By today’s standards, Dara Birnbaum’s video piece “Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman,” might not seem like a big deal. The 5 1/2-minute video looks like your typical Internet mash-up: repeating cuts of actress Lynda Carter spinning in circles to transform herself into Wonder Woman, all studded with explosions, which are also repeated.
But in the context of the late 1970s, when “Technology/Transformation” was made, the video represented something totally new. For one, it was an appropriation of a hit television program at a time when it wasn’t all that easy to appropriate video.
“There weren’t VCRs,” says L.A.-based video artist and historian Carole Ann Klonarides. “You couldn’t really record anything off the television back then. So she was actually getting her hands on the film footage. And she was using the material to re- and deconstruct television to reveal all of these stereotypical ideas about women.”
For the series, Klonarides (who now works as a career strategist for artists), says she is putting together a selection of pre-MTV music videos, as well as videos from fellow artists, including Birnbaum’s seminal Wonder Woman piece — which she has selected as her choice for Moment of Friday.
Birnbaum’s video, she says, was incredibly prescient for the way it employed the idea of the remix, as well as its nontraditional story telling.
“Up until a couple of years ago I was teaching at a number of different schools,” she says. “And this kind of thinking comes so naturally to young students today, thinking in that nonlinear way.”
And, of course, there’s the ways in which Birnbaum’s piece gleefully picks apart how women are portrayed on TV.
“Wonder Woman is supposed to be this superhero,” she explains. “But so much of it was about her sexuality, this meek little secretary who explodes into this Amazon warrior who is so alluring people are frozen when they see her.”
Klonarides is also interested in the work’s analogue roots. In her 20s, she used to work as a DJ at a club in New York called the Peppermint Lounge, where she would improvise her own music videos by playing strips of film that she accompanied with music.
“We’d go to these recycle houses and buy tape,” she recalls. “And you’d find all of this old industrial footage, like car commercials and military stuff — lots of explosions. Sometimes we could get movies too. And we’d cut them up and then use them as videos while bands played or while we played music in the club. We’d do things like play David Byrne’s ‘Psycho Killer’ with bits of the movie ‘Pyscho.’ It almost matched!”
Much of this gets at the frenetic evolution of technology. "I started making work when I was 20,” says Klonarides. “When I turned 50, I realized that my medium was extinct.” (She discusses this phenomenon more at length in this short YouTube video, “Little Deaths,” which includes terrific footage of David Lynch uttering profanities about watching movies on a smartphone.)
So enjoy Birnbaum’s Wonder Woman online while you can. Before we all move on to the next thing.
“An Evening of YouTubing” with Carole Ann Klonarides and Tom Recchion will take place at Blum & Poe on at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 23, 2727 S. La Cienega Blvd., Culver City, blumandpoe.com. RSVP required. Pack something to sit on and a picnic.
Find me on Twitter @cmonstah.