Memories - 25 Years of the Experimental Television Center

Publication Type:

Catalog

Source:

Art in General, NY and Mobius, Boston, NY, NY (1997)

Keywords:

people-text

Abstract:

chronology of ETC; artists' statements

Institution/Organizer:
Art in General
Full Text: 

25th Anniversary of the Experimental Television Center

Exhibition at Art in General, November 8 ヨ January 25, 1997

 

Catalog Essay  Ann-Sargent Wooster

Memories

View the Catalog as a PDF

 

Catalog Essay  Ann-Sargent Wooster

Before MTV, before Industrial Light and Magic, there was a radical group of people who believed that television was an art medium, and felt free to play with the television signal to make funky, sophisticated, chaotic, poetic, raw, cutting edge, disruptive, politically savvy, artistically elegant tapes that were the antithesis of the broadcast television of then and most of now.  In a world where time seems to progress ever faster, and inventions proliferate exponen­tially it is easy to lose track of the importance of the recent past.  Tucked awav in upstate New York, the Center is outside the mainstream (similar to the problem Piero della Francesca faced working in Urbino).  It is easy to forget its ongoing importance, but many of the 1200 artists who have passed through there, including Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane, Doris Chase, Nam June Paik, Shigeko Kubota, Shalom Gorewitz, Sara Hornbachcr, Barbara Hammer, Peter Rose, Kathy High, Ernie Gusella, Richard Kostelanetz, Peter d'Agostino, myself and many others, have all been nourished in its crucible.

This is the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Experimental Television Center, one of the earliest organizations dedicated to furthering what would be called video art.  Founded in 197 1, the Experimental Television Center was an outgrowth of the Students Experiments in Television program begun in 1969 by Ralph Hocking at SUNY Binghamton.  Using the newly developed small format portable video equipment, this group, and its later transformation into the Experimental Television Center, was based in the radical premise that television should be accessible both as a political tool and as an art medium: As the demand for access increased and with the encouragement of the video artist Nam June Paik, the Center formally organized as a not-for-profit center and moved to downtown Binghamton.  The Center was one of many such groups that sprung up in the early years of video both in New York State and across the country.  It was at the cutting edge of developing new tools for artists using the video medium.  As part of an early research program they constructed a Paik/Abe Video synthesizer, under the direction of Nam June Paik and Shuya Abe for the TV Lab at WNET.  They added other early image processing machines - colorizers, keyers, and synthesizers designed by David Jones.  These machines allowed television images to be colored like Fauve paintings, stacked into interpenetrating electronic sandwiches, twitching, pulsing and/or fraying or bleeding into abstractions of the original image, or celebrations of the beauty of the pure television signal.  Always a step ahead, in 1975 the Center began to develop artist-oriented software for the computer which interfaced with commercially based computers, principally the Amiga Computer.  These allowed artists access to an expanded visual language.  Many of the elements of image processing pioneered at the center have become the commonplace of commercial television special effects.  Toaster special effects and the layered patterns of Avid editing owe their genesis and indeed the very textures and colors of their rhythms of a very particular visual language to the Center's ongoing commitment to providing a place where free-play and experimentation are the norm.

In 1979 the Center moved to Owego, a town in a time warp, more firmly rooted in the 19th century than the 20th.  One premise of the Experimental Television Center has been central and constant, the idea of providing a retreat-like situation where an artist has 24 hour access to a collection of computers, sound equipment and cameras.  Located on the top floor of an old three story red brick building, the Center is a long narrow loft - with dusty floors and exposed brick walls.  The windows at one end overlook a small hooped steel bridge and the slow moving Susquehanna River while the windows on the other look out on to a street light and row of similar red brick buildings.  In the center of the room are banks of machines, patch boards, video recording decks, tables, wave form monitors, computers, etc., and trailing a black spaghetti of power cords and flanked by lights, cameras, slide projectors, at least five video cameras.  It is both a serene place and a place of feverish activity.  It is an oasis out of time, a place for the kind of free play Mohly-Nagy felt was essential for the flowering of creativity and the chance for concentrated work without the distractions of everyday life and the ringing crescendo of dollar signs that accompany the use of commercial production and post-production facilities.  The Center has nourished two generations of artists and continues to provide this valuable service today.  It is a place that is both anachronistic in its approach to video art celebrating the spirit that drew many people to video in the first place in its early years, and is as up to the minute as finances allow.  The maintenance of this artists' resource center has not been without cost.  Operating a shoestring budget, its survival has been touch and go for many years and even as it celebrates its twenty-five year its existence is still threat­ened.

