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Steina and Woody Vasulka fonds

Steina and Woody Vasulka, circa 1980
Steina, circa 1976 Steina, circa 1976 Steina, Orbital Obsessions, 1977
Steina and Woody Vasulka, Solo for 3, 1974 (excerpt) (video)
Steina and Woody Vasulka, Telc, 1974 (excerpt) (video)
The Vasulkas in their Buffalo studio, 1978 Steina in the Vasulkas' Buffalo studio, circa 1975 Jeffrey Schier in the Vasulkas' Buffalo studio, circa 1978 The Vasulkas in their Buffalo studio, 1977 Steina and Woody Vasulka, Solo for 3, 1974 (excerpt) (video) Steina and Woody Vasulka, Telc, 1974 (excerpt) (video)


Steina and Woody Vasulka fonds. - 1954-2001 (especially 1969-1995).- 6.48 m. of textual and other documents.

Biographical note:

Bohuslav Vasulka (Woody) was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia, on January 20, 1937. In 1960, he settled in Prague and five years later immigrated to New York. From 1952 to 1956, Woody Vasulka studied metallurgy and mechanics at the industrial engineering school in Brno where he earned his degree in 1956. He later graduated from the faculty of cinema and television at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. While pursuing his studies in the fifties, Woody Vasulka also wrote poetry and produced short films. After arriving in the United States in 1965, he began making independent documentaries and also edited industrial films at Harvey Lloyd Productions (New York, N.Y. United States). The following year, at the request of architects Woods and Ramirez, he collaborated on developing films designed for a multi-screen environment to be shown in the American Pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal. In 1968, Woody Vasulka conducted his first experiments with electronic images and put aside cinematographic form in favour of video.

Steinunn Briem Bjarnadottir (Steina) was born in Reykjavik, Iceland, on January 30, 1940. In 1959, she settled in Prague. She had begun studying violin and musical theory in 1953 and continued her studies at the state conservatory in Prague from 1959 to 1963 and then with Theodore Pashkus, first in New York and then in Paris in 1967.

Steina and Woody Vasulka met in Prague in 1960 and married in 1964. From 1964 to 1973, they lived in New York and then moved to Buffalo and later to Santa Fe in 1980.

In the early seventies, their video work was close to the style of direct documentaries. From 1969 to 1971, with support from a Portapak mobile production unit, Steina and Woody Vasulka amassed video segments documenting the concerts and performances they attended at venues connected with New York's counterculture movement (Automation House, WBAI Free Music Store, Filmore East). To meet a need expressed by artists for a centre to produce and show electronic art, the couple, together with Andrea Manick, opened The Electronic Kitchen (later shortened to The Kitchen) in 1971 in what had once been the kitchen of the Mercer Art Center (New York, N.Y., United States). This artists run organization helped video makers and later musicians, dancers and performers operating outside the mainstream to create their work and present it at a venue that favoured discussion and experimentation. Steina and Woody Vasulka ran The Kitchen till 1973. Meanwhile, they also began experimenting with equipment (modulators, video synthesizers, keyers, sequencers) that enabled them to isolate the elements of a visual vocabulary and build a syntax specific to electronic images.

After moving to Buffalo in 1973, they were invited to develop the production lab of the Center for Media Study at the State University of New York (Buffalo, N.Y., United States), a research centre devoted to media theory and founded by Gerald O'Grady. Woody Vasulka became an associate professor there in 1974 and Steina in 1976. Both taught at the centre till 1979. Though they worked together periodically, as of 1975, their approaches began to differ.

From 1975 to 1977, Steina focused mainly on the series Machine Vision, a project examining the mediation of space through technology that included videos and installations. She also began designing feedback devices to reverberate sound waves off video signals and vice versa. Through a series of didactic videos, Woody Vasulka pursued his work analyzing electronic images that he had begun in the early seventies. In 1976, Steina became a Guggenheim fellow, as did Woody in 1979. In 1977, Steina and Woody Vasulka produced a series of television programs for WNED-Channel 17 (Buffalo, N.Y., United States), that showcased the results of their experiments since the early seventies with electronic images.

From 1976 to 1980, Woody worked with Jeffrey Schier on building the Vasulka Imaging System or Digital Image Articulator, one of the first devices able to generate algorithm-based images and to convert them into analog signals. In the eighties, several solo shows devoted to Steina and Woody Vasulka were mounted at museums and art centres in the United States, France, Italy and Japan, and their videos were screened within media art festivals worldwide. At the same time, Steina was working on a series of multi-screen installations highlighting elements of the landscapes of New Mexico and Iceland. In 1986, with help from Joan LaBarbara, a composer and vocalist, Steina created a body of works that relied on a sound-image interface. During performances in the nineties, Steina used applications in the MIDI protocol to manipulate in real time a bank of images stored on videodisc. Meanwhile, Woody Vasulka began designing installations using robotics and interactive components.

