Video Art: Does Access Matter?

November 4, 2009

“The promise held by video, that it could create ‘personal media,’ that normal people could control the production of video imagery and bypass the tightly controlled corporate structure of commercial media, seemed like a revolutionary and democratic advance. Video was seen as a potentially radical political tool that could subvert the relationship between dominant media structures and audience , eventually allowing artists and anyone else to directly address the public without the need of a support structure of broadcast television, museums, galleries, or other forms of distribution. -“Introduction: California Videos, Artists and Histories,” Glenn Phillips

While a certain strand of video art was made with the distinct purpose of reaching an audience so as to express opinions, ideas, analyses, images, or ways of being unexpressed through dominant media, it seems important to note that only a small portion of this has since been posted onto YouTube, making use of this newly available tool to expand audience, using video and YouTube as a “radically political tool…to directly address the public,”  by using this (new) tool to allow for expanded exposure to these (old) radical ideas and images.


As a “video artist” myself who has often used the medium to expand the reach of my voice (or my community’s: see my work on AIDS activist video, for example) in the name of a cause, I’ve only chosen to put one of my videos on YouTube (RELEASED: 5 Short Videos about Women and Prison; while SCALE, about my sister Antonia, was loaded by the corporation that distributes it against my better wishes). The reason(s) are clear: activist videos are made to be shown within organized settings, where context, dialogue, community, and continuing actions (see my sister Antonia Juhasz’s recent “Marching on Chevron” organized with the screening of the Yes Men’s new film) need to be as carefully engineered or constructed as is the video text itself. In fact, radical screenings are often understood to be as much a part of activist video (art) as is the video. Since this is impossible on YouTube, the lack of context and community trumps the power of access and old-school video activists choose to stay home (or march without help of YouTube).


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