I first encountered the Center when I was writing about video and performance for The Soho Weekly News.  I of course knew of the work of Nam June Paik, but there was a group of younger artists producing work out of the Center (includ­ing Barbara Buckner, Shalom Gorewitz and later Sara Hornbacher) whose work appealed to me because there was a sensuous and metaphoric quality to their use of abstraction.  As a critic, I found myself developing a language to describe their work that was part art criticism, part what was called the new criticism in literature and eventually film theory.  I remember sitting in the dark at The Museum of Modem Art watching one of Gorewitz's early tapes doing thumb nail sketches of the images as they came along with cryptic notes about color scribbled at the edges.  After writing about Barbara Buckner for a while, I began talking to her and she basically issued me a challenge, saying you will never understand my work if you don't understand the machines.  She said (a paraphrase) "when I work, I get inside the machines and become one with the electronic signal." I disagreed and still do.  You can use a machine, and write about what a machine does, without necessarily understanding how to program it.

I have never been comfortable with writing about something I haven't done, and the early eighties I began to work with video.  I remember clearly my first residency at the Center in 1983, including the endless five hour bus ride from Port Authority.  Gorewitz's anvice: "always bring more videotape than you think you'll need," and he was right.  I remember the fear the matrix gave me, sort of like one of those dreams where you see a score card for a huge test that doesn't make sense.  There were no computers then and I concentrated on layering things and turning octopi and squid into weird, delicious pinks and blues.  The first residency taught me that it was really important to bring raw material with you, videotapes of all kinds, books, slides, photographs, objects because otherwise the Center's brick walls, or the river outside the window become a central layer in all your tapes. 

On my many trips back I've scoured the town look for new sources of inspira­tion in the middle of a residency - old photographs from the monthly flea market, toys from the antique store, a book on the history of chemistry from the bookstore across the street, videotapes from the video rental store or a metal dollhouse that became a stage for a domestic drama with in mystical overtones.  There is, of course, a guide: Matthew Schlanger the first time I went to the Center and Hank Rudolph all the years after, who introduces you to the machines and answers frantic phone calls late at night when the machines aren't working, or supplies an extra pair of hands or eyes when needed.  No matter how prepared you are there is always some unexpected chemistry that happens once you are there - it could be playing with a curtain that turns variously into a screen for the shadows of the trees outside the windows, an, abstracted device when it is pulled and rippled in front of slides, or a veil for my nude body.  There is an aspect of terror in being at the Center, the same terror painters feel in front of a blank white canvas.  What will I create?  Will it be good enough?  Will I understand the machines? 

There are also the gifts given back hundredfold - the ideas and images that you would create in no other way - the place itself is a gift.  There was the time the river froze and sheathed the trees and the sycamore seeds into balls of ice that proved a mystical setting for floating polar bears.  Or an afternoon walking down Front Street and a woman calling to me from her yard to give me an armful of lilacs.  I am grateful for their continuing presence in the video commu­nity, both selfishly for the advantages they have given me and my work, and for their support of an important part of the video world.  It is easy to forget the origins of ideas and art forms we take for granted today.  In the words of the title of one of Gauguin's paintings, this exhibition is intended to celebrate the work that has been done under their auspices and tell us "where did we come from, where are we and where are we going."

            Ann-Sargent Wooster

 

Memories

Mara Alper

It is night.  The river is dark, the parade of trucks across the green bridge is slow. This is my favorite time here, the time when everything I've worked on all day seems to fall into place and become whole.  Nothing compares to the quiet solitude in this unique loft above the river.

Each visit to the Experimental Television Center is full of spontaneous creativity and exhilaration.  I create images I never imagined before - usually at 3 am!  Having access to intriguing video equipment 24 hours a day for days on end is a creative dream come true, like being in an electronic playground.  It is incredibly productive because of the equipment, the setting, Hank Rudolph's patient help and the time to work with full concentration.  It has been one of the most impor­tant parts of my creative process with video.  The commitment of Ralph and Sherry Hocking and everyone else who has made it a reality for all these years us greatly appreciated.  Viva ETC!

 

PeerBode

Viva Experimentation.  ETC is a place with a view to see technologies, languages, experiences and yourself(s).  ETC is some of the best America has to offer: generosity, experimentation, and public learning, making, thinking.

