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242.Pilots - Live in Bruxelles

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Artist: 242.Pilots

Album: Live in Bruxelles

Label: Carpark

Review date: Dec. 5, 2002

My first experiences with video art sucked. Curious, I bought a couple Bill Viola laser discs, eventually procured an LD player, and hunkered down to what was supposed to be an artistic / cultural experience. The first LD of Viola’s works featured some truly outdated Dr. Who style special effects and a calm circular pattern to his work. The pace was his saving grace, turning such imagery into their intended koans on ecological affairs.

The second LD came from Viola’s nature period where he swore off all video effects and just shot beautiful scenes. This LD was better in its emphasis on composition a.k.a. getting as much cool stuff in the frame at once. Viola lived with a herd of buffalo for a sequence, and another features ecstatic Hindus piercing themselves with (and I’m not kidding) those little plastic swords that come in cocktails. Yet, even this stuff failed to really impress me. Video art didn't have the sense of purpose that painting has, it just lacked the production values to make it glimmer.

Video art from the bygone era of disco and glam was abstract and mostly gaudy. The theory perked up when Nam June Paik invented the video-mixing desk. An analog series of instruments, the mixing desk allowed artists to constrain and edit video images to the point of abstraction. This abstract work proliferated and became the face of video art throughout the 70’s until Bill Voila gave up the special effects for straight shooting. Looking back at the 70’s, you can understand Viola's disgust with his abstract oriented contemporaries. The glut of video work consisted of low-budget projects that seemed more tests of the latest filters than works of art. "Arcade," by Lyn Blumenthal and Carol Ann Klondardies, for instance, features some video footage treated to effects that look remarkably like the Technicolor abstractions that would dot Dire Straight's "I Want My MTV" video 10 years later. "Arcade," is more ambitious than the Dire Straight video I'm comparing them to, but that's the problem: these folks didn't know when to stop and how to use the limitations of their medium to their advantage. It's here that 242.Pilot's work pick ups the diamonds in the rough of video work, and start their process of drying, cleaning, and shining.

Twenty years after Viola's work premiered, 242.Pilots are making video art the sexy commodity it always could have been. Laptop in hands, they provide digital abstractions that are both compelling and beautiful. Burned to DVD, their improvised work polishes once cheesy abstractions into vivid jewels of optical consumption. Those familiar with video art from that period know: those jewels needed shining.

If cameras had glass brains to match their eyes, then the work on this DVD might begin to capture the unconscious workings of optical instruments everywhere. Consigned to window seats during long road trips, the cameras dream in tandem tearing their memories into organic collages. The Pilots layer their images over one another, improvising loops of processed imagery that eerily flow together in both juxtaposition and assemblage. What makes all this work is the sense of style that each members of 242.Pilots give their work. The live processing is impressive, and their abstractions can resemble minimalist painting and, well, every cool effect you've ever seen in a music video. Learning from the licks of former artists, the pilots coherently contort these images, creating dynamic environments for the eye to surf across. As glitched and abstract as the sounds that accompany them, the Pilots dispense with plot, narrative, and even representation preferring stuff that's just pretty and fun to look at.

The improvisation is what makes this work: Constantly having to change keeps the Pilots interesting and, like a good painting, the Pilots know where to draw the eye and how to use the medium. Lukasz Lysakowski's solo consists of TV test patterns with tropical colors blurped to industrial static backdrops and the sounds of faltering filters. It's simple, but its kitsch videogame dances make regular television seem boring in comparison. This work hasn't gone unnoticed, German media fair and discussion board Transmediale03 has issued awards to 242.Pilots for their work. But are the Pilots part of video art's 30 year struggle to legitimacy, or are they just another hip fixture for club life?

By Andrew Jones

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