The aim of Tate Liverpool’s Constellations exhibition is to connect together pieces from the Tate’s extensive collection. This allows for ‘themes’ to be created where the viewer can trace the history of a movement or style by seeing the other artists in the constellation. The idea of constellations is to allow inter-connectivity, bringing together the collection with an understandable theme. The series features works by Grayson Perry, Barbara Hepworth and Cindy Sherman. As part of a task, I have chosen to focus in ‘video art’ within the constellations series.

I have chosen ‘Dolls Clothes’ (1975) by Cindy Sherman, ‘Painter’ (1995) by Paul McCarthy, ‘In The Palace’ (2000) by Daria Martin and ‘Free Radicals’ (1958, revised 1979) by Len Lye.

‘Dolls Clothes’ by Cindy Sherman is a piece of stop-frame animation video art. It is made up of still scenes using paper cutouts of herself and dolls clothes in a clear plastic folder. This video is art because it uses the artistic skill of making an stop-frame film. The short film in many ways brings Sherman’s work to life, expanding on her themes of feminism and chameleonic disguise. Most of her work involves some form of dressing up and in ‘Dolls Clothes’ she demonstrates this by becoming an inanimate object that becomes alive when dressed in the clothes. Although the piece does not have any profound meaning it is a great example of video art through the use of video techniques.

The next two works I have chosen could be better described as performance art that have been filmed. ‘Painter’ by Paul McCarthy and ‘In The Palace’ by Daria Martin are filmed performance. In ‘Painter’ the artist makes fun of the art world and stereotypical artist by making the painter beg for money from the gallery in one scene and he cuts of his finger in a Van-Gogh style act. For this McCarthy wears large oversized prosthetic hands and a large bulbous nose. Throughout the film he grunts and laughs hysterically whilst smearing brown paint from a tube with “Shit” written on it across a canvas. Whilst doing this he mumbles the song ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’, before cutting to scenes where ‘experts’ discuss the painters work. This truly bizarre video art creates a connection between childishness and the art world. ‘In The Palace’ is a relatively still revolving dance piece, where the camera moves around the set showing the dancers performing. The dancers perform around a tall wood, glass and string sculpture by Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti. This film brings the sculpture to life and uses the form of video to showcase the performance.

‘Free Radicals’ by Len Lye is real piece of video art like Cindy Sherman’s ‘Dolls Clothes’ as it uses the video as the art and not just as a way of documenting. For this video, Lye scratches and draws straight onto reels of film. When played as a projection this creates abstract patterns that work somewhat like a flip-book animation. By drawing onto the film, he isn’t actually using a camera in any part of his practice, therefore making it a truly unique piece. The swirly, sketchy images combine well with the tribal drum music that accompanies it, emphasising the shape and rhythm.

Video art is a relatively new practice, but its immersive nature means that it is suited to a 21st Century gallery space. The combination of video art from many eras show the history of the practice and form a good basis as a Constellation at Tate Liverpool.

Image: Tate


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