Music + Image: Music Videos (and More) From the '80s

O Superman

The 1980s saw an explosion of fantastic video art as artists explored the possibilities of television as a form. Funding was abundant, shows celebrating new work were prevalent and there was a flurry of excitement around new short-form work. Many of the best experiments were music videos, with artists as varied as Laurie Anderson, Zbigniew Rybczyński and Dara Birnbaum creating innovative pieces that eschewed a focus on bands in action, preferring an emphasis on concepts, graphics, and visual innovation.

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REDCAT will highlight these early experiments on Tuesday, February 7 at 8:30 p.m. in a show titled Music + Image, curated by L.A.-based artist Nancy Buchanan and presented in conjunction with Exchange and Evolution: Worldwide Video Long Beach, 1974-1999 at the Long Beach Museum of Art.

The show includes Anderson's wonderful O Superman, featuring the artist in a deceptively simple video that mixes performance and simple graphics to underscore the mechanization of the body alluded to in the lyrics, and to deliver an iconic language of the near future. Anderson managed to bridge the art world and pop culture with the song, which was a huge hit in 1981, and the video helped build her audience.

Possibly in MichiganCecilia Condit's Possibly in Michigan is less a music video and more a feminist genre-bending short that opens in a mall where two women are menaced by a man in a creepy mask. Riffing on soap operas and fairy tales, the video is by turns macabre and hilarious, a subversive take on classic - and highly gendered - archetypes.

With Wonder Woman, Dara Birnbaum might have inaugurated the critical remix as she appropriates footage of the dazzling TV heroine and repeats it for scrutiny. The technique Wonder Womanis provocative, slowing the flow of TV to accommodate reflection, and creating a hybrid essay video that makes its argument purely through images and repetition.

Zbigniew Rybczynski's Imagine accompanies the song by John Lennon and features a long line of connected rooms which move two key characters through several stages of their lives. The lovely video showcases Rybczynski's fascination with structure and, again, is deceptively simple but conceptually brilliant.

Once in a LifetimeOnce in a Lifetime, also from 1981, features David Byrne and the famous Talking Heads track, with the singer, dressed in his characteristic black suit, moving jaggedly to the beat. His image is multiplied against a white background to create a powerful graphic sequence that captures the band's general gestalt.

Overall, this terrific show includes 14 videos from the late 1970s and 1980s, each an experiment with a different technique designed to push the boundaries of art video. Buchanan will attend in person, along with artists Max Almy, Toni Basil and Carole Ann Klonarides.

About the Author

Holly Willis teaches in USC's School of Cinematic Arts and writes about new media art. She is the author of "New Digital Cinema: Reinventing the Moving Image" and editor of "The New Ecology of Things" on pervasive computing.
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