Sarah Kent, Arts Editor of Time Out

My contribution to Critic's Choice' consists of two parts - work by artists whom I have only recently discovered and a retrospective of personal favourites that goes back to the mid 1960s. I was around (as an artist, then a critic) when artists first began using super 8 film and, later, video to document their performances. Many of these early pieces are technically atrocious and, since the footage was intended primarily as a record, it often remains unedited and so can be virtually unwatchable.

As the consultant on a series called Art and Technology' (I think in 1972), I was lucky enough to instigate the first (and probably only) programme of artists' films and videos to be shown on British television. Pieces like Barry Flanagan's Hole in the Sea¹' (a perspex cylinder that, from above, looks like a black hole until the tide fills it with water), came with a warning that viewers should not adjust their sets because the videos were black and white and silent!

It was only a matter of time, though, before better equipment enabled people to make recordings technically sophisticated enough to be watchable and video slowly gained acceptance as a primary medium of expression. Yet I still remember approaching video exhibitions with dread; in the early days, pieces were shown as a continuous programme on a single monitor and, since many artists equated boredom with profundity and refused to hit the edit button until the audience would be tearing out its hair, watching the results could be an endurance test. Fortunately, since most artists now accept that art can be both serious and entertaining, such horrendous longeurs are a thing of the past.

Better equipment also enables more imaginative forms of presentation that allow people to wander round an installation or to walk in and out of a viewing; but I have a horrible feeling that, for logistical reasons, my selection will have to be shown in the traditional way - as a continuous programme on a single monitor - in which case I apologise, in advance, for inflicting couch potato syndrome on you. In the early years, I often longed for the day when artists would lose interest in video and release me from watching their boring efforts; since then, for the reasons I've suggested, though, I've become a fan of the medium and my trip down video lane reflects this enthusiasm. Don't expect a history of the medium or even a survey of key moments in its development; my selection is completely personal. The staff at FACT have been given the headache of tracking down my choices, and it's too early to say which tapes they will manage to locate, but my list begins with Cut Piece, first performed by Yoko Ono in 1964, (in which members of the audience were invited to cut off her clothing with a pair of tailor's shears) and ends with Sam Taylor-Wood's David². Made this year, it shows David Beckham asleep and, because it was filmed at pillow height, enables you to imagine lying beside this modern-day Adonis. 


©Sarah Kent


¹ Barry Flanagan's work was not possible to screen on this occasion as it can only be shown as part of a longer programme.

² This piece is currently showing in an exclusive engagement at the National Portrait Gallery.





Image credits:

Mark Wallinger, Angel, 1997. Projected Video Installation, 7'30" (loop), edition of 10 + 1 Artist Proof, courtesy Anthony Reynolds Gallery.

Alan Currall, Message to my best friend, 2000, installation view. Word processing, 1995, still from single-monitor video. Images courtesy of the Artist.

Tracey Emin, Why I Never Became a Dancer, 1995. Single screen projection and sound shot on Super 8, 6'30". © the artist, courtesy Jay Jopling/White Cube (London)

Richard Billingham, Tony Smoking Backwards, 1998. Projected Video, 3'54". Edition of 3 + 1 Artist Proof, courtesy Anthony Reynolds Gallery.