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In Video: The Aesthetics of Narcissism by Rosalind Krauss, she discusses the video medium and how it relates to narcissism. She uses examples of works from artist that use video in their art to support her point that narcissism is involved with video. When talking about Acconci using the video monitor as a mirror in Centers she says, “what we see is a sustained tautology: a line of sight that begins at Acconci’s plane of vision and ends at the eyes of his projected double. In that image of self-regard is configured a narcissism” (49). With using the monitor as a mirror, Acconci is directly viewing himself and is only able to see himself. Centers then becomes more about him than the art itself.

Krauss compares different forms of art media, like painting, sculpture and film to video. When it comes to these media she says, “the notion of a medium contains the concept of an object-state, separate from the artist’s own being, through which his intentions must pass” (52). When it comes to these forms of art media, there is still a sense of the piece being an object. That the artist has produced an object and the audience is viewing that object. She argues that video on the other hand is not object based it is more psychological. The human body is usually the main focus in video, it not an object that a human produces by hand. The artist gets to demonstrate what is going on in their mind through video, while viewer gets to look into the mind of the artist. When comparing video to the other art media she mentions, “video is capable of recording and transmitting at the same time – producing instant feedback” (52). The other media arts are do not give the same amount of direct feedback. The artist would need someone else’s opinion to tell them how they are doing. Where as with video the artist can play back their work, and make changes in order to perfect it. This adds to the narcissism that comes with video, the artist is more likely to get feedback on other media artwork, but they only need their own opinion when it comes to video.

She goes on to give examples of a collapsed presence within Boomerang by Holt, Air Time by Acconci and Revolving Upside Down by Nauman. All these works have the artist creating a space where they are disconnected from text and other objects. When creating the video art the artist becomes only aware of their reflection. They then focus on producing actions for their reflection. They are not concerned with the outside world they are just focused on their reflection, on their “performance-for-the monitor” (55). With losing their sense of the outside world they lose their sense of time and are able to record themselves for such a long period of time. This also adds to the idea of narcissism going along with video art. The artist comes focused on themselves through their reflection on the monitor to the point where they lose track of everything else that is going on and create a collapsed presence.

This idea of a collapsed presence relates to what Guy Debord was talking about in Separation Perfected. More specifically when he talks about the spectacle and how it represents reality. The collapsed presence that the artists create is similar to how the spectacle is used to create the illusion of how good the life is. In both situations people are blinded to what is going on in the world around them, they are just focused on their reflection or the images that are used in the spectacle. In both situations, someone is distracted from what is really going on in the world.

Krauss also mentions points where video art was used to go against what she has been talking about throughout the paper. She mentions that video art can be used to “exploit the medium in order to criticize it from within… represent a physical assault on the video mechanism in order to break out of its psychological hold… installation forms of video which use the medium as a sub-species of painting or sculpture” (59). In these versions of video art there is a sense of time and objects are also included into the art. The viewer and artist are aware of what is going on outside of the person in the video and their reflection. There is also more of a separation between the artist and their reflection in the monitor. The illusion of the collapsed presence is gone in these situations.

Krauss gives good examples for how narcissism is involved with video art in the first half of the paper. Also demonstrates that there is a collapsed presence created when making video art. The examples of works from different artist support her claim, but also go against her claim when she brings up the ways video art be used to psychological hold. Krauss gives a valid argument, but then contradicts herself in this article. Saying that she is still able to get her message across about the connection between video art and narcissism.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you see narcissism in videos people produce on social media? People who make vlogs on YouTube for example.
  2. Do you agree that there is a collapsed presence when creating video art?
  3. Do you agree that video art is more psychological than other media art, like painting, film and sculptures?

 

References

Rosalind Krauss (1976) “Video: The Aesthetics of Narcissim,” October.

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