In 1992, the couple won the Maya Deren Award given out by the American Film Institute (Los Angeles, Calif., United States) to artists breaking new ground in film and video. That same year, at Peter Weibel's request, the Vasulkas organized Eigenwelt der Apparatewelt : Pioniere der Elektronischen Kunst = Pioneers of Electronic Art, an exhibit held within Ars Electronica 92, in Linz, Austria. In 1995, the ZKM/Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (Karlsruhe, Germany) awarded them the Siemens Media Art Prize. From 1996 to 1998, Steina continued researching sound-image interfaces and co-directed the Netherlands Musical Research Center at the Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music (STEIM) (Amsterdam, the Netherlands).

In 1998, Steina and Woody Vasulka received an honorary doctorate degree from the San Francisco Art Institute (San Francisco, Calif., United States) and an award from the San Francisco National Association of Media and Culture (San Francisco, Calif., United States) recognizing their remarkable achievements in media arts. In 1999, the couple held the workshop Techne and Eros: Human Sensory Space and the Machine in Santa Fe and founded the Arts and Science Laboratory (Santa Fe, N.M., United States) with the composer David Dunn and the physicist James Crutchfield.

Woody Vasulka died on December 20, 2019 at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Bibliographical references:

"Chronologie biographique" in Steina and Woody Vasulka : de la vidéo instrumentale, (Montreal, Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology), also in English under the title: "Biographical Chronology" [reference: July 26, 2002]:

Steina and Woody Vasulka : Machine Media, (San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1996) : 80 p.

Eizykman, Claudine, Vasulka, Steina, Vasulka, Woody, Steina et Woody Vasulka, vidéastes : 1969-1984 : 15 années d'images électroniques, analogiques et numériques, second edition revised and corrected, (Paris, CINE-MBXA/CINEDOC, 1984) : 69 p.

Vasulka : Steina : Machine Vision : Woody : Descriptions, (Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1978) : 63 p.

Electronic Arts Intermix, New York, Electronic Arts Intermix, [reference of : April 17, 2003]

Scope and Content:

The fonds highlights Steina and Woody Vasulka's contribution to defining a formal vocabulary specific to electronic images as well as the couple's pioneering role in the field of computer-assisted video.

Along with documentation on projects developed by Steina and Woody Vasulka since 1969, the fonds underscores the influence of their practices in the United States and Europe from 1971 to 1999. The fonds also bears witness to their involvement in emerging communities of video makers in the seventies with specific focus on The Kitchen, a centre that served as a forum and meeting place for a generation of artists. Finally, the fonds explores the narratives that prevailed at a time when video art defined itself through the new instruments used to generate electronic images and through a theoretical reflection on television and media.

The fonds consists primarily of textual documents on Steina and Woody Vasulkas' installations, videos, solo exhibits and group events. It contains a submaster compilation of all distributed videos and video documentaries, files on each of their projects, press releases, invitations, programs, catalogues, and press reviews of events. Also included is documentation from various sources on the instruments they have designed in collaboration with scientists and have used to produce a range of artistic effects with electronic images. These documents are found mainly in the series Digital Image Articulator and Eigenwelt der Apparatewelt: Pionere der Elektronischen Kunst = Pioneers of Electronic Art. Finally, the fonds contains documents connected broadly with Steina and Woody Vasulka's professional and artistic activities and their personal lives (such as correspondence with institutions, distributors and grant providers) along with documents on their teaching activities and photographs taken at different times in their lives.

The fonds is divided into 14 series: Videotapes and Installations; Events and Distributors; Grant Applications; Teaching and Other Professional Activities; General Correspondence; Press Review; Interviews; Photographic Documents; The Kitchen; Eigenwelt der Apparatewelt; Instruction manuals for softwares and other tools; Artists and Collaborators; Published documents and manuscripts; Digital Image Articulator and Multi-Keyer.

Custodial history:

The Steina and Woody Vasulka fonds was acquired on May 5, 2000.


Title proper. - Documents in Czech, English, Finnish, French, German, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese and Spanish. - Restrictions to the consultation of manuscripts, typescripts and some unpublished documents by authors other than Steina and Woody Vasulka may apply. - The magnetic tapes of the interviews, the video rushes, and other non-distributed and non-indexed video material listed within this finding aid are in Steina and Woody Vasulka's possession at their home in Santa Fe.

The material was reviewed and processed between 2000 and 2003. Processed by: Vincent Bonin and Andréane Leclerc. Contributed to processing: Cynthia Couture, Julie Desaultels, Catherine Mussely. Vincent Bonin produced the finding aids.

Vincent Bonin © 2003 FDL