The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Author: DC (page 2 of 170)

David Ehrenstein presents … Tango Day


Wiki sez: Tango is a partner dance that originated in the 1880s along the River Plata, the natural border between Argentina and Uruguay, and soon spread to the rest of the world.

Early tango was known as tango criollo (Creole tango). Today, there are many forms of tango extant. Popularly and among tango dancing circles, the authentic tango is considered to be the one closest to the form originally danced in Argentina and Uruguay

Tango is a dance that has influences from African and European culture. Dances from the candombe ceremonies of former slave peoples helped shape the modern day Tango. The dance originated in lower-class districts of Buenos Aires and Montevideo. The music derived from the fusion of various forms of music from Europe. The word “tango” and “tambo” around the River Plate basin where initially used to refer to musical gatherings of slaves, with written records of colonial authorities attempting to ban such gatherings as early as 1789.

Initially, it was just one of the many dances, but it soon became popular throughout society, as theatres and street barrel organs spread it from the suburbs to the working-class slums, which were packed with hundreds of thousands of European immigrants.

In the early years of the 20th century, dancers and orchestras from Buenos Aires travelled to Europe, and the first European tango craze took place in Paris, soon followed by London, Berlin, and other capitals. Towards the end of 1913 it hit New York City in the US, and Finland. In the US, around 1911, the word “tango” was often applied to dances in a 2 4 or 4 4 rhythm such as the one-step. The term was fashionable and did not indicate that tango steps would be used in the dance, although they might be. Tango music was sometimes played, but at a rather fast tempo. Instructors of the period would sometimes refer to this as a “North American tango”, versus the so-called “Argentine Tango”. By 1914, more authentic tango stylings were soon developed, along with some variations like Albert Newman’s “Minuet” tango.

In Argentina, the onset in 1929 of the Great Depression, and restrictions introduced after the overthrow of the Hipólito Yrigoyen government in 1930, caused tango to decline. Its fortunes were reversed as tango became widely fashionable and a matter of national pride under the government of Juan Perón. Tango declined again in the 1950s, as a result of economic depression and the banning of public gatherings by the military dictatorships; male-only Tango practice—the custom at the time—was considered “public gathering”. That, indirectly, boosted the popularity of rock and roll because, unlike Tango, it did not require such gatherings.

Here’s discourse on the Tango in L’homme de sa vie, a marvelous movie by Sabou Breitman with Charles Berling and Bernard Campan.


(L’Homme de sa vie Tango)


A very important figure in Tango history — Carlos Gardel —


(Carlos Gardel)

Carlos Gardel “Por una Cabeza”)


Here’s a famous performance of that Tango —


(Scent of a Woman Tango)


Would you believe that Luis Bunuel made a Tango film?


(Liberta Lamaque in Gran Casino)


Here’s Rudy!


(Valentino in The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse)


Here’s a scene from woefully neglected auteur Jan-Daniel Pollet’s most important dramatic film.




Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider can’t dance.


(Last Tango in Paris)


Queer tango is a new way to dance Argentine tango free from traditional heteronormative codes. It offers the chance to dance tango without pre-established roles according to the gender of the dancers and change the roles of leader and follower, even in mid-dance. It is thus also called open role or same-sex tango. The queer tango movement permits not only access to tango for the LGBT community, but also opens up new possibilities for heterosexual dancers; women learn to lead and men learn to follow.

Dominique Sanda and Stefania Sandrelli CAN dance.


(The Conformist)


Another Queer tango courtesy of the great Wong Kar Wai —


(Happy Together Tango)


Astor Piazzola — as Jacques Rivette said “Ni L’egliseni bordel” —


(Astor Piazzola “Libertango”)


Finalemente — Peggy Lee evokes the murder of Ramon Novarro.





