If it Works, It's Obsolete

Gerry Fialka is LA's tireless advocate for alternative media and DIY culture generally, and the creative potential of the PXL 2000, a cheap, plastic toy video camera made by Fisher-Price in the 1980s, in particular. The camera produces a glitchy, chunky black-and-white image that's, well, often quite beautiful. For 20 years, the Venice-based media proponent has been showcasing videos made with the PXL 2000 camera in the PXL This video festival, which returns with a celebratory 20th annual showcase this Monday night, December 13, with two shows (7:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.) at the Unurban Coffeehouse at 3301 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica. I took the anniversary as an opportunity to ask Gerry a few questions, starting with what makes the PXL 2000 camera interesting in a world where we now have so many video camera options.

"McLuhan said, 'If it works, it's obsolete,'" says Gerry. "The PXL is remarkable because it does not work." Gerry is referring here to the fact that the camera does not even attempt to mimic reality; it's not interested in clarity, resolution or fidelity. Instead, the camera produces a glimpse of the world, one that underscores visual manipulation and dismisses attempts at perfection. "Giving the viewer less information might mean more involvement by the viewer," Gerry suggests. "It enables the possibility of 'breakdown as breakthrough.'" Considering the array of camera options, Gerry adds, "There's lots of video cams on the market that have some similar features, but none with the unique gothic dreamy look - there are lots of cool words that have described its services and disservices!"
Shooting with the PXL 2000 is also fun. It's nicely shaped, lightweight, and now, nearly 30 years after its birth, boasts a sleek retro look that the little Flip video camera will never have. Oddly enough, the camera records onto sound cassettes, and the image itself is framed with a black matte, giving the resulting footage an elegant look in contrast with the chaos of the imagery itself. When you use a PXL Vision camera, you really have to negotiate with the camera; the process is about discovery rather than capture. "We are really about McLuhan's adage, 'We shape our tools, then they shape us,'" adds Gerry. "That's the meta-cognition here." He goes on to suggest that often artists try to rekindle the visionary delight of children, and using a toy contributes to that sense of creativity and rule-breaking.

Gerry notes that technically he does not "curate" the festival. "I show every entry," he explains. "We welcome kids and homeless people and rich art kids and so on. We celebrate a tool, and we leave it to the audience and press to make aesthetic judgments." He adds that audience reactions definitely shift each year. "'Anything that's popular is a rear-view image,'" Gerry adds, again quoting Marshall McLuhan. "We are not a popular festival." That said, the show is an annual highlight for those seeking offbeat imagery and storytelling, and creativity that emerges in dialogue with imperfect and magical toy tools. More info: 310-306-7330.

[Images taken from a PXL 2000 user's manual, available here.]

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