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Enhancing the Image of Video as Vehicle for Art

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

“Most people refuse to acknowledge video as an art form, and I think the relationship we have with television has a lot to do with that,” observes Carole Ann Klonarides, media arts curator at the Long Beach Museum of Art.

“We grow up thinking of TV as a cross between a piece of furniture and an appliance--we certainly don’t consider it a vehicle for art. I often hear people proudly declare, ‘I don’t even own a television,’ and most intellectuals believe information of value comes from books--those attitudes definitely work against video.”

Working as an independent curator and producer of art videos since the early ‘70s, Klonarides has seen video undergo a dramatic transformation. However, the developments in the form have gone largely unnoticed by the public, which continues to resist video art for a variety of reasons. There has been resistance from other quarters as well.

“Video hasn’t gotten much support from the art world either,” Klonarides said during an interview at the museum. “Art magazine editors apparently don’t think there’s an interest in it, and many journalists have told me they can’t get video-related writing published. The common misconception--even within the art world--is that video is boring. That idea probably originated in the early days of video when you’d walk into an empty gallery scattered with plastic chairs and you had to sit there interminably.”

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Although video art has yet to assume a comfortable place in popular culture, the Long Beach Museum has long been among its staunchest supporters. Beginning in 1974 with a program inaugurated by David Ross (currently the director of New York’s Whitney Museum), the Long Beach Museum is known internationally for being on the cutting edge of video. Long Beach, one of just three U.S. museums with in-house production facilities (the other two are the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the Wexner Center in Columbus, Ohio), is also known for its adventurous curatorial policy.

“People scratch their heads and ask, ‘Why is Long Beach internationally known for video?’ ” Klonarides says. “It’s not like the community supports it. It’s just that David Ross started a fantastic program here, and the curators who followed him--Kathy Huffman and Michael Nash--maintained the standards he set. There’s such a tradition of supporting experimental work here that I have no fear my hands will be tied in any way; the only obstacle is money.”

Continuing the tradition of innovation, Klonarides has produced a video catalogue for the museum’s multimedia exhibition titled “Relocations and Revisions: the Japanese-American Internment Reconsidered.” The show, which continues through July 5, features installations by Bruce and Norman Yonemoto and Rea Tajiri. The catalogue, which includes contributions from nine artists, is one Klonarides describes as “the first video catalogue ever done.”

“I’m very interested in home market,” she says, elaborating on her goals. “The idea of getting an idea into millions of homes is thrilling, and I’d love to work with some artists and create a program that could actually be broadcast on television. Traditionally, video has been ghettoized in the museum, but it could function well in many other settings.”

Citing the invention of the portable camera in the late ‘60s as marking the birth of video, Klonarides said she has seen major developments in the form since the early pioneering work of artists like Bruce Nauman and Nam June Paik.

“Artists have access to more sophisticated equipment now, and low-tech equipment is becoming better,” she says. “Artists are also exploring experimental new forms like Virtual Reality, which is now in a fairly primitive state but has tremendous potential.

“One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is TV and video art haven’t begun to merge at all. TV shows that are considered avant-garde are really fairly conventional,” she continues, singling out two PBS series. “ ‘Alive From Off Center’ was performance oriented and wasn’t involved in anything experimental, and ‘Edge’ is still using the television magazine format. I’d like to see something that totally redefines what television could be.

“ ‘Twin Peaks’ was exciting when it first started, and it revived an interest in television for many people, but the stresses of a weekly show are so extreme that the series couldn’t keep up the quality level.”

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Klonarides, the oldest in a family of three children, was born in 1951 and grew up in Northern Virginia. After earning a bachelor’s degree at Virginia Commonwealth University, she moved to New York in 1970 and participated in the Whitney Museum Independent Studies Program. She went on to receive a master’s from the New School for Social Research in 1982. Her involvement with video began shortly after she arrived in New York.

Klonarides began her career as a video curator in 1978 working for “SoHo TV Presents,” a Manhattan cable show that introduced the works of artists such as Bill Viola and Dara Birnbaum, along with early performances by Spalding Gray, Laurie Anderson and Eric Bogosian. That year she met Michael Owen, who’s been her partner for 11 years in MICA-TV, a production company they formed to generate and produce art videos. Together, they’ve created tapes with several artists, among them Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman and R.M. Fischer. After she left “SoHo TV Presents” in 1983, Klonarides was director of New York’s Baskerville and Watson Gallery for five years. After leaving the gallery in 1987, she worked as an independent producer and curator until she moved to Long Beach in November.

“I like L.A. a lot. I find there’s an energy here similar to that of New York in the early ‘70s; there’s an art community here that’s really beginning to gel.

“I also find the proximity to the film industry exciting--in fact, I’ve been noticing lately that a lot of filmmakers are beginning to incorporate video into their work. Oliver Stone used video inserts in ‘JFK,’ and to me that was the most interesting thing about the film. I love the way all these textures are beginning to blend.

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“Going from film to video to surveillance footage to satellite technology to total synthetic creations--when you mix all these different reads together you get a whole new comprehension of television. It’s a new form of visual literacy, and we’re presently learning to track ideas in a completely new way.”

The Long Beach Museum of Art is at 2300 E. Ocean Blvd. in Long Beach; (310) 439-2119.


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