p.s. Hey. ** Today the honorable David Ehrenstein freshens up the blog by coaxing our attention towards the tango of all crazy things. I’m excited, and I hope you are too. Please reroute whatever you were thinking about before you loaded this page and let his exploration of and paean to this venerable dance form take hold, and, of course, report on the effects to Mr. E. Thank you, and thank you very much, David! ** Steevee, Hi, Steve. Thanks for investigating. How was your big film of yesterday? Any luck or news re: your doctor’s new proposal? ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Very nice to see you, of course, and I’m glad your internet connection de-shittified. What do you think was the problem with the latest group meeting? Could you tell? Whoa, you’re working on the edit! Excellent! I think you know editing is my favorite part of writing, so just reading that gave me a rush. I didn’t end up doing anything for the Night of the Museums because nobody I knew who was in town was in the mood, and the idea of going alone just didn’t get me out the door. Oh, well. I think my weekend and yesterday were pretty even-keeled and unmemorable in general. But this morning at 10 am Zac and I start editing our film, and I’m jumping out of my epidermis in excitement, although I’m sure the laboriousness of the actual editing process will sober me up quickly. Still, the wait is over! How did Tuesday suit you, pal? ** David Ehrenstein, Hi, David. Thank you once again for this fine and super fresh post. I saw your comment yesterday, and I did go ahead and restore your LaTouche Day. A few of the links are dead, so I had to create some detours, but I think it’ll be just fine. I’ll launch it here on Tuesday, June 6th. Thank you for the great suggestion! ** Amphibiouspeter, Hi, welcome back! I’m so happy that Peter Campus’s work interested you. Very interesting about that perceived loss of all sense of desire in art. I think that’s very true. What that means will now be haunting me all day, for which I’m grateful. It is very funny, that. I guess I figure it’s some kind of pragmatism = salvation thing. Yes, there’s definitely a connection between my theater writing and the film work, not as much in the detailing, I don’t think, but more in the sense that writing film seems kind of like a perfecting of the theater writing. Or something. I don’t know if my GIF work has clear connection to the film work. Off the top of my head, I would say no, but that ‘no’ doesn’t feel very confident. ‘TVC’ was suppose to play in Lisbon just the other day, but apparently the shows got cancelled a while back due to the usual budget cutbacks at the venue, and Gisele forgot to tell me about the cancellation. So, yeah, it was supposed to but didn’t, sadly. Thanks a bunch. It’s great to get to talk with you. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. My pleasure, and I hope his work shows up in your vicinity so you can see it in person, which is, as I said, kind of key. I haven’t watched the new ‘Twin Peaks’. I suspect I’ll probably have to wait until there are a bunch of episodes available before I start. But, yes, the reports I’ve read have removed all wariness from my expectations. It sounds to be what I had hoped it would be. Great! ** Jeff J, Hi, Jeff. Excellent to see you, man. I don’t know if the French Campus show is traveling. It certainly should. There’s a really fantastic catalog — this — put out by les presses du réel whose books and catalogs are always pretty amazing. Thanks so much for the good words about ‘DC(Y)’. I really appreciate it. No, other than thinking idly but deliberatively about writing about the GIF work, I’ve had no time and brain space to be practical about that good idea. I am looking into doing more GIF work-related live events like the one that happened at the New Museum, in Paris and maybe other places. I think that event was not only quite interesting and fun but also a good way to explain the GIF works in a way that’s conducive to the form itself. No, haven’t seen the new ‘Twin Peaks’ yet. From everything I’ve heard, yes, I’m pretty excited and hopeful. My fear was the it would be too dedicated to the pre-existing series and operate within a nostalgia, and I’m relieved that isn’t the case, yeah. ** MANCY, Hi, S! Cool, yeah, Campus’s stuff is pretty great. I’d known his work before I saw the retrospective, but the totality and consistency/ development in his work was pretty revelatory. Yes, I thought a lot about your GIF work’s use of yellow when I was making ‘Dunce Codex’, and those thoughts were very shaping. Sucks that we can’t just meet up for a coffee and blab about this stuff. Internationality blows sometimes. ** Misanthrope, Hi, G. It’s kind of true about most visual art vis-a-vis the blog format, which is why I don’t put as much art I like here as I want to. Bad translation. Yeah, I think I live in this kind of rarefied world at this point in my life for whatever reason because I don’t hardly ever, and even kind of never, meet people who aren’t already familiars with gays and artists and so on. Re: your fiction question, yes, that novel-in-progress you describe is still, at this moment, my next novel. It has been pushed into the background because I’m just feeling much more interested right now in making films and making fiction with GIFS, and I honestly haven’t even opened the doc it’s in for about two years. But I definitely intend to go back to it, and, assuming it still looks as good to me as it did, finish it. I still have my longish standing plan to write one more novel then stop writing novels, and I still think that unfinished one is the one I want to close with. So, hopefully, that’ll be the case, although I don’t know when I’ll return to it. It could be a while, or I could just jump back into it any minute. Thank you for asking about it, George. ** Jeff Coleman, Hi, Jeff. Thanks a lot for that alert. I didn’t know. Everyone, Jeff Coleman alerts all of us to a new fiction piece by the awesome writer and local James Nulick that’s newly up and accessible on the Fluland site. It’s called ‘SIDEWALK PENTAGRAMS’, and it’s here, and I highly recommend you get your butts over there and read it post-haste. Thanks again, man. I hope all is super well with you. ** Okay. Return to or begin your blog affair with the tango and Mr. Ehrenstein’s wonderful directives in that regard. See you tomorrow.

