VAEFF Article Draft
VAEFF History: A Decade of Cutting-Edge Video Art
It was on a stormy night day in February 2013. Author Mark Alpert Joined the VAEFF Team as the festival discussions moderator.
One of the panelists this year was David Ross the former director of the Witney and Moma, could not physically arrive. However, he joined the discussion via Skype. By reflecting on the moment he said back then in the 70’s we were hoping that videos will help to transform the art museum to a different institution. And here I am seating in my kitchen in beacon because of the snowstorm and talking to you and the panel real time. This is a fantasy we did not dare have”
Alanna Heiss the founder of Ps1 Moma reflected on the early days of video art and telling funny stories about Nam June Paik which she and Ross knew very well in person.
That evening was a rare opportunity to learn about the early days. But It also became increasingly clear that contemporary video art has moved beyond the early days of the ’70 and mid-’90s.
VAEFF curation team have constantly re-examined the definition of contemporary video art in order to reflect the dramatic changes as a result of the digital and online video sharing revolutions. As much as the definition of the phone has changed in the last 20 years, so as video art. Besides the name, both changed beyond recognition. In fact, nowadays more people would see video art on their phone than in a gallery or a museum.
Cinemas and museums did not go away, but the affordability and accessibility of technology-enabled artists today to push not only the limits of their imagination but also the freedom to publish the work online and reach out directly to their audience says VAEFF founder and director Dan Fine.
Running for its ninth year at the iconic Tribeca Film Center in NYC, the Video Art & Experimental Film Festival showcases to New York audiences some of the most exciting, innovative, and provocative works of film and video from around the world.
The festival embraces a boundary-pushing spectrum of work that includes contemporary video art, animation, fashion films, visual narratives, Music Videos and various other genres of short films. Top picks from its past 8th festivals can be watched on VAEFF Selections Channel.
On a beautiful day on May 2010 at the first annual Video Art and Experimental Film Festival that has taken place at the old iconic Tribeca Cinemas, SVA professor Edd Bowes said: “I Think ten years from now when we will look at moving images, we will look at them in a very different way then we look at them now”. Throughout the past decade that the VAEFF has been in operation, there has been a conscious effort to reflect the incremental changes that are taking place in contemporary video art and film.
Prior to 2010, videoart.net was an online curation platform for video art and shorts. The festival was a natural spinoff to the online program. Ross Harley an art professor from Sidney said: “ what struck my eyes about videoart.net is the way it brings together people and projects from around the world and focusing on a New York community”. It was not a coincidence VAEFF both founding sponsors and partners where Vimeo And the iconic Tribeca Cinemas in NYC. Blake Whitman, The former Director of Community and Product at Vimeo explained that Videoart.net is an incredible experimental film and video art community on Vimeo and we wanted to give back”
Over three nights in early October 2014, as the New York fall seemed to be taking its grip on the city, filmmakers, artists, and film enthusiasts huddled outside Tribeca Cinemas and engaged in animated exchanges and heated discussions – excitedly picking apart the films of this year’s Video Art and Experimental Film Festival. Now at its fourth year, Following a record number of submissions, it became increasingly clear that the term contemporary video art must include a wider spectrum of work than previously thought.
As a result, the 2014 programs comprised an eclectic selection of work ranging from Fashion Film, Music Video, visual narrative, to more ‘traditional’ experimental pieces. Through pulling films intended largely to be viewed online and placing them into the theater, the program worked as a bridge between the ever-presence of the online and the immediacy of the festival experience. The setting of the festival allowed certain unexpected trends to percolate; as the pop-cultural inflections of films such as Eva Michon’s sugar-sweet Lollipop – a two and a half minute piece oozing with youthful, carefree vitality – established a dialogue with films operating on more recognizably ‘cinematic’ terms, such as Ruth Hogben’s Beyond The Glass with uses Hitchcockian references in order to create a palpable sense of unease which in turn allows the imagery to question how cinema creates and perpetuates a certain understanding of beauty.
VAEFF 2014 dubbed ‘Beauty, Sex, Shame’ program. Beginning with Rino Stefano Tagliafierro’s BEAUTY – an elegiac reimagining of classic paintings which delights in the effervescence of beauty, luring us in with its promises before revealing its inherent ephemerality and inevitable decay – the program examined the seductive nature of images, throwing light on the perpetually fraught relationship between sex and death.
