Publication Type:Journal Article
Source:MAIN, NAMAC, CA (1999)
The history of and attempts to preserve the National Center for Experiments at KQED TV, San Francisco.
"Long long ago, in an archive far far away..."
Like most video histories, the story of the
NCET was established in 1967 at KQED in
The work done at the Center was very unique. Influenced by and reflecting the countercultural spirit of the times, the west coast Lab was concerned with reinventing the visual language of television by concentrating on the electronic pulse and flat screen, and imagining the screen surface as a place that was anti-illusionistic, more a canvas. Pursuing this vision largely through the use of image-processors (mixers, keyers, colorizers, etc.), NCET returned to the raw materials of television to further undermine programming conventions by infusing them with the characteristics of not just radio transcribed to TV, but the arts in general: literary, painterly, choreographic, and dramaturgical. From the start, the vision of NCET was multi-disciplinary. Privileging process over product, part of NCET's mission was to bring public television writers, directors, and executives a new vision of what television could be through internships that involved working with artists and experimenting with the medium directly.
Very generally, there have been a few stumbling blocks encountered during our research that may be common to all video history projects (if not histories of obscure subject matter in general). Early on it became obvious that this video history, as largely unwritten, was necessarily an oral history. There is no central archive of NCET tapes or print documents, though we have gathered information on about 420 tapes of various generations - 3/4", 2", and 1"ﾖ from the archives of Southern Methodist University, Media Study/ Buffalo (now in the possession of Woody and Steina Vasulka), Stanford University, and University of California, Berkeley. Since NCET had split off from KQED rather early on,
Archives will often have materials that are overlooked or unrelated to the main focus of their collection. When we went to visit the archives of Southern Methodist University, we were told there were about 30 2" quad tapes related to NCET in a collection that is primarily devoted to early
In many ways we were lucky to find anything at all. Because the tapes are obsolete, not only technically (as with the 2" quad and old 1" copies), but in the judgment of some, surely aesthetically obsolete as well. Image-processed video turned out to be something of an artistic cul-de-sac, with many fervent practitioners and few advocates. NCET seems to have been a scene unto itself, isolated even from other
Our process began with trying to find key players, artists and administrators of NCET who were still around, and talk to them about where tapes were, and what their memories of the Center were. Scratching below the surface, we found a wealth of material. And yet with no overarching schematic, it is difficult to know what relevance to ascribe to one or another piece of information: do we deliberately assign '90s priorities based on what work appeals to our sensibilities now? Do we gather input from the artists as to what were their favorite works? Do we rely on scant or non-existent public television records as far as what works were broadcast, or screened to the large audience? Throughout, and in the end, we hope to rely on all three strategies.
Part of our objective in this project is to catalog and preserve as much work as possible from NCET, so that this information and these art works are available to future researchers with different priorities and perspectives. In order to draw attention to the work done at the Center, we are planning to curate a touring exhibition of selected preserved tapes so that people can see the work and draw their own conclusions. At this writing, we have just begun the long process of preserving and reviewing works. We are poised at a tantalizing moment and we don't know exactly what we will find.
Maria Troy was an Associate Curator of Media Art at the
Steve Seid is Video Curator at the Pacific Film Archive at the