Very early ETC activities I remember: Being a snobby serious film student stumbling on a scene at the ETC in 1972 or '73, 1 saw Nam June Paik.  John Godfrey, video engineer, and David Loxton, PBS Producer in shirt and tie huddled around a toy souvenir Empire State Building on a lazy susan, multiple black and white cameras, mixing and colorizing and this image sequence became part of a video tape of Nam June's.

There seems to always be a mix of very different types of people at the ETC, working, passing though, making something happen.  Ideas, Ideas, Ideas and lots of concrete material stuff and things.  After all these years its an approach to making and thinking that hasn't used itself up.  It is particularly valuable to young artists.  I still go back and make recording I'm not sure I would/could make anywhere else.

Decentralization (at a Center), activism, visual arts, electronic democracy.  Over 7 years I got to meet and interact with artists in some 700 residencies.  Wow.

            I think the very first time I came up to the Center the studio was set up as a large automated mariachi band with sirens and lights, cameras and video monitors.  The second time a few days later the space was totally transformed, there was multiple cameras pointing at monitors with some very mysterious, very uncanny hallucination-like imagery.  That's when I found out about feedback (I 973?)

 

 

Doris Chase

I feel a tremendous debt and allegiance to the Experimental Television Center.

They have allowed many artists, through the years, to expand their concepts and develop their imagination through technology.  We, in the community of video art at its inception, would have been stifled without the generous (magnanimous) assistance of Sherry Miller, Peer Bode, Ralph Hocking, etc.

 

 

Connie Coleman and Alan Powell

Over the fifteen years of residencies we have experienced in Owego, it is difficult to filter out a single reminiscence.  Hot summer afternoons spent cooling off in the creek behind the IBM with Peer Bode and friends, discussing the signal and art, immediately come to mind as do Sunday visits with Ralph and Sherry with some awesome arguments with Ralph!  The Thanksgiving dinner that Matt Schlanger and Hank Rudolph cooked for us with their turkey trussed in clothes­line is also a special memory.  But really what we have come away from the Center with is a strong sense of empowerment as artists working with strange and often maddening electronic tools.  At the heart of our studio are our homemade David Jones' imaging tools - unique instruments that continue to respond to our creative focus.  This is the ultimate statement about ETC.  It has provided a true Center for our own exploration and a family of artists that we hold in great esteem.

 

 

Peter D'Agostino

My residencies at ETC consisted of work, ETC,  eat, ETC, sleep, ETC, talk, ETC, work, ETC ... I produced parts of at least three of my major projects there from 1981-90: a broadcast video tape TeleTapes, and two interactive video­disc installations, DOUBLE YOU (and X,Y,Z) and TransmissionS.

I still talk about the Paik-Abe synthesizer, that I first saw at ETC, with students in my video courses.  I recall the intensity of the ETC, experience of being in Owego with nothing but the constant flow of the river, or if I was fortunate, the 4th of July parade to interrupt a day's or night's work.  Something I should mention here, after a hard day's work of ETC teaching, processing, set up, Peer or Hank always left their home numbers, just in case.  With best regards to Ralph and Sherry on their 25thYear.

 

 

LisaDiLillo

-Wow!  Excitement.  Reorientation.  A whirl on the wobblator, a bit of the Buffer, wipes, filters, fiddling, color, coffee. -A reevaluation.  More shooting.  Single framing, strobing, escalating oscillation, motion sickness, coffee, aspirin. -Time to drag out more tapes, bad footage looks great, great footage looks bad. -The river outside captures my attention, but inside is the only reality.  The images on the monitor are metamorphosing! This is it!  -Stimulation, overstimulation, sleep. ­Images silently strobe behind my lids.  Spinning Zeotropes, the persistence of vision. -Bright sunlight!  Another day ...

 

 

Shalom Gorewitz

Before moving to Owego, ETC was located in downtown Binghamton on two floors of a warehouse-sized building.  The floor above the studio space held an amazing archive of monitors, decks, and other technological artifacts.  It was sometimes hard to tell which were the Nam June Paik or Ralph Hocking sculptures being stored there and which were the ones whose guts were being ripped out to test or build a new processor.  There were two wheelchairs that we used to zoom around on.  I remember racing with David Jones, his rapid technical talk sometimes lapping me, as we whirled through the new old fossils of the television age.