As a common thread throughout the program was a kind of filmmaking which utilizes cinematic and art historical references with unabashed candor, repurposing familiar footage and well-worn tropes to create refreshingly current work. With its knowing nods to the cinema of the French New Wave, Canada’s wonderfully tongue-in-cheek film, Crème Caramel, creates a highly stylized visual language allowing it to reference classic cinema, while simultaneously reconfiguring the often narrow view of sexuality and femininity which exists in these films. It was in this deviance that the program indulged, refusing to adhere to convention and instead presenting films such as Marie Schuller’s dark fantasy-laden Visiting Hour, which, initially commissioned for groundbreaking online fashion film platform SHOWstudio, redefine our understanding of fashion image, as the movement breathes new life into clothing, allowing it to tell a story replete with the kind of tactility afforded by the moving image.
Completing the program, St. John McKay’s astonishingly candid Shame and Toby Dye’s music video for Massive Attack’s Paradise Circus, arguably two of the festival’s most provocative films, dealt with the often imperceivable line between desire and shame. Operating on the terms of a confessional piece, Following the screenings, McKay spoke with moderator Mark Alpert about his hopes that his film can perhaps relieve some of the stigma surrounding addiction and lead to more understanding for human fallibility.
The question of the viewing experience also came to the fore during the panel discussion moderated by Mark Alpert, which concluded this year’s festival. ‘I just want to jump in before Jason, because I know we have different opinions on this’ quipped Vimeo curator and film festival programmer Jeffrey Bowers, flying the flag for the enduring importance of the theater, especially when it comes to experimental short films. ‘A lot of these films are pretty subtle until the end…in the theater you’re more likely to give something the benefit of the doubt, whereas online there’s a lot of flipping around.’ While Bowers highlighted the role which film festivals continue to play in championing the work of filmmakers which would otherwise fail to reach the right audience, fellow Vimeo curator and Short of the Week co-founder Jason Sondhi, who along with producer and film agent Ziggy Levin completed this year’s panel, admitted to harboring little romance for the big screen.
A year later On November 2015, the iconic Tribeca Cinemas was shut down, and the Video Art and Experimental Film Festival celebrated its fifth anniversary, at its new home at Tribeca Film Center in NYC.
The “Beauty, Sex, and Shame” program featured a wide breadth of films, ranging from creative music videos — David Bertram’s “Data Don’t Sing” — to “fashion films” — Nick Knight’s “Sans Couture” and Marie Schuller’s “OYSTER” — to animation.
One of the highlights of our program was a special selection of five fashion films by Marie Schuller, which touch on the crossroads of cinema and photography, the representation/ underrepresentation of the female body, and the subtle relationship between the body and clothing. Two films we showed were “La Taille”, which examined a historically contextualized fashion body, and “12 Tableaux”, an intimate and poetic portrait of American musician and model Jamie Bochert. In “La Taille”, the female waist becomes the historical parameter in which fashion, cinema, and photography meet. It references the iconic work of Jean Cocteau, Horst Paul Albert Bohrmann, and Hans Bellmer. Schuller’s films work brilliantly in concert with the thematic focus of this program because they celebrate an artistic approach that addresses the need to expand the paradigm in which fashion film currently exists.
Continuing in the theme of “fashion film”, Nick Knight’s “Sans Couture” opens up the conversation between, not only photography and video art but the fashion world and classical painting. “Sans Couture” references back to Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel haute couture A/W 14 show, in which Karl embraces the idea of seamlessness and also hints at deconstruction; clothes have stitches ripped out and are wrapped and bound rather than cut and sewn. However, in Nick Knight’s reinterpretation, the idea of deconstruction converges with still photographic moments and even abstract paintings, all while engaging with a more experimental sensibility. Knight’s creative process of deconstruction marginalizes distinctions between genealogies into background references. The title “Sans Couture”, which suggests the absence of fashion, casts an ironic light on the presentation of the work itself.