Peter Campus Day


‘Peter Campus, a pioneer in the development of video, has said that his ‘Eureka’ moment came while watching the first Apollo moon landing in 1969. From a beach cottage in New England the artist experienced the dislocation generated by simultaneously witnessing the familiar sun-dappled ocean scene before him and the other-worldly event unfolding in black and white on his TV. Both were undeniably real, both were occurring at the same moment, yet each appeared to negate the primacy or plausibility of the other.

‘In an age when most people who live in big cities can expect to be photographed, monitored or videotaped hundreds of times a day, it is hard to imagine a time when video was new. Because it is not just a medium of recording, but can also feed a stream of live images of anything to anywhere, video not only radically changed the average person’s self image, but also altered forever our collective perception of time, duration and the idea of a fixed perspective.

‘Inspired by Bruce Nauman and others, Campus experimented with video in the early 1970s, initially with camera obscura-like installations that demanded the perambulating presence of the viewer. At the same time he made projections addressing video as a kind of displaced mirror, and using himself as test subject. This show provided a mini-overview of these early works, as well as examples of his later Polaroids – a static medium as close to the ‘live’ reflectivity of video as still photography can get – and recent video works made with the latest digital tools.

Three Transitions (1973) demonstrated Campus’ talents as a sort of video Houdini who, while executing various subdued performative tasks and supervising his actions via an off-camera monitor, is intent on exposing the perceptual assumptions that allow the spectator to be fooled. In short episodic clips he made ample use of the blue screen process, a technological breakthrough allowing one live image to be inserted into the background or foreground of another. The technique became ubiquitous to the point of invisibility in television production, but in the early 1970s it was still new, and Campus exploited it to examine the mechanisms by which points of view are constructed.

‘His first ‘transition’ showed the artist approach a large paper screen, his back to the camera, and carefully make an incision in its surface. The gash immediately appears to rip open the rear of his corduroy sports jacket, from which protrude Campus’ tearing fingers. In a flash the viewer realizes that the artist is actually standing on the far side of the partition, the near side acting as blue screen, and that two cameras on either side are recording and combining both images in real time. In another projection, Four Sided Tape (1976), a man’s torso is methodically deconstructed by hands emerging from behind the screen on to which the image is projected. Even simpler is Third Tape (1976), in which a jumble of mirrored tiles is slowly placed on a table-top, the random heap reflecting a fragmentary portrait of the face of the person performing the act, one that is continually in flux.

‘This fragile construction and annihilation of images as a metaphor for the tenuous construction of self are a constant in Campus’ work – hence all the destroyed paper screens (he burns one of them in another video), layered images, mirror shards and ephemeral reflections. Campus intentionally never used video cameras with viewfinders, but relied instead on the monitor as a surrogate eye, disrupting the notion that the lens represents the privileged vantage point of the self. Despite Rosalind Krauss’ claims concerning the intrinsic ‘narcissism of video’, this scattering of perspective implies a lack of centrality for both artist and observer.

‘The strain of melancholic self-reflection in Campus’ projections also permeates his high contrast, black-and-white Polaroid portraits from the late 1970s and 1980s, made during a 17-year hiatus from video. Again he used the idea of instantaneous photographic feedback as a reflective surface, and the portraits evolved through a process of collaboration with each sitter. Typically, he would take an initial photograph and show it to his subject, whose emotional response to the image would register and gradually alter the appearance of each successive shot.

‘On viewing the new DVDs made since his return to video in the late 1990s, one’s first inclination is to think that Campus has gone all soft and sweet. Presented on small flat screens, his digitally edited loops are beautiful in a way that his early work never was. Assembled using crisply phrased and montaged clips – a muddy path in the woods, a gardener pulling weeds, an index finger tracing the path of an electrical cord – they exude enough lyricism to make one downright suspicious. But repeated viewings of the lushly hypnotic works begin to erode such wariness, and what remains is a more finely gradated and personal elaboration on Campus’ doubt about the stability of images and identities.

