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A Video History of Upstate New York I: “A nothing which let everything happen…”

A Video History of Upstate New York I:  “A nothing which let everything happen…”

IMAGE: Nam June Paik manuscript reproduction from poster, “Ralph Hocking Selections, March 16, 1994, Lecture Hall Six, 8:00 PM”

A Video History of Upstate New York I:
“A nothing which let everything happen…”

(This is the FIRST installment in a blog series on the Experimental Television Center exploring the community and institutional culture of experimental media education in an under-examined area of the first decade of video’s history. The series investigates issues of educational structure, access, technological and media literacy, collaboration, discourse, and public outreach at the nexus of higher education, public humanities, and the emergent media center.) 

When Nam June Paik described Ralph Hocking as the “Laotze in Video”, he was referring to the co-founder of the Experimental Television Center (ETC), a not-for-profit educational media arts center located in the Susquehanna Valley that by 1981 had disaffiliated with the State University of New York at Binghamton and moved to the nearby village of Owego, NY in Tioga County.  Organized in 1971 “primarily as a video access center” for local artists and community groups, the “Community Center for Television Production” incorporated as the ETC in 1972 and shortly thereafter shifted to a programming model throughout much of the seventies at a rented downtown location funded by NYSCA and the NEA and supported indirectly (receiving equipment and furniture) through Director Ralph Hocking’s faculty position in the Cinema Department at SUNY Binghamton. (1)  Nam June Paik was one of the State’s video artists to personally partake in the studio facilities available at the Center, offering artists “equipment most individuals cannot afford to own, instruction and technical assistance when needed, a dry, warm spot on the floor for sleeping and the key to the front door”. (2) This comprised part of the ETC post-1973 focus on “video as an art form” alongside a program of community and special interest workshops, SUNY courses in video, and screenings and performances open simultaneously to the public and artists-in-residence. (3)

One aspect to understanding the ETC’s promotion of the emergent media of video as an art form is the request that students “experiment with non-objective images, their production and manipulation”, (4) and in the use of the Paik-Abe Color Video Synthesizer in the Center’s express goal to provide workshops “from the pre-kindergarten through the post-graduate levels”. (5) “Designed and built… by Shuya Abe and Nam June Paik” at the ETC for David Loxton’s TV Lab (with a copy retained for the Center), the Synthesizer also referred to as the “Paik/Abe” would become an educational programming component of the ETC’s approach to “electronic technology as a medium of art making” with accessible interfaces that concerned video media image processing in real-time. (6) Off-site workshops conducted by the Experimental Television Center with the Paik-Abe Synthesizer included a 1974 in-service for 70 K-12 art teachers with the Rochester City School District who were remarkably already working with portapaks but implored to have Ralph help them break through the dimension of “straight documentary” to a “visual innovation” that suggests a desire for deeper forms of technical, media poetic literacy. (7) The synthesizer represented experimental video that same year at the SUNY University-Wide Celebration of the Arts to an expected crowd of one thousand, with the expectation that it usually travelled by station wagon or van. (8) Walter Wright, a video artist and regular workshop instructor for the ETC, would receive a letter of thanks for bringing the synthesizer from the downtown center to the campus Cinema Department nearby  in 1975:

“This was an auspicious start to the closer integration of video into the cinema program.

Absurd as it is, considering how close the E. T. C. is, still I think a number of students really profited from the studio workshop set-up that introduced them personally to the synthesizer.” (9)

The Experimental Television Center’s flexible, publicly funded institutional ecology also merged with other media arts centers in the promotion of emergent media and image process literacy, with archives reflecting students requesting ETC workshops on their campus to start a student-run cable T.V. station after taking a workshop with the Paik-Abe Video Synthesizer through Portable Channel, Rochester, (10) while another workshop at Media Study in downtown Buffalo, New York targeted experienced experimental video makers. (11) As an Experimental Television Center press release for a live video performance with the "Paik/Abe Synthesizer" at the Anthology Film Archives explained:

“The first question asked of the video artist using the Synthesizer is, “Why?”. A comparison between television and some other media may answer this question. At its simplest the Paik/Abe Synthesizer is like a big paintbrush and the color monitor a canvas. The various images and patterns input to the Synthesizer may be abstracted, mixed and colored under the control of the artist. However, television involves the added dimension of time; like film it is a moving picture. So why not use film? Admittedly most of the effects available to the video artist are also available to the filmmaker. But the video artist has an important advantage—he works in real time. This immediacy is the interesting and challenging aspect of video art. The video synthesizer becomes an instrument and the artist an image musician”. (12)

The story of video art’s integration into mainstream higher education curriculums and the white cube via such channels (a de-radicalization of emergent distribution in the case of the gallery installation that video art’s first curator, David Ross, eventually deemed the “success of the failure of video”) (13) aligns with the experimental media center’s focus on sharing resources to the point of equal access and possibly even self-obsolescence. The ETC notably shared manuals, image processing texts and instructions for making video devices towards self-professed self-effacement; As Sherry Miller Hocking elaborated: “[W]e were committed to disseminating the tools—to help put them in the hands of individual artists; essentially we were trying to put ourselves out of business.” (14) These institutional goals echo media archaeologically with current design concerns for “network architectures” towards decentralization (15), but where did this place the 20th century futurity with the artist? In the ability to distribute work? In work within a viable creative economy? In teaching? 

