Appreciating Early Video Art

Illuminatin’ Sweeney by Skip Sweeney

One type of early video art I want to look back on is video feedback, specifically Skip Sweeney’s Illuminatin’ Sweeney (1973).

This type of imagery is created by pointing a camera at the screen to which it’s connected to, producing a loop of organic pattern. This method seems simple enough, yet the pulsating visual effects create abstraction as beautiful and as free as Jackson Pollock’s splatter paintings. Line and color bounce off of each other in a fluid motion, just long enough to be perceived before the pattern changes again. The movement itself appears dance-like in performance, a rhythmic aesthetic maintained throughout the feedback. These aspects give life to an abstract image, the aesthetic focus on change and movement as a cohesive sequence.

By far the most interesting aspect of Illuminatin’ Sweeney is its method of production; the use of live video feedback to create a randomized, organic composition. Emerging from the turn of the technological era, this video successfully explores the use of video in art and the manipulative freedom of such tools. Had this imagery been artificially reconstructed, it would not have nearly the same complexity and success.

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