‘In Divide (2001), a humming-bird fluttering in slow motion over a blood-red feeder is spliced together with an image of the empty corner of a room. The marriage of the two apparently unrelated realities eventually proves too fragile to be sustained, and the bird’s image is wiped away like chalk from a blackboard, leaving only a dead, sun-bleached interior. To some degree there has always been both a terror and acceptance of the transitory nature of vision in Campus’ work, which may simply be growing more richly dream-like as his images come closer to home.’ — James Trainor, Frieze





Peter Campus Website
Peter Campus @ Cristin Tierney Gallery
peter campus video ergo sum
Peter Campus on his most famous work and why he hates it
Book: ‘Peter Campus’ (les presses du réel)
Les vidéos désarmantes de Peter Campus
Video: Peter Campus Presents His Version of the Star-Spangled Banner
Peter Campus : Quand l’Amérique ne reconnaît pas un de ses génies
Peter Campus: When America fails to recognise one of its own geniuses



Peter Campus, The Artist Studio

Peter Campus at Jeu de Paume, Concorde – Paris / Portrait filmé

Excerpt: Peter Campus exhibition “Before this Moment”, and documentary

peter campus: notes on landscape


from BOMB


John Hanhardt Do you feel there was a movement from the exploration of the inner self in the Three Transitions videotapes, for example, to an exploration of the self as a reflection, to a cognitive exploration of the self as in the series of installations: mem and Shadow Projection? It would be interesting to know how you locate that shift from video to still photography.

Peter Campus For me what was important was not the switch from video to photography, but from the interior to the exterior. The interior examinations became overwhelming. Particularly the photographic series I did of faces that showed in Cologne and Berlin—which were very stark and severe. They came after Head of a Man with Death on His Mind, this projected, silent, barely moving, black and white image of a man’s face staring at the camera. I went from that video projection piece to photo-projection pieces called Man’s Head, and Woman’s Head [1979], high contrast black and white Polaroid photographs produced in the studio. They continued that idea of confrontational imagery and it just became too much for me. I had to stop. So I started looking at an industrial, burned-out landscape. I found the exploration not so different in a way: those first landscape pictures were harsh. Then I turned to bridges, Bear Mountain Bridge, the Roebling Bridge on the upper Delaware River. Finally, from there, I went into nature. But I was still looking for what I called “resonance” in what I was feeling. I wouldn’t go out to photograph a tree or a stone or a rock; I never felt that the subject of my work was trees, rocks, or stones—I felt that they were in many ways a continuation of my internal examination, that they were reflecting my mood in nature. The difficulty is that often that’s not what’s communicated. It is subtle and not direct. Often people misunderstand work, or, let’s say it’s expected that people have different interpretations than I do of my work. The nature pieces with the 4×5 camera were received very differently from the way I saw them.

JH I remember the response was that they recalled 19th century photography and its rhetorical form of image making, black and white photography of the natural landscape shot with a large-format camera. This idea of interior looking that you just referred to brings me back to something fundamentally important about your work: how you think about looking is translated and motivated by the different media you’ve worked with. The relationship between the single-channel videotapes from the early ’70s, the exploration of time as a means to compose and construct the image, and the viewer’s participation within interactive man-made environments that shatter projection have lead toward a refined understanding of the medium, both in its placement in an art historical discourse and in the viewer’s reception of it. I’m trying to construct that movement through traditional photography into digital image making and recomposing the still image by using new media, creating a new kind of representation, and your eventual return to video and the moving image, this time using digital techniques. This is one of the most extraordinary sequences embodied in an individual artist’s work in the late 20th century. It’s all so encompassing, profoundly investigatory and powerful. Can you discuss shifts that you made between these two different media—video and photography—and how you felt you were changing the media, or what issues you were responding to?

PC I probably wouldn’t have felt comfortable saying this five years ago, or maybe even now, but often emotional necessity overrides intellectual necessity. In the ’80s, it was necessary for me to be in the woods, at least part of the time. I needed to look backward from the present instead of forward. I needed to work in classical photography. I tried to keep the investigation, at least the emotional aspect of the investigation, somewhat consistent. It obviously couldn’t be, but I was trying to carry that along into nature. By working in digital photography, I found I was able to more directly explain what I wanted to say. It wasn’t through the subtleties of the photographic medium, but by direct intervention, placing images in direct correspondence one to another. Because of digital imaging, I was able to reconstruct and change images more convincingly than I was able to do in straight photography. I would never give up the eight years that I spent in large-format photography—it was great, and crucial, in fact, for setting up the digital phase.

