Wave of Enthusiasm for L.A. Freewaves : Video: The second edition of the monthlong festival of independent works attracts artists from diverse backgrounds and cultures.


What surprised Anne Bray most about coordinating the second edition of L.A. Freewaves, the monthlong festival of independent video work that begins Friday at the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Los Angeles?

Call it the “Oh, yeah” factor.

One objective of the first Freewaves festival in November, 1989, was to establish a collaborative network to foster interest in independent video work here. But the reception Bray encountered--from cable television systems, schools and arts organizations of all sizes--caught her off guard.

“The attitude of most institutions that joined this year--even the ones that had never shown video before--was, ‘Why not? Of course,’ ” Bray said in her downtown Los Angeles loft. “You had the definite feeling that everyone was thinking about video and we just needed to make connections.”

The upshot is a schedule including tie-ins with ongoing exhibitions at several museums and more than 40 other shows presented at arts organizations throughout Southern California in March.

Freewaves will also hit the airwaves: Starting Monday, eight hourlong shows of works addressing such themes as racism, the environment, personal relationships and sexual identity will air at 10 p.m. Mondays and Thursday throughout March on a network of 22 local cable outlets.


Bray said she feels that Friday’s opening-night reception and program at the Museum of Contemporary Art reflects the major goals of the Freewaves consortium: spotlighting the range of genres and the diversity of people operating in the independent video art field.

“We’re mixing genres, mixing the size of the organizations from places that have no budget to a $14-million annual budget,” she explained. “We’re mixing ethnicities and we have emerging artists and internationally known ones. They are all in the room together.”

But reflecting that wasn’t a conscious consideration for Ken Kirby, the former AFI Video Festival director who curated the opening night program “I, a Member.”

“The idea I discerned coming out of the tapes was how they represent an individual’s vision and voice and how that corresponds with being a member of a larger group,” he said.

Independent video art doesn’t necessarily have the slick sheen or “something for everybody” slant of a commercial television program. Some key works in the “I, a Member” program that helped Kirby formulate the theme were decidedly low-tech. Eric Saks’ “You Talk/I Buy” was shot on a $99 toy camera; “Lithuanian Lullaby,” by Leslie Wilson and Nijole Sparklis, used computer-image processing in rudimentary fashion.

But some artists do focus on high-tech manipulation of visual images; some use sexually explicit images and/or language in their work, while others deal with social issues from what some would consider a radical perspective. The only common links in independent video work: attempting to find a creative alternative to the formulaic approach of broadcast television or MTV and the constant scrambling for the funding and technical access required to do their work.

“With video, you have to beat the muses into submission,” said artist Janice Tanaka, who has two pieces in Freewaves. “Once you get hold of a camera or hit that editing room, you’ve got to make it work at that time.”

While a new focus on individual curators resulted in the inclusion of more works by artists from outside Southern California, Freewaves didn’t ignore its mandate to local artists. An “Afternoon of Access” at the Long Beach Museum of Art on March 17 is designed to connect video makers with arts organizations and technical support groups.

As part of its philosophy of a decentralized festival that reaches out to its audience, Freewaves offered participating organizations a choice of 15 individually curated shows. An integral component was arts organizations that are often not included in art events: several programs of Spanish-language work, and tapes geared to African-American or Asian-American issues, are scheduled at venues within those communities.

“Our road shows and cable shows are thematically related but they’re a potpourri,” said Bray.

Despite a doubled budget that enabled the Freeways consortium to pay artists and curators, and despite its success in expanding the number of participating organizations, the amount of volunteer effort required to stage the event may prevent it from sticking to an annual schedule. The next Freewaves festival is tentatively set for the summer of 1992. Its lasting value may lie in the ongoing connections it has forged.

“We’re actually creating a community,” Bray said. “A community of independents sounds like a contradiction in terms, but these meetings generated a new network that has connected us very strongly.”

Information: (213) 657-6558. Admission to many of the events is free.