bitforms gallery presents an exhibition on video artist Beryl Korot. Featuring her landmark video installation “Text and Commentary” (1977), the show also includes two of Korot’s more recent investigations into the medium,“Florence” (2008) and “Yellow Water Taxi” (2003).
Recognized since the early 1970s as a pioneer of video art and of multiple channel work in particular, Beryl Korot explores the physical mark of human history and the programmatic structures of data that convey it. The rhythmic impulse in her compositions embraces text, weaving, and video.
“The thing that attracted me to the loom was its sophistication as a programming tool— it programs patterns through the placement of threads, in a numerical order that determines pattern possibilities,” said Korot to Grace Glueck in a 1977 New York Times article. “It’s like the first computer on earth.”
An active player in New York’s then emergent video art scene, Korot had, by 1977, been featured in exhibitions at The Kitchen, the Leo Castelli Gallery, Everson Museum of Art, the Whitney Biennale, Documenta 6, and several important traveling shows: Circuit Invitational, Radical Software, and ICI’s Video Art USA in the Sao Paulo Biennial. Korot’s first multiple-channel works, “Text and Commentary” and “Dachau 1974”, are groundbreaking efforts that moved the video medium beyond the television’s frame and into a vocabulary of installation, both of which were featured at the Whitney Museum of Art in 1980.
When “Text and Commentary” debuted in 1977 at the Leo Castelli Gallery, Jeff Perrone of Artforum described the installation’s systematic approach: “Process was reduced to a small set of actions repeated in space (repeated diamond designs in each hanging, and on each screen) and time (repeated in the work in the loom and repeated on the tape). The patterns in drawing, in making, in editing, in form and design—all converged little by little, after close scrutiny, creating a unified work which reflected a larger reach of human time¬— from primitive loom to modern video”.
The installation is illuminated by two scores, also on view in the exhibition. Instructions for Korot’s five-channel weavings are marked on graph paper in pencil. A pictographic notation indicates the rhythm and pacing of her video editing, which was recorded and edited on ½” reel to reel tape.
Running 33 minutes in length, “Text and Commentary” speaks to an age of endurance viewership, as with many artist’s videos of the 1970s. A reaction against television in its radical approach to time and its challenge of linear narrative, this piece also expands the video frame into a multiple-channel viewpoint. In particular, by banding a horizontal strip of video screens together, the visual structure also references celluloid film (which was typically cut by women who were film editors, another reference to handiwork such as weaving).
“Florence”, a more recent single-channel video by Korot, is organized by a black and white grid comprised of waterfalls, boiling water and snowstorms. Taking the form of a soliloquy or poem, the ten-minute piece condenses various texts by Florence Nightingale and unfolds linearly as a meditation on the transcendence of fear– not in a momentary instinctual way, but over a sustained period of time. It is floating poetry, using other people’s words, with each word moving vertically down the screen with its own position, transparency and speed.
“Yellow Water Taxi” presents the viewer with a colorful scene of movement, bound by a woven grid underlying its electronic image. Korot remarks in a recent catalog about the work: “A morning walk to the Esplanade, near where the Towers had been– just to watch and record water taxis ferrying people between New Jersey and New York City– then riding across a piece of handmade canvas scanned into the computer.”