The Experimental Television Center: A History, ETC
Experimental Television Center is given its respect in the retrospective The Experimental Television Center: A History, Etc., on view at Hunter College Art Gallery in partnership with the Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art at Cornell. Organized by Sarah Watson, Chief Curator of Hunter College Art Galleries, Timothy Murray, curator of the aforementioned Cornell archive, and Sherry Miller Hocking, long-time Assistant Director of ETC, the expansive show educates viewers on the importance of this artist resource to the history of video as a medium of expression and experimentation.
The media center was founded by Ralph Hocking in 1969, in Binghamton, New York, and eventually relocated to Owego where it provided video equipment, education, and access to one-of-a-kind analog video hardware to artists for over 40 years. The cornerstone of their equipment was the Paik/Abe Video Synthesizer, a beautiful effects box built by Nam June Paik and Shuya Abe in 1971. This along with other analog video equipment was displayed as well as video processing demos by ETC’s technical consultant David Jones.
Although I never had the opportunity to work with the equipment I did drive to Owego and talked my way into the ETC studio to bear witness to this holy site of video art before they closed their doors. The artist in residence graciously let me inspect the Paik/Abe while massive chunks of ice floated down the Susquehanna River below. If you know nothing of the ETC this show will be a comprehensive primer. If you are familiar with their history then you should not miss an opportunity to see these works in person, especially the interactive elements.
Longing for an analog video fix I was desperately trying to soak up works like Earth Pulse (1975) by Gary Hill, Suite 212: The Selling of New York (1975) by Nam June Paik, Douglas David, Jud Yalkut and Shigeko Kubota and Black or White by Marisa Olson created using Paik’s ‘wobulator’ equipment at ETC. The audio from Michael Jackson’s song distorts the artists face as she listens along.
A History, Etc continued in an upstairs gallery space where I was pleasantly blown away by the early digital prints of Mary Ross, Ralph Hocking and Peer Bode. Ross’ piece Video Suicide, (1976), was especially charged. From her archival site I found the following text about the piece which I include here as it it sheds a light on her technique and the context of the pre-desktop publishing era.
While many artists were exploring video’s time-based characteristics in the early 1970s, Mary Ross began using the video synthesizer and computers at the Experimental Television Center in upstate New York to produce still images on film. The video synthesizer functioned as a type of electronic darkroom. Her own slides, negatives, prints, movie film and videotapes provided source material. Positive and negative images could be made instantly by flicking a switch. Video keyers created high contrast effects similar to Kodalith film. Colorizers added color to black-and-white negatives and mixers enabled her to superimpose images from multiple sources. The effects of video image processing were cumulative. Mary could manipulate images electronically and see the effects of each change on the TV screen as it occurred. Since printers that are common today were non-existent, crude, extremely expensive or likely to be in the hands of government, science or industry, she would photograph the results from the TV screen onto color or black-and-white film with her 35mm camera, either accepting the image as is or manipulating it further in the darkroom. – source
I also found a lot of humor in the work the organizers chose to exhibit. The most absurd piece was T.V. Tart by Barbara Hammer. The monitor itself is made into a dessert, housed in a white cube with candies and sweets adhered around the outside. Hammer’s performance is funny and irreverent as she hams it up with sweet ingredients in a dark scene staged like a trippy cooking show.
Trippy is an economical word that one could associate in a general way with the history of experimental media in upstate New York, although I don’t intend it as flippant. I use it here to describe the visualizations made possible for the first time by the ETC equipment but also as it relates to process – the altered realities discovered by these artists, some of the first artist/hackers, who built effects processes from scratch to cross signals and alter the landscape of time based media. Today we easily apply effects in Final Cut Pro which offer digital tools beget from these investigations. Even programming and patch-based software like Max MSP begin to feel like canned metaphors in comparison with the physical performance required to create effects with the Paik/Abe video synth or the Dan Sandlin Image Processor.
The Experimental Television Center: A History, Etc . . . is on view between September 25–November 21, 2015. The gallery is located at 205 Hudson Street, New York, NY on the corner of Canal St and Watts St. For more information visit: http://www.hunter.cuny.edu/art/exhibitions-public-programs/galleries/current-and-upcoming-exhibitions-3
All art images courtesy of the ETC, Hunter Art Galleries, and Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art. Photos by Acid Rain except the featured article image taken by Bill Orcutt.
Text by Jerstin Crosby