Vanalyne Green

                        I have two outstanding memories of ETC.  The first is the quality of learning I received.  Books could - and should - be written about Hank Rudolph's way of teaching.  He showed me how to use the equipment and then left me alone.  When I got into trouble (inevitably), he came and bailed me out, and in the redoing, I learned more than I ever thought I could learn.  My second memory: the bat that zoomed by my face at 3 am, in the middle of the  loft where I lived and worked for those four days. (Hank had warned me about the flying thing).

 

                        ETC had everything within my reach that could ever inspire me to make my tapes.  Sherry's cataloging of previous works by artists who had worked there was necessary in those few down moments - time to stand aside and see just how others had approached the task at hand.  That pressed me forward.  And Hank didn't just show me the technology.  He was responsible for some of the images used in my tape; with his generous spirit he would "play" with some of the props I brought to show me what  was possible.  That made all the difference. 


 

Barbara Hammer

                        1988 was the first time I visited ETC in Owego, New York.  Paula Levine and I arrived form California via New York and the Greyhound to the tiniest town we'd ever seen.  But when we saw the bare-floored loft, the expansive hulk of equip­ment, and the view over the river, we were excited and settled in to to work.  And work and play we did - as you will see in the tape.  With the ever-forgiving and gentle Hank Rudolph who patiently explained the matrix patching board, we experimented with every funky and critical idea we had.  Working late into the night, rising early in the morning, we hit the 3/4" decks running, leaving the Center after 5 days with all our tapes full of processed images.  My only regret is that our editing stint was too brief and I think we cut away too much, leaving, still, I hope, provocation, challenge and the outcry of two bad daughters confronting a postmortem aesthetic.

 

 

Sara Hornbacher

My first residency at ETC in Binghamton, NY was in 1976. 1 met Peer Bode as a fellow graduate student at The Center for Media Studies, SUNY at Buffalo and he encouraged me to apply to work at the Center which I did immediately.  From 1976-1980, 1 enjoyed several residencies a year at the Center.  In 1980, 1 decided to move to Owego for a year and to immerse myself in the video signal. By this time ETC has a new home on the Susquehanna River in Owego and I joined others living on Front Street (Peer, Hank Rudolph, Barbara Buckner).  As a graduate student at UB, I had studied experimental film and video with Woody Vasulka, Hollis Frampton, Tonv Conrad, Paul Sharits and others.  ETC provided both tools and a supportive environment for serious work.  The 14-month period that I spent living and working in Owego, before moving to the City, afforded me the time to firmly establish myself as a working artist-a significant fortification against the odds faced subsequently in less supportive, life-challenging situations.

I have the deepest admiration and respect for Ralph and Sherry and their tenacity in holding onto their ideals and their fierce commitment in sustaining support for the Center for 25 long years.  While many of the Centers established during the alternative media movement have yielded to outside influences having to do with economics and stylistic trends, and have made changes to reflect these exterior pressures or have disappeared, Ralph and Sherry have stayed the course of supporting the idea of the individual artist and have provided many of these individual artists ,vith'a room of their own'-with lots of tools to experiment with-for short periods of time -again and again.  Thank you Thank you Thank you Thank you Thank you Thank you

 

 

Richard Kostelanetz

It was at the Experimental Television Center, nowhere else, that I could develop alternative ideas, established at the beginning of my video art in 1975, of a cameraless art of kinetic words and abstractions with no questions asked or doubts about commercial/exhibition viability expressed.

 

 

Darrin Martin                                   

Sync Impulse oscillator.  Sequencer.  Buffer.  Matrix.  Processed images.. processed words . . . processed dreams.  An awakened dreaming process spends hour less nights without sleep.  Thousands of performances go unseen to be reassembled again into reality.

 

 

Rohesia Hamilton Metcalf

            The Experimental Television Center has been the supportive bedrock of my work ch I would not possibly have made the works I've in video, the place without which I would not possibly have made the works I've made to date.  Without Sherry, who works so hard to keep the place afloat and accommodate everyone's schedules and needs; without Hank who knowledgeably, imaginatively and patiently demonstrates helps and troubleshoots all residency long; without Ralph, whose love of the electronic signal informs the life of the place; without Dave, from whose inventiveness the whole eclectic set­up has grown ... there have been countless others, too - Peer, and who else before my time I don't know, but all of them have made this place that is, of all things, solid like a family is supposed to be and free like life in your wildest dreams could be - a place where there is room to push your work somewhere new.  There is no other resource that I have found that has me feeling as grateful as I do to this place and to these wonderful people.

