“[Video creates] the ability to play and enjoy playing which we have lost as a lifestyle in America. Things are either foolish or serious. Lots of videotape is game-playing in a nice, healthy way.” —Shirley Clarke, Filmmaker’s Newsletter, 1972.
In 1969 filmmaker Shirley Clarke received a grant from the Museum of Modern Art in New York to develop a system where video could be used to edit film. Although a remarkably prescient idea, forshadowing the introduction of non-linear editing systems by five years, it was also one that did not come to fruition. Thus, Clarke had to seek out another use for this new medium.
In spite of, or perhaps because, she was a filmmaker, Clarke felt that video was not suited for making video “films:” the Portapak cameras of the time produced murky-looking tapes, with no clarity of image, prone to glitches and drop outs. Clarke recognized that video, because of its ability to record and playback images simultaneously, was more structurally suited to real-time, process-based explorations in “videospace.” Thus, becoming an emphatic proponent of video as a “live process” artform, Clarke would provocatively state, to anyone who would listen, that she had “never seen a video tape she liked.”
Eschewing tape-making, she used her money instead to buy equipment in order to facilitate video workshops. She divided the space of her Chelsea Hotel studio into several smaller spaces on several levels, all of which she equipped with cameras and monitors, stacked on top of one another in totem-pole like structures to resemble the human form. These spaces were wired for video and audio and images could be transmitted simultaneously between them using a custom-made patch board. Surrounded by images of themselves on monitors, and playing games where their body parts would be fed into the “totems” to enact a ritual dance, the participants of Clarke’s workshops were asked to use video technology as an extension of themselves. The hope was that this would lead to new perceptual encounters with their bodies and minds, surroundings and other participants. These participants dubbed themselves the Tee Pee Video Space Troupe and Clarke’s Chelsea studio was nicknamed the Tower Play Pen. Among the core members of the Tee Pee Troupe were Wendy Clarke (Shirley’s daughter), Andrew Gurian, Bruce Ferguson, DeeDee Halleck, David Cort (Videofreex) and Susan Milano.—Beth Capper
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