In 1999, at the “Video History: Making Connections” Conference—which paired 70s media artists with emergent “new media and interactive technologies” artists— (16)  curator David Ross had hope at least for the continuance of the promise of the structural immediacy of video in the distributive control the “communal space” of the internet might offer hybridly to artists of digital media swept up in his coinage of the all-inclusive term “Net Art”.(17) Artists in the audience were reportedly “less enthusiastic about the promise of the Net”, including a concern for the “structural dominance of the phone companies supporting the Web” (18), a reminder of previous losses of public access cable, and a harbinger of online platform dominance and net neutrality issues as we currently approach the end of the first quarter of the 21st century in the flow of the experimental, emergent media valley.

Like the more abundant public funding of the emergent media arts center of the 70s, the structures nurturing that nothing which makes something happen on the internet have perhaps surpassed their zenith with corporate controlled platforms and mainstream social media monopolies.

So, what happens next?

“Are you interested in the black hole in the sun??

yes…. But

the black hole in the human being is more interesting still….”

(1) John Minkowsky Survey Questionnaires via Gerald O’Grady, 30 July 1975, Box 60, Folder 8, Experimental Television Center Collection. Rose Goldsen Archive, Cornell University Libraries.
(2) “For two years” statement, c. 1974, Box 60, Folder 7, Experimental Television Center Collection. Rose Goldsen Archive, Cornell University Libraries.
(3) John Minkowsky Survey Questionnaires via Gerald O’Grady, 30 July 1975, Box 60, Folder 8, Experimental Television Center Collection. Rose Goldsen Archive, Cornell University Libraries.
(4) John Minkowsky Survey Questionnaires via Gerald O’Grady, 30 July 1975, Box 60, Folder 8, Experimental Television Center Collection. Rose Goldsen Archive, Cornell University Libraries.
(5) “Experimental Television Center Ltd.” media release, c. 1973, Box 60, Folder 7, Experimental Television Center Collection. Rose Goldsen Archive, Cornell University Libraries.
(6) Kathy High, Sherry Miller Hocking and Mona Jimenez, Preface to The Emergence of Video Processing Tools, eds. Kathryn High, Sherry Miller Hocking and Mona Jimenez (Bristol: Intellect Books, 2014) xx.
(7) City School District Letter from Burt Towne to Ralph Hocking, 1 February 1974, Box 60, Folder 7, Experimental Television Center Collection. Rose Goldsen Archive, Cornell University Libraries.
(8) University-Wide Celebration of the Arts Letter from Patricia Kerr Ross to Ralph Hocking, 22 February 1974, Box 60, Folder 7, Experimental Television Center Collection. Rose Goldsen Archive, Cornell University Libraries.
(9) Letter from Larry Gottheim to Walter Wright, 17 April 1975, Box 60, Folder 9, Experimental Television Center Collection. Rose Goldsen Archive, Cornell University Libraries.
(10) Letter from David Habbel to Ms. Miller with response, 20 March 1975, Box 60, Folder 9, Experimental Television Center Collection. Rose Goldsen Archive, Cornell University Libraries.
(11) Media Study Incorporated Letter from Barry K. Grant to Walter Wright, 18 December 1974, Box 60, Folder 8, Experimental Television Center Collection. Rose Goldsen Archive, Cornell University Libraries.
 (12) Flyer for “Video, Walter Wright at Anthology Film Archives”, Box 60, Folder 9, Experimental Television Center Collection. Rose Goldsen Archive, Cornell University Libraries.
(13) Ann, Curran, “Signals in Syracuse-Video History: Making Connections Conference”, Experimental Television Center website, http://www.experimentaltvcenter.org/signals-syracuse-video-history-makin....
(14) Kathy High, Sherry Miller Hocking and Mona Jimenez, Preface to The Emergence of Video Processing Tools, eds. Kathryn High, Sherry Miller Hocking and Mona Jimenez (Bristol: Intellect Books, 2014) xx.
(15) “Unlike Us Reader: Social media Monopolies and Their Alternatives”, Institute of Network Cultures website, http://networkcultures.org/blog/publication/unlike-us-reader-social-medi....
(16) “Video History: Making Connections – About”, Experimental Television Center website, http://www.experimentaltvcenter.org/video-history-making-connections-about.
(17) Ann, Curran, “Signals in Syracuse-Video History: Making Connections Conference”, Experimental Television Center website, http://www.experimentaltvcenter.org/signals-syracuse-video-history-makin....
(18) Ann, Curran, “Signals in Syracuse-Video History: Making Connections Conference”, Experimental Television Center website, http://www.experimentaltvcenter.org/signals-syracuse-video-history-makin....

Bibliography

Curran, Ann. “Signals in Syracuse-Video History: Making Connections Conference.” Experimental Television Center website. http://www.experimentaltvcenter.org/signals-syracuse-video-history-makin....

Experimental Television Center Collection, #8229. Rose Goldsen Archive, Cornell University Libraries, Ithaca, New York, United States.

High, Kathy, Sherry Miller Hocking and Mona Jimenez, Preface to The Emergence of Video Processing Tools, xi-xxv. Edited by. Kathryn High, Sherry Miller Hocking and Mona Jimenez. Bristol: Intellect Books, 2014.

“Unlike Us Reader: Social media Monopolies and Their Alternatives.”Institute of Network Cultures website. http://networkcultures.org/blog/publication/unlike-us-reader-social-medi....

“Video History: Making Connections – About.”Experimental Television Center website. http://www.experimentaltvcenter.org/video-history-making-connections-about.

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