 

BrunoPataro

The very first impression I had, as soon as I got inside the Experimental Televi­sion Center, it was a click, I could almost hear it, generating ripples of creative juices, flowing quickly throughout my veins... Then it was a blast, how the hell am I gonna get a hold of all these damn hours or experiments!?  An incredible amount of gear, cables, weaving in and out all over the place. . . a few video cameras, a lot of knobs, buttons, monitors, cables, a keyboard, lenses, unique and nice devices, a Frame Buffer, a beautiful and big space with a wooden floor, a bed, a refrigerator, a stove, a faucet in which one can always hook a hose to and take a great shower Oust in case you don't want to leave the Center) not really caring for anything else besides creativity, while overlooking a river smoothly sliding by, in the back of the building, through the window...

 

 

Peter Rose

                        What was extraordinary about my residency at ETC was the confluence of two remarkable opportunities: uninterrupted time for pure creative exploration and facilitated access to user-friendly equipment.  Both are rare.  I loved the monastic splendor of the place-the hot plate, the cot, the minimal accouterments-how I remember the time spent gazing out the windows in the bathroom at the Susquehanna River!  It was a space such as the poet Bachelard writes about: an eyrian techno-nest in which one might freely dream.  What a luxury-to wake up at 3 AM and try out some technical configuration; to do absolutely nothing for a few hours and then to find a performative, rather than compositional strategy for working with technology, unencumbered by a time clock.  I've been a "resident" in various contexts, but Owego was probably the most satisfying of them all.  No Jive.

 

 

Matthew Schlanger

                        1977:    Peer was showing tape and performing at the ETC on Court street.  I came home first and found my roommate and Holly trying to decide what to do next.  I told them I was going to this place called the Experimental Television Center and invited them to come along.... I drove Holly home and she invited me to stay the night.  I knew that evening that the TV Center was going to be an important part of my life.

                        1978 :... A quote of Nam June's hung in the office and old TVs littered all the rooms.  Ralph had converted the back darkroom into a small lab for the students.  I was one of the students.  Once or twice a week I would process images on a Paik­Abe.  The windows on Court Street tended to dominate the imagery, as did various parts of my body...

1981: I graduated from school and became a resident at the Center.  I knew exactly what I wanted to do and how to use analog.  I worked furiously.... Shalom Gorewitz came upstairs as I was finishing my session and told me that I had been given a Caps grant.  It was my first grant.  We talked about tape.  David invited me to join the Tuesday afternoon club ... We knit our circuits in David's Laboratory.  All David's designs, all video.  David had many ideas and was not able to test them all.  We wired the prototypes and built our systems in the process.  David was great about being responsive to creating personal modifications to meet each of our personal needs.

1982 - 85: Anytime someone canceled a session, and at my regular intervals, I would pack up the car with my synths and drive from Binghamton to the Center for a couple of days.  I learned not to do sequencing work until the final all-nighter since the flicker would create a bum that always left your eyeballs sunk a little deeper than they were intended.... There was a feeling of immersion in a perfect world when working at ETC.... My body was permeated with video tape and transistors.

Eventually I quit my job at the TV station and went to work full time at the Center.  I was drafting circuit boards and building the new generation of hardware with David.  I moved back to the city when my system was complete.  I ate out every meal for a year.  Owego needs a good restaurant.

  

Joe Tripican

Oh-Weee-Go!  Jamming at ETC, 24 hours a day was an intense branding of elec­tronic and physical possibilities.  I still have a vivid imaginary catalog of all the artists who defied the laws of gravity and bathed in the sink.  Is it still standing?  On my first ride home after a week there, I was involuntarily breaking down everything that passed my vision into it's fundamental waveforms and oscillations.  Were those girl scouts putting something funny in the strawberry pancakes at the firehouse?

 

CharlesWoodman

My first visit to the Experimental Television Center was in 1987.... I applied and drove up there through Pennsylvania with no real idea what to expect and just a little tape I has shot in the subway station near my house.  Well it was a real eye­opener and it shoved my into a way of thinking and an understanding of what I was working with that has colored everything I have done since.  Nine years and six visits later, above all I think it's the openness of the system and the freedom of the time away from and other constraints and the sense of connection to all the unseen others that I really admire about the place.  But what makes me want to msh back is that feeling I get, the flow of working directly connected.