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Krauss notes that a medium is commonly considered to “contain the concept of an object-state, separate from the artist’s own being, through which his intentions must pass” (52). The term “medium” is associated with physical objects that can act as an artist’s platform or base for expression. For example, writing, painting, film, pictures, sculptures, etc. These are all physical forms that can be used as mediums but Krauss contests that the human psyche is a medium itself. Krauss provides the example of the commonly used meaning of medium as a psychics that have otherworldly talents such as telepathy or communing with the after-life (52). In this example, the psychic would be considered a medium for which an invisible force is able to communicate with reality. It is commonplace to associate “mediums” with objects that are physically detached from the self, but Krauss brings attention to the self as a medium. Krauss’s “Video: The Aesthetics of Narcissism” uses the video platform and its video art to support her analysis.

The video tape made by Richard Serra with the assistance of Nancy Holt is an audio experiment where Holt wears a headset that feed her the words she has just spoken with a less than a second delay (52-53).  This is different from hearing yourself speak out loud. When you speak, your production of speech is in sync with the audio feedback your ears receive. With Holt, there is a minute delay, so the feedback is not in sync with her speech production, making it seem like there is another person talking to her instead of only Holt speaking to herself. This second voice is a distraction and causes her to lose focus of what she herself was saying. Holt is disconnected with the immediate history or “text” of the speech she has just spoken (53). This is a disconnect from the existence before this moment, this current present second in time.

Vito Acconci’s “Air Times” is a tape of himself doing a monologue to himself before a mirror (53-54). In front of the mirror, Acconci is projecting as well as receiving a new image of himself. Each change is immediately relayed back to him by the mirror. With the mirror in place, he is conscious of each change and his image of himself continues to change. His image keeps changing but, he is only conscious of his current self in that second and not the past images of himself that has passed the last second. He has disconnected with the existence before the current moment in time, like Holt in Serra’s tape.

The above two examples focus on the subject projecting an image of themselves and being given instant feedback by receiving that image simultaneously with the projection. The two pieces are seen as narcissistic art as they are focused on their “self” image, or “voice” in Holt’s case. Not being an expert or all that knowledgeable about video art, I would guess that not all video art are made with the subject reflecting on their own image or any parts of themselves fed back to them. With the “Vertical Roll” example that Krauss included in the article, it just shows the disconnect between time and space, not the self. This piece is a poor choice to add to the article, as it does not support Krauss’s thesis of narcissistic art.

Lynda Benglis’s “Now” is comprised of layers of her profile (face), performing the same actions with only the image mirrored, left to right. This tape required technical skills to change the format of the images displayed so it is not about the subject reacting to their mirror image fed back to them. This is not about the “self” imagined by the subject or their changes as they alter their image. This piece does not support Krauss’s narcissistic art theory either. This however does further support the disconnect with the history before the present, with no past or connect to external entities.

Overall, the narcissistic video art theory is not really the focus of her article thought she starts off on the right track, loses it and tries to conclude it in the end. Other than the first to examples, and Jacques Lacan’s analysis of narcissism, the rest of the article were really about the “collapsed present” that is scattered throughout the article.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are other forms of narcissistic art other than the examples provided by Krauss?
  2. “The medium of video is narcissism”, do you agree with Krauss?
  3. What does Freud mean by “the dreams occur at the same time as the actual (but invariably distant) event”?

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