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Yvonne Spielmann, Video and Computer

The Aesthetics of Steina and Woody Vasulka

Image as process

Steina and Woody Vasulka, The Matrix, 1970-1972
Steina, Distant Activities, 1972 (video)
Steina, Distant Activities, 1972 (video)
Heraldic View
Heraldic View
Discs
Discs
In the series, Six Programs for Television, realized by the Vasulkas in 1978 at WNED, in Buffalo, New York, Woody demonstrates the audiovisual events explored in making the early videotape installations entitled Matrix (1970-1972). Matrix I (black and white) and Matrix II (color) are single-channel video installations that exhibit the phenomenon of the frame running through a matrix of monitors (a). The video signal coming from camera and internally generated input is directly processed so that the interchange of sound and image becomes apparent, which includes "controlling the sounds with images and vice versa." In order to achieve these interfering effects the video signal is interfaced with an audio synthesizer (Putney Audio Synthesizer), which renders the "energy content audible." (W.V.) The imagery can be feedback (Distant Activities) (b), an oscillator generated pattern (Heraldic View) (c), or abstract pattern (Discs) (d), but the task is to interrelate the imagery traveling up and down and sideways between a larger number of monitors.

In investigating the structure of any matrix, it is important to note that the technical description and the media discourse on the issue of the matrix image have a conceptual parallel in the broader philosophical debate on the matrix. The matrix is regarded as a metaphor for a paradoxical visual order. Both media and philosophical discourse on matrix phenomenon agree that the matrix refers to an invisible structure that becomes recognizable only when malfunctions appear and the matrix is forced to attain structure in a visual order. The matrix of the audiovisual medium is the place where paradoxical events emerge, because "logically incompatible situations" (1) become technically possible. Moreover, as the Vasulkas’ Matrix clarifies, image-as-process is essentially paradoxical. And, as a transformative image that needs to be horizontally and vertically synchronized in order to appear at all, the electronic process expresses the matrix phenomenon that constantly "overlays contradiction." (2) The simultaneity of multidirectionality, which becomes apparent in experimental approaches, thus characterizes a grounding feature of video that usually remains invisible. So it is that with exploration into the technology of the electronic medium (comparable to structuralist/materialist film), construction principles of simultaneity and synchrony are rendered recognizable in matrix experiments. And the paradoxical situations that are possible in video — when the medium is understood as process-oriented and transformative — also foreground the matrix potential of the digital.

Yvonne Spielmann © 2004 FDL

(1) Rosalind E. Krauss, The Optical Unconscious (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993) p.220-221.

(2) Ibid.