Vaeff 2015 “Beauty, Sex, and Shame” program also featured music videos, with David Bertram’s “Data Don’t Sing” and David LaChapelle’s “Evening in Space”. Though both are surreal and aesthetically striking, Bertram’s “Data Don’t Sing” is set in a more conventional American suburb while LaChapelle takes the audience into outer space through the eyes of icon Daphne Guinness. Bertram’s American suburb contains five people who come to terms with their deepest and darkest sexual and violent desires. In “Evening in Space”, a beautifully-clad Daphne makes love with a purple alien. Both futuristic and rooted in contemporary fashion, this video is a “feast for the eyes” (Farouki).
Fantasy and reality come to a head in Wong Ping’s “Emo Nose” and Cyriak’s “malfunction”. A man with an “emo” nose contemplates what it truly means to be alone when his nose detaches from his body. Ping thrusts us in a world of unusual shapes and bright, contrasting colors, but we ultimately align and feel for his main characters. Cyriak’s “malfunction” places us is a suburban kitchen we have seen before, but then distorts everything we know when a large, strange creature emerges from the sink.
This year’s “Beauty, Sex, and Shame” program concluded with a Q&A session moderated by Mark Alpert that featured artists Andrea Sisson of “TV Time” and Marie Kristiansen who directed “MOO”. Marie Kristiansen spoke about “MOO” and her desire to stray away from conventional forms of beauty by picking an older cast who peels off their skin to reveal their younger selves. Andrea Sisson talked about her own foray into the fashion film world through “TV Time” and where she sees her work heading.
On the last night of the 2015 festival, for example, a very unique program ended with a panel discussion featured Marie Kristiansen, Carla Gannis, along with SVA Profesor Lyle Rexer who said: ” I did not see such a good festival since…” (show mark 00:40 sec of the panel)
Perhaps one of the most memorable examples of the festival’s was VAEFF 2016. A day after one of the wackiest Presidential elections in US history, came a new and reformed sixth annual Video Art & Experimental Film Festival featuring the most provocative and mind-expanding international work that was made within the past three years. In keeping with VAEFF’s tradition, this 2016 festival marked a fantastic celebration of sexual and mindful openness, discussions on breaking genres within art and commercial film, as well as a performance art piece directed by VAEFF, which illuminated the cultural significance of a pivotal moment in art history.
The festival opened at the Tribeca Film Center on November 10th, kicking off with a tasteful teaser of what the next couple of nights had to offer. These films featured an eclectic combination of films seen within the screenings showing the following night, as well as a tasteful foreshadowing of what Saturday evening had to offer.
The second night of the festival introduced audiences to two stimulating programs that included screenings and Q&A’s from participating artists at Tribeca Film Center. Beginning with the new series “Temporal Spaces”, the evening commenced with films that toyed and expanded with two of the most essential components of a film: time and space. Films such as ‘upCycles’ by Ariana Gerstein explored the notion of ‘time,’ through repetition, nature, and the art-making process of recycling and revising by exploring landscapes within differing film formats. Whereas ‘At Home (with Marisol & Sam)’ by Nic Koller demonstrated a widening perspective on the concept of space and “home” through a cubist collage of shots on multiple iPhones, as a way to explore modern relationships through a cracked digital lens.
A panel discussion followed from the screening, where artists from the program were invited up to the stage to discuss their works. Matthew and Erika from the colorful ‘Fiber Affair’ discussed their product design background and the source of their deadpan expressions, whereas Andres Passoni explained how capturing sound is sometimes more important than the image in order to create a space or a feeling within the film.
Next up was VAEFF’s staple program, “Beauty, Sex and Shame” that featured works examining the relationship between beauty, sexual representation as expressed through art, fashion and music videos in order to understand identity, expectation and personal truth. Some notable films were ‘On Time ////“ by Melanie Jame Wolf that utilized her own experience of working as a stripper for eight years to invite audiences to actively and critically reflect upon their own position on performative intimacy, dancing for work and the gendered economies of desire. Another provocative piece shown was ‘The Act is done’ by Bonnie Lane, which portrayed video documents a postcoital interaction that occurs between the artist and an unidentified male character within her studio, Opening with a running timecode that reads 00:21:09, the video indicates that there were 20 minutes of preceding footage the audience has not seen. What is shown is the aftermath of an implied sexual event between two characters…
The creative energy from these nights morphed into a jubilant and inspiring evening during the closing night of the festival at the gorgeous, châteauesque DCTV. During a stimulating panel discussion with participating artists, actors in Victorian clothing burst into the room beckoning audience members to move into the room they came from to participate in a live nude peepshow. This caught some audience members by surprise, causing them to duck under their chairs as the actors quarreled over an old 19th-century camera. Fortunately, the shock quickly turned into giggles as spectators curiously moved into the other room.
