March 31, 2017

FreezeFrame: William Kaizen Talks Video Art and Populism

What does 1970s radical video art have to do with Steve Bannon’s current right-wing propaganda machine? As it turns out, quite a lot. In conjunction with Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, we’ll be celebrating the publication of Against Immediacy: Video Art and Media Populism by scholar William Kaizen, with a screening of the rare feminist film, Another Look at the Miami Convention, on Friday, April 7. Kaizen will be in town to discuss the film, his book and the state of media populism today. We asked him to give us a preview of that discussion.


In Against Immediacy, you examine early video art from the 1960s and 1970s and its relationship with television during the same era. What drew you to this subject matter?

During the early 1990s, when I was an undergraduate in New York City, there was a burgeoning video art scene and I learned how to make and edit my own analog videotapes. The moving image was suddenly no longer relegated to the basement of museums or special screening nights in galleries—it was everywhere. I became interested in the history of artists’ use of television, from which video art was derived, and this became the basis of the book.


What would today's audiences find surprising about the early video works you studied?

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was a far more robust gallery-based video art scene than in the decade that followed, and public television regularly aired avant-garde works. Also, the first television program that was produced, shot, and edited entirely by an all-woman team, called the Women's Video News Service, was formed to cover the 1972 Democratic National Convention. Unsurprisingly, the documentary they made, called Another Look at the Miami Convention, went largely unseen, so it’s very exciting to be able to show it in Philly this month.


What is the cultural significance of Another Look at the Miami Convention and how does it figure into your book?

One of the central themes of my book is how populism intersected with left-wing politics and the mass media during the Sixties. Artist Nam June Paik coined the term "participation television" to promote the notion that people should have their say in how they’re represented in the mass media. Another Look offers an early model of DIY, grassroots political media participation that focused on difference and the identity politics before these terms became fashionable. The film covers events surrounding the convention that were ignored not only by the mainstream media but also by alternative media outlets. It gives voice to many of the people who had been excluded from public life and governmental politics for so long, including women who were serving as delegates or running for office, and members of the electorate who were marginalized because of their sexual preference, gender identity, race or otherwise.


How has participatory media evolved over time and how might you characterize it in the current moment?

What I find fascinating is how grassroots media populism migrated from the left to the right and then became the very language that governs political speech (and all speech) in the age of social media. Steve Bannon, advisor to President Trump, first made a public name for himself as the director of right-wing populist video documentaries that adopt formal strategies pioneered by the left-wing avant-garde. This raises some important, as yet unanswered questions, including: In an age of alt-facts and the online echo chamber, has media populism (public media participation) reached a saturation point? Are formal strategies the same when deployed by the left as the right? How much has changed relative to governmental politics and the participation of political others and outsiders since the Sixties?


About William Kaizen

William Kaizen is an independent scholar and curator. His research focuses on the history and politics of new media, from video art to video games. His most recent books are Against Immediacy: Video Art and Media Populism (UPNE/Dartmouth University Press, 2016) and Adventure (for Adults) (Kayrock, 2015). He has curated exhibitions on the work of pop artist Derek Boshier and the history of pop art on film in the U.S. and U.K., and has written and lectured on the work of John Smith, Nancy Grossman, Laurel Nakadate, Francesca Woodman and Chris Marker. For more see: williamkaizen.com.