Direct Action, Mediated Bodies: How Early Video Changed Art


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


Art History


Art historians have positioned video as a rupture initiated by the commercial release of the Sony Portapak in 1967. As the story goes, artists in their studios turned the black-and-white portable video camera directly on their own bodies, initiating a return of figuration after the dominance of abstraction in American painting. Mythologies of the Portapak have limited an understanding of video’s import for artists and critics. This project asks what video art promised and how, in fact, it transformed American art practice and art criticism. It argues that video in the US emerged out of the nexus of three image-based practices within midcentury modernism: the televisual as it was assimilated in writing and art objects; shifting notions of performance; and strategies of mediation in nonviolent direct action.