Thus the gala party had begun, people drank from an open bar and ate like kings while having the option to witness a recreation of a 1850s Parisian brothel that imitated famous photographs taken by Louis Camile D’Oliver. The piece, ‘The Olympia Installation,’ is a VAEFF original experimental theater piece that commemorated the festival’s renowned Beauty, Sex and Shame program and the conclusion of the sixth annual showcase. The Olympia Installation was well received among participants, as it artfully cemented the celebration and mission of the festival through revising a distinct moment in art history where new perspectives on sex, taboo and feminine beauty revolutionized the perception of art and fashion up until today.
On 2017 Niccolo Montanari one of the Fashion Film’s most prominent curators and the co-founder of Berlin film festival joined VAEFF as a guest curator for special selections programs of leading Fashion film and Music video. That year he curated a fantastic program titled “Fashion Film – The New Wave,” an overview of outstanding fashion films from the last five years, Filmmakers include Daveion Thompson, Monica Menez, Matthew Frost, Georgia Tribuiani, Justin Anderson, and more.
VAEFF 2017 also continued its popular program, “Beauty, Sex and Shame,” which examines the interplay of beauty, sexual representation, and shame as expressed through art, fashion, and music videos. The works span from sexually provocative rebellion in the new digital age to intimate personal encounters with political, patriarchal, and religious dogmas. These series included work by Nadia Lee Cohen, John Sanborn, James Lees, Alisa Yang, Alan Masferrer, Sarah Kershaw.
Another highlight of VAEFF 2017 was the new program, “On The Margins,” which screened an eclectic collection of works, all with the common thread of existing on the margins of society, space, and the human spirit. These series included work by Maria Burns, Luca Finotti, Soda_Jerk, John Merizalde, Miao Hao, Adi Halfin, Markus Hofko, and more. The program will be screened in two parts, Thursday at DCTV and Friday at Tribeca Film Center.
VAEFF 2018 featured four curated programs: Beauty, Sex, and Shame, examining the interplay of beauty, sexual representation, and shame as expressed through art, fashion, and music videos; On the Margins, focusing on those who do not fit into society’s norms; Color, Movement, & Space, highlighting aesthetically innovative works that push the sensory boundaries for expression through film; and Between Fashion and Music, a guest-curated fashion and music program by Niccolo Montonari. VAEFF additionally collaborated with STTW (Straight Through the Wall) to project selected works on NYC buildings.
Olympia Project Theatrical Series
In November 2016, the first event of The Olympia Project took place at VAEFF’s annual closing Gala, where the audience was invited into a reconstruction of a 1850s brothel and became immersed in an interactive performance with artists, courtesans, and influencers. The fictional play of the Olympia project was inspired by the erotic stereoscopic tinted photos of the 19th-century French artists Louis-Camille d’Olivier and Edouard Manet’s “Olympia.”
The play centers on the brothel’s Madame, an aspiring artist who finds a way to create her own art and express her progressive ideas in her brothel, which, in a seemingly paradoxical way, was one of the only places where women had access to many freedoms they would have otherwise not been afforded as a member of the oppressive society of the era.
In November 2016, the first event of the Olympia Project Theatrical Series took place at the VAEFF closing Gala. The audience was invited into a reconstruction of a 1850s brothel, built in DCTV’s historic French Chateau and became immersed in an interactive performance with 1850s artists, courtesans, and influencers. In the near future, the project’s series will continue to reminisce on an era of controversial artwork in Paris from the 1850s to 1930s, where new perspectives on sex and feminine beauty revolutionized art dogmas and influenced fashion and popular culture for decades to come.
Browse through trailers, selected works, and photo galleries of past festivals