JH Peter, I’m looking at this as a historian, and as somebody examining the different stages of a career. One can impose a conceptual grid on that by saying you were moving from one type of formal invention, one set of strategies, to another as you have moved through these different media. But that is not to say that there isn’t a profound engagement with yourself.

PC The most important thing for me is to find myself in my work, in the context of the present.

JH So, this conceptual way I’ve been talking about your work shouldn’t overshadow the power of that work, which is how it reveals the self. Whether it’s layers of the body being exposed in Three Transitions; the reflection of the viewer through projected closed-circuit video in the installation works of that period, such as Kiva [1971] and Stasis [1973]; or the turn to nature and the subsequent presentation of the projected video still-image, Head of a Man with Death on His Mind that shows the surface as somehow speaking to the interior, to the profoundly emotional and the cognitive. In the nature photos I see this as a powerful compositional moment. It is a turn outward, an interpretation of the natural landscape that gives the work significance and power. The digital imagery raised another set of issues in terms of composition—your use of color and the development of aesthetics, the images of pure beauty you were using in the ’90s, such as Stuff [1994], and in other digital collages of found images and of objects drawn from nature. That has continued in Mont Désert, the sets of videotapes that marked your return to the moving image and has continued into your most recent work. I’d like to focus on that transition to the idea of the beautiful image, which is partially located in nature but also, fundamentally, in the reflection of yourself in nature. So many of the images you were composing digitally and that you brought to video recently, include yourself; your partner Kathleen; your loved ones; people who are important to you. That feels like a very conscious change. Is it?

PC I’m not sure that there is a direct way to answer—I wouldn’t even call that statement a question. (laughter) It’s almost to the point of why I’m an artist. I had a very dramatic childhood—with the death of my mother and living in seclusion. Art—painting—was a way to get out of it and to communicate some of what I was feeling. As I went through college and studied psychology and then went on to work in the film business, art became an exalted dreamlike place. I’ve almost managed to keep it that way for the 30 years I’ve been doing it. I would say my reasons for making art haven’t changed that much—the most basic reason was to communicate what I couldn’t communicate any other way. That doesn’t deny that when I first entered video, I was really excited by what video specifically was—not necessarily broadcast video—but how this invention that pretty much coincided with my life could be used to make art. The first use of television was 1936 or 1937.

JH And the PortaPack was introduced in 1965 . . .

PC I didn’t use the PortaPack at first: it seemed to me not video. It seemed related to the film camera. To me, pure video was made with cameras you couldn’t see through; they were surveillance cameras. I constructed open camera pieces that were interactive.

JH With the projection?

PC People would actually enter into the projection and interact. I see a lot of work now that’s called interactive—the interactivity is to press a button or set off a series of sequences by moving this way instead of that way. But the projection really engaged the viewer to become, literally, a part of the piece.

JH But didn’t it also reflect and represent the viewers, causing them to see themselves in other, new ways?

PC Each piece proposed that you see yourself in a slightly different way from this perspective and to coordinate that with another view of yourself.

JH So does this fusion of the cognitive and the psychological come out of your own interest and studies? Your own kind of recovery of yourself through art?

PC Right.

JH That was what you were communicating in those first pieces. With what communities were you exchanging these ideas?

PC As an artist, I was very aware of what was going on with me; but as a person, I’ve always been reclusive. I was influenced by Bruce Nauman’s work, shown at the Castelli gallery in 1969. That set my work on track. They were single images in an installation situation that were hour videotapes of repetitive movement. They were extraordinary. I still think they’re extraordinary. They talked about the very potential of the medium. There was the other direction I did not go in, which was similar to, let’s say, Nam June Paik—where there would be a montage of images. A barrage of images. Where the idea was—I think the idea was—that the image wasn’t as important as the situation.

JH It was a total experience. When we look at the early ’70s and late ’60s, there was an enormous range of activity in video. There was work within performance, body art, conceptual art, there was Paik, image processing, there were community-based video collectives . . . and it was all happening at the same time. Were you aware of all that? Were you also aware of Michael Snow’s films and film installations? Were you aware of Paul Sharits’s films?

PC Definitely. He used to be at Millennium Film Archives. There used to be showings most evenings: Stan Brakhage, Ed Emschwiller, Bruce Conner . . .

JH The Bykert Gallery showed installations later.

PC And I first showed at Bykert.

