Let’s just start off by saying that it’s easy to be turned off by the ’70s, with it’s somewhat terrible hair, over-earnest political movements, and films with a dusty color palette. For all the ugliness, however, it was also the beginning of a truly visible countercultural movement in America. Thus what one anticipates, and what one sees at Circa 1971, Dia:Beacon‘s year-long show in collaboration with EAI at the moment of their 40th anniversary, are wildly different things.
Guest curator (and Executive Director of EAI) Lori Zippay does not try to draw too many parallels between the artists displayed, which is refreshing. Equally satisfying is the fact that the works aren’t romanticized, or forced into a “dialogue” with each other. Though some pieces are separated by theme—works that use sound in a bizarre way, works that are self-reflexive—the majority stand as originals in their own right, artifacts that give visitors the sense of being present at a series of intimate moments during a decade of questioning.
But the thing that really drew us in is the feeling that people weren’t so serious. So many of the videos seem built on an impossible, or at least, previously untried premise, products of a decade-long game of Truth or Dare. In “Swamp,” for example, videographer Nancy Holt substitutes her own vision for the more limited scope of a camera held directly up to her eyes, cutting off her peripheral vision. In order to move around, she must be guided by her male accomplice (Robert Smithson). TVTV‘s “Four More Years” takes on the challenge of documenting the on-floor drama of the 1972 Republican convention, while David Cort‘s “Mayday Realtime” is an uncut and uncensored visual account of a 1971 anti-war demonstration in Washington—all in real time. The curiosity about the possibility of non-narrative, experimental film is the thing that gives it life long after its period of freshness.
From the textually experimental (the feminist work of Eleanor Antin, whose “Representational Painting” uses the camera as a mirror in front of which she unselfconsciously applies her makeup), to the visually adventurous (Nam June Paik and Jud Yalkut‘s “Video-Film Concert” and “TV Cello Premiere”) and, finally, the documentary work of David Cort, Ant Farm and Shirley Clarke (whose “Tee Pee Video Space Troupe: The First Years” features cameo appearances by Jack Nicholson, John Lennon, and Andy Warhol), there is the spirit of challenge and activity, if not invention.