a Go-Go.

At least he allegedly did that, because, according to Syracuse University Professor Tom Sherman, it would have been impossible for Paik to record the event from the back seat of the taxi as the technology that would have allowed him to do that was not yet available. The camera Paik was using needed to be plugged into a wall socket and could not have been adapted to run off         batteries. " [1]

Still the starting date of video art is 1965 and, leaving Nam June Paik`s story aside, that year is important for the commercialization of the device that will trigger the development of this art form: the Sony Portapack

Until that year video cameras were just too expensive to buy and too big to carry. They were  the exclusive property of big entertainment corporations or cinema studios but were mainly out of reach for the general public. In such a climate the development of the Portapack cameras and others like them were a great impulse in the creation and evolution of video art.

In any case, after 1965, artists started to use the camera to document their work or artistic procedures. As Michel Rush points out in one of his books they were not videoartists but they were using the camera as a tool ".[2]  After that initial period, there was a movement away from mere documentation and toward developing video independently and an approach towards creation. To do that they needed to create a new audiovisual language and to a large extent they acquired cinema language mimetically and started using it in their creations.  

Even though it has only been a short period of time since the creation of the Portapack, we are at the brink of a new stage in video art. This change is due to the speed of the unprecedented technological revolution that we are experiencing nowadays.

One of the main characteristics of this revolution is the integration between all devices, e.g. mobiles phones with 3gp, video and photo camera and mp3.

Secondly, most of the time this integration is equivalent to portability. New devices are smaller and light enough to be carried everywhere. The paradigm of this are the mobile phones that have evolved from its initial function to now be utilized as video and photo cameras, notebooks, mp3 players, computers or televisions.

Thirdly, this huge technological development is meant to be affordable to people and in most cases it is. Some organizations and governments are fighting against what is called the digital divide or or in other words the gap existing between people who have digital devices and effective access to the web and those who don`t. Everybody is meant to be in this revolution.

And there is yet another important event that will also affect video art and even audiovisual narrative itself: the development of web 2.0.

Let`s start describing the web before the web 2.0. Back in 1994 the web was static. There were a very limited number of people that created content for the web. If we advance until 1997 we start seeing some changes in the way the web was built. Somehow the web becomes more dynamic and the contents are often refreshed. But still, there are only very basic interactions.

Web 2.0 was a term popularized after the first O´Reilly Media Web 2.0 conference in 2004, and in some way is a new understanding on the use and creation of the Internet. The main change is that users can now contribute in a massive way and new social networks, blogs and wikis are being created.

One of the main triggers of this revolution is extremely linked with the audiovisual media: Youtube.  The video sharing website has 10 million unique users world wide and each minute 13 hours of video are uploaded into this platform[3] allowing users to watch and comment on the videos and also to upload their own or even reply with one video to one previously posted.

All of this resembles what happened in 1965 with the development of the Sony Portapack. If back in those days the creation of a portable and cheaper recording devices favoured the development of a new art from, how can we deny the influence that this technological revolution will bring on the very foundations of that art?

Nowadays we have a portable, inexpensive technology for recording, we have a new way of distribution which is free and immediate and we have the need to change the old language of cinema for a new one that incorporates features such as interactivity.

Everything is ready for a global change that is already affecting the way we live and the way we create and experience art. And in this change, the moving image and video art have a lot to say.


[1] Tom Sherman The Premature Birth of Video Art "

[2] Michael Rush Video Art ". Revised edition. Thames & Hudson.

[3] Information obtained from the Communication Department of Google Spain and Portugal.