JH So you were aware of the culture of the moving image and installations; these were all things that you were conversing with.

PC Right, very much so. Very interested. Aldo Tambellini’s Black Gate Theater in New York.

JH I’m trying to recover that whole history in terms of exhibitions and writing. It’s become very restricted—there are just one or two slices that people are aware of. It is an effort to put it all back together again and see the cross-movements between the work that was being done then—documentary, image processing, conceptual, performance, installation work for television—and the work being created now. When I lecture today, I show your videotape Three Transitions. Viewers seeing that work for the first time are shocked by its transformation of the body and face in the pieces employing chroma-key, two-camera setups. It provokes people to think about portraiture in new ways. When one sees your installations in museums and galleries, displayed alongside new work by younger artists, one really sees them as a powerful resource: the precedent to this whole new generation starting to work with video.

PC Many of them have never seen the work of their predecessors.

JH Yes, but you are one of the teachers.

PC NYU, where I teach, is just beginning to introduce the idea of history in video.

JH Don’t you think that comes through in your teaching: the fact that your work informs the work your students are making now?

PC No. My strength as a teacher is being able to see what the student is trying to do and help him or her to move on with it. I know a lot of people present their ideas to the students; I’ve just never been that kind of teacher. Most places where I’ve taught have had almost no sense of history. In the lecture that you gave at the Guggenheim downtown where you linked film history with video history—that seemed so key. After seeing your lecture, I started showing films in my classes thinking, Yes, of course, this is obviously right. Why do we think of video as being separate from the rest? It’s helped tremendously, allowing us to talk about montage editing, and sequencing, and also, to a lesser extent, what’s going on in movie theaters. Talking about what’s going on in the movie theaters leads us to talk about what is going on in the galleries. What is installation art? For example, in a class last night, a student tried to describe a video piece that she saw at DIA, and she was only talking about the images. I said, “Wait a minute, tell me what you saw in that room. Was the room dark, was the room light? What was this image projected on? A wall? A screen? Where was this image coming from, was it from a projector? Where was the projector? If you walked into a room and saw a piece of sculpture, you would be able to describe every bit of it. But you walk into a video installation as though the equipment isn’t there.” Strong exceptions are works that began to show up five years ago; Gary Hill is really using the equipment as part of the installation—and Tony Oursler.

JH What I think has been central to the art of the 20th century has been the movement of the moving image from film through video, electronic media and television, to the Internet, digital imaging, Web sites, CD-ROM, and DVD. The expanding place . . .

PC Well, we don’t know about that last part.

JH But the web is a place where you can capture the moving image.

PC We don’t know yet. I work really hard to get good quality; the quality of the web is awful. Maybe that will change.

JH Technically, it’s a quality that can still be exploited. Remember, back in the early ’70s, black and white video was reel-to-reel. It was seen as poor quality in comparison to film. Yet it was a different medium, and artists exploited and explored that difference to create an art form out of video. Following that line of argument, I would say that there is a quality of difference that can inform it, but still have this continuing basis of the moving image—which I think is a powerful trajectory.

PC That is how we should think of it. To some extent, I was surprised with the way that Bill Viola was talking about the death of video—that it will only be part of some small period of time. But yes, it is time to think in terms of just the moving image. The trouble with that is the dominance of movies in our culture.

JH Right. There is a profound difference between independent media artists working with film and video, from television production and the mainstream film industry. Those are the issues that you’re talking about with your students: How do you describe what you see? There are also the narrow art-historical paradigms: art historians who don’t deal with the moving image and film historians who don’t deal with art installation. We need to give the study of the media arts a theoretical basis of understanding and interpretation. That is what is so exemplary about your career, Peter—this movement, the basis and understanding of film and the movement through video. Three Transitions, in which you employed chroma-key in the television studio, was done at the WGBH-TV lab in 1973.

PC With the technicians screaming out of earshot, “What is this? Why are we doing this?” (laughter) And the producer, Fred Barzyk, saying, “What is this crazy person doing?”

JH Where do you place your moving image work from the early ’70s within this historical trajectory through different media? Was it somehow linked to your work in the early ’90s, when you began to move back to video and the moving image?

PC ’94, ’95.

JH The 20 year interim from 1973 to 1994 preceding your return to video was filled with photographs and digital images. What brought you back to the medium? What was the quality of that experience, and what was the difference over time? It felt like there was a rediscovery.

