Artists' Television Access

Breakaway: notes on music video art

The music video is an exceptionally fun form of video art. Collaborating with musicians allows video artists to make work that is at once experimental and accessible, breaking out of the gallery and entering the world of workaday humans in one stop motion leap. The Breakaway showcase of music videos by and and for Bay Area artists was fresh, contemporary, and inspiring. From fisheye lenses to elaborate sculptural props, to green monsters, yellow suits and wallpaper, and finally to Paul Clipson’s ethereal and poetic layered 16mm, the program ran the range of what moving image artists can do with the genre.

Hannah Lew splashes her videos with the overbright camp of early MTV. “Toxic Revenge”, by Shannon & The Clams, features a perfectly greased 1980s newscaster and a vintage green monster who gently opens his mouth to devour a buxom diner waitress.

Droves of citizens, some wearing only towels, flee the monster with that run that people do in music videos, where their pace is sped up, chopped up to match a driving guitar. “Private Room”, by Hunx, has a really extraordinary array of wallpaper, matching suits, and flower petals. Too much! (but in a good way… more is more).

Where Lew had a real signature style, Gregory Downing’s work was more varied. Except for the addition of Santa Claus on the drums, “Snow Crash” by Glitter Wizard looked exactly like what you’d expect from a band of that name (i.e. glitter, glam, and a few disembodied heads). His concept for “The Crimson Blade” by Black Cobra, is totally different. Super high contrast, in black and white, the piece combines disorienting shots of the musicians with lurking shadows and implied zombiism. Again, this one is very genre, very metal.

Rob Williamson’s video for Burnt Ones, “Meet the Golden One,” was quirky. For me it was sort of you-had-me-at-hello, because I’m a real sucker for lens flare, especially in a brown grassy field. Besides for a few tricky effects when the camera enters a dark hole (three times), the song is all done in one shot. There’s a huge cast, props, and a location that includes a maze of pebbles. The aesthetics are goofy– huge paper heads that sing along to the lyrics, a medicine man in a tent. Makes you wanna take your friends, go camping, make a music video.

Wrong Words, “Wrong again” by Chris Anderson and Lily Chou was cute, but maybe that’s all. There’s a little story in it… the girl drummer gets a note from a secret admirer, then she tries on a lot of outfits that while her bandmates watch. Nice outfits.

Owen Cook made lovely animations in “Boneyard” for Nobunny, but especially in “Shadow” for Grass Widow. His ink paintings are subtle and lovely… the shadow guy lives in a shadowy world with just enough information to let us know that its urban and gritty. I love the way he walks and the way he smokes. The shadows of parking meters move with the sun. Nobunny is a bad bunny who rides a motorcycle in search of a pretty girl and ends up in a graveyard. Whoops.

The program ended with Paul Clipson’s piece for Young Moon “The Crystal Text”. After watching video for 45 minutes, super8 really knocks your socks off. The use of texture is so wonderful, whether its the bark of a tree or the layered film effects themselves. The choice of imagery combined with the music creates a gentle, rising nostalgia that makes you think of every afternoon when the sun peeked through the trees. My favorite image is the fingers and ferns.

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