PC It’s hard to answer those questions because they are so deep in my psyche. They’re buried down in there. Now that I’m back working in video, I know that’s my real love, that’s what I feel comfortable in. In a sense, it’s what I was trained in. I went to film school. I don’t entirely know what my reasons were for stopping the video work, I’ve given lots of glib answers and some not so glib . . . the easiest answer is that I wanted to stop working in the moving image. There were other things going on. It was nine years of a lot of frustration; I felt that I was successful at it, and yet there wasn’t any way to support myself. Subsequently, I went into teaching. At this point, I probably regret giving it up, but there was this monetary drawback, and I was feeling that drawback all the time.


12 of Peter Campus’ 83 works

Kiva (1971)
Kiva–the title refers to a kind of ceremonial room used by Native Americans of the Southwest for ritual and spiritual ceremonies–comprises a monitor with a closed circuit camera mounted on top; the lens is pointed directly at the viewer of the monitor, but the camera’s view is restricted and manipulated by the placement of suspended mirrors. The camera shoots through a hole in one mirror to the surface of the other, both constantly shifting in relation to each other as they turn like a mobile. The mirrors fragment and multiply the image, allowing the camera to take in aspects of the room, the viewer, and the eye of the camera itself.’ — University of Michigan

My Experience of “Kiva”


Interface (1972)
‘A sheet of transparent glass is set up in a darkened room. On the wall behind this sheet of glass there is a closed-circuit video camera, directed towards it. Four metres in front of the camera there is a video projector which projects the live video signal from the camera onto the sheet of glass. When the visitor moves into the recording area in front of the transparent glass surface, his/her reflection – the wrong way around – and his/her video image – the right way around – appear on it simultaneously and life-sized. Depending on where the visitor is standing, the two images are visible either next to each other or partially overlapping.’ — Slavko Kacunko




Three Transitions (1973)
Three Transitions is one of the seminal works in video art. It was conceived in the decade of Peter Campus’ greatest creative intensity and thanks to its pioneering nature it has become one of his most widely known works. The video consists of three short exercises or “transitions” in which Campus employs different visual and spatial effects. Throughout the video, the artist displaces and superimposes takes of his own body, which he makes interact with each other using chromo-key techniques. Three Transitions set up many of the paradigms used recurringly by Campus from that point forward, particularly his self-absorbed position as subject and object of the image, and also the use of video resources to contemplate perception and self. The making of the video coincided with Campus’ visit to Boston as an artist in residence of the experimental program New Television Workshop, sponsored by the public broadcasting network WGBH. The innovative philosophy of WGBH led it to develop a policy of active support for visual experimentation by artists of the first generation of video art.’ — Museo Reina Sofía


Shadow Projection (1974)
‘Encountering one of these pieces in person is a haunting, unforgettable experience. The room is dark and its dimensions unclear. A glowing pale blue rectangle of light illuminates one wall. As you approach, the rectangle suddenly comes alive with a disorienting burst of light, movement and shadow. Quickly you realize that you are seeing your own image projected live on the wall in black and white. You look at yourself as if seeing a ghost. The pale, fragile quality of the light and tenuous consistency of the image speak of impermanence. Then, as in most unexpected encounters with your own likeness, you discover that you are not what you seem to be.’ — Bill Viola

Peter Campus discusses his work Shadow Projection


‘Writes Campus, “My most dryly stated tape, free of insinuation, [R-G-B] is simply the exploration by a performer of the color system in which he is trapped, much like a prisoner pacing off his cell.” Campus the performer creates a self-portrait within the technical system, transforming video space as he manipulates color physically, mechanically and electronically. Staring directly into the camera, he first places multicolored gels on the lens, then projects slides of pure color. Exploring video’s electronic color system, he points the camera at a monitor and adjusts the color switches, creating a chain reaction, a video “hall of mirrors.” Finally, he totally immerses his figure in saturated fields of electronic video color, his body ultimately submerged in the technology.’ — letterboxd



Head of a Man with Death on His Mind (1978)
‘In Head of a Man with Death on His Mind [1978] the artist video-recorded the still face of actor John Erdman. Through framing and lighting, the face is subtly transformed to become a stark dramatic presence. The vaguely threatening quality is enhanced by the barely visible movement of the recorded image. Thus the portrait has a heightened psychological power, breathing life of its own.’ — John Hanhardt



circa (1987)
‘Around 1987 Campus began a series of large-scale projections of shells and stones that recalled his series of faces and his photographic work. This new series united and clarifed the underlying logic behind what had previously seemed disparate activities. They provide barely enough light for visitors to manoeuvre, transforming the space into a sort of maze in which each rock, its outlines hazy, floats on a black field that seems to extend ad infinitum. It is impossible to intuit their scale. Surface details dissolve into abstract patterns of ridges and divots, speckles and bands. Blacks read as negatives, greys as positives, indicating that some materials reflect more than others and underscoring that what we are seeing is ultimately not an object but light. What is important, then, is not the rocks or the images thereof, but the spaces around them: the field of the projection that isolates them, the room in which the works are presented and the darkness with which they visually merge. Viewing becomes a spatial, physical experience that compresses the geologic time implied by the surface details of the stones, a hint of some past process of erosion or eruption, the photographic moment at which each object was recorded and the transitory duration in which the images are presented and seen.’ — ArtReview



barn at north fork (2010)
barn at north fork  involves the frontal image of a barn that gradually mutates in color. This work not only modulates the flow of time but break up the image’s visual continuity with large rectangles of subtly changing colors that recall the early seascapes of Mondrian, or those of Nicolas de Staël.’ — The Brooklyn Rail



catamaran (2011)
‘In his recent video work, he makes use of digital techniques to work on the image, pixel by pixel, rather like a painter. Using an extremely high-definition digital camera, Peter Campus pursues his current work.’ — Paris Photo


red fence (2013)
‘As expanded possibilities of digital editing lured Campus back to video, he reconciled the pictorial and durational components of his art in “videographs”—hybrids of photography and video featuring extended, technologically enhanced still shots. They cultivate heightened attention but offer no particular focus.’ — The Brooklyn Rail



nap flower lamp (2015)
‘As the preternatural clarity of the new work updates the uncanny, technological magic of his earliest videos, Campus continues to render the world through the filter of video. Linking past and present, his projections of stones in particular, and their fusion of personal and geological time, assume new poignancy in light of the earth’s uncertain future.’ — The Brooklyn Rail



Convergence d’images vers le port (2016)
Convergence d’images vers le port, a work commissioned for Campus’s current Paris retrospective, features extended shots of coastal scenes, simultaneously projected on all four gallery walls. Campus describes it as “anti-cinematic,” since it obliges us to shift attention across the walls. Animated by subtle movements of water and the labors of fishermen, the clips fade into black and white as they end—an allusion to the origins of video and photography in black and white, but also an intimation of mortality.’ — The Brooklyn Rail






p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi, David! ** Misanthrope, Hi, George. I think basically your interpretation of the girlfriend vs. boyfriend thing is entirely correct. Hm, interesting about those reactions. I only get that when it’s people I know for some strange reason having nothing to do with us being natural friends like, say, with members of my family. That’s life, yes. I don’t think of you and me as guys who don’t agree on things, how weird. However, if there’s anyone with whom I don’t think I agree about anything, it’s probably Joe Mills. ** S., Hi. Not a big London fan myself, but it’s a major joint. Even in my pre-16 years old non-vegetarian phase I hated fish and seafood and refused to eat it, strange. ** _Black_Acrylic, You are back, it’s true, hi! That Eleanor Elks Herrmannsen sculpture is nice, I dig it too. Is ‘Dream Deceivers’ the doc about the boy who blew his face off and the trial and stuff? If so, yeah, I remember that being strong. I don’t know if I ever read that Levene/Bladh interview. Cool, thanks! Everyone, Don’t let the week begin without reading this interview with weekend co-star Martin Bladh conducted by Infinity Press author and former DC’s d.l. Shane Levene, which comes courtesy of Mr. _Black_Acrylic. ** Nemo, Hi, Joey. I’m good, thanks. And thanks a lot for the hook up with Sue’s new videos. Just the other day I was thinking/saying how painfully long it has been since I’ve seen new work by her. And she uses a poem of mine in the new work?! That’s news to me. Cool. It wouldn’t be hard to rival my collages, and they certainly did and beyond. You need to tell Jarrod hi right back from me too, please. Love, Dennis. ** That’s it?! Wow, where is everybody? Huh. Well, Peter Campus has a retrospective up here in Paris right now, and it was the most interesting/inspiring show/work I’ve seen in a long time, so, naturally, I made a post to try to share my enthusiasm. Unfortunately, much of his work doesn’t transfer very well at all to this kind of representation, but you can get hints and start your hopeful investigation into his work today at least, if you like. See you tomorrow.

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