Mediamatic Magazine 3#2 Ken Feingold 1 Jan 1988

Notes on the Distribution of Video Art

Double Cassette Mechanism! High Speed Dubbing!

During this year's World Wide Video Festival a conference was held to discuss the distribution of video art. Speakers were: KATHY RAE HUFFMAN (CAT FUND Boston), ROBIN O'HARA (THE KITCHEN New York), RENE COELHO (MONTEVIDEO Amsterdam), KATE HORSFIELD (VIDEO DATA BANK Chicago), TORBEN SOBORG (THE DANISH VIDEO ART DATA BANK Haslev) and KEN FEINGOLD (video artist, New York). FEINGOLD had particularly interesting views concerning the problem of video distribution.

This interdependence is controlled economically by the multinational corporations and governments of the Northern Hemisphere, with television as the primary method of the dissemination of their ideologies - an image - and is, like all images, a fiction. In this case, created for the purpose of what is referred to as the exploitation of markets.Consideration of this raises for us, as those who think that they are apart from this commercial economy, questions of how we actually mimic or participate in this economy, and questions regarding how to proceed in the future. I want to start from the perspective of raising the following questions: Whose work is distributed by whom, in which contexts? Whose work is not distributed and what is the economy of this constellation?

Cottage Industry

Distribution is political by nature. It reveals a hierarchy of producers, distributors and consumers with an attendant flow of money. The primary distributors are the artists, the producers, ourselves. The people who further distribute our work are somehow qualified by the contexts for which they work (museums, festivals, TV stations, and distribution directors: the credible world of art, TV,on-site dissemination, and the non-profit spheres). Their choices reflect the interests of those institutions. In effect, the choises made by these individuals create the context of exhibition and distribution, and thereby, the dissemination of work only by those whom they support, and create the further credibility of producers, invoked at the time of requests for funding. Because of the nature of funding, the work must have, to some extend, been supported by this very small group. It is not uncommon for grant applications to request information on the manner of distribution of a work which has not yet been made.
There are large numbers of producers, and a small number of distributors, evincing
a structure similar to that of government or industry - in this case - a kind of cottage
industry. But how we have the individuals who distribute our work become or been
placed in these positions of authority? We do not participate in the appointment of the
director of a non-profit distributor, or an art-for-Tv producer/distributor. Therefore the structure is more similar to business than to a democratic government. As in business, the activities of these individuals must continue to operate in the interests of the institutions which support them, insofar as they themselves must also raise funds, largely from money paid by taxpayers who have almost no access to the work which is distributed, and from corporations whose products we, as producers consume. The former is also the primary funding source for our production, thereby creating an enclosed hot-house of production and distribution in which the distributors approve the distribution of public funds to producers, and then use further public funds to attempt distribution of the work. The system supports itself, but, unlike actual business, creates no significant further income and no surplus of capital or profit.

Global Village

The primary world of video art or independent video is a white USA/European,
educated speciality audience. The World Wide Video Festival, for example, despite
attempts by its directors to include a truly independent video is a white USA/European, educated speciality audience. The World Wide Video Festival, for example, despite attempts by its directors to include a truly international range of work, is not a participants (despite the growing desire to become a part of the world community, as many conversations at this festival have revealed) as a difficult problem. Why is it difficult? First, that the productions made in Africa, Asia, and Latin America do not have much distribution. many people have asked Is there any work there?, assuming, nihilistically, that if they haven't seen or heard of it that it must not exist. Second, that the curators or distributors do not visit the distributors of these works, nor, for the most part, do they visit the distributors of works by those who are not a part of the white-world, even in New York, where there are numerous distributors of works by Blacks, Asians and Latin Americans, which are not represented in these contexts. Within Africa, Asia and Latin America, producers must compete with the commercial cinema structure for distribution, which was modeled on, or created by, the northern/white structure.
Almost all of the works in this festival which deal with aspects of the Southern
Hemisphere (euphemistically and objectionably called the Third World) including my own, were made by the northerners working in the south. There are many works produced in Africa, Asia and Latin America by people who live there, which are not represented here, let alone works by people from the south about the USA/Europe constellation. These works must be included in such onsite distributions as festivals and exhibitions, and for TV.What has prevented this are the prevailing ideologies of what good and bad video works are. These notions must be redefined, for it is not coincidence that they are used to exclude works by those who are not white and do not represent the context as it has been created and perpetuated. This self-enclosed system, if it is to become truly a global village, and not just and imagine of one, must open up to the real nature of the global production.


Video art was distributed on cassettes before commercial film. It emerged from the aesthetic model of art making developed by the gallery system, and placed immediately
the notions of limited editions, high prices, and limited circulation into effect. At that
time, no one had VCRS at home. Now VCR'S have proliferated around the world, and the
VHS machine has become almost as widespread as the audio cassette. It is
possible to send almost anyone a VHS cassette, and for them to find a machine to
play it on. Despite the technological advances such as videodiscs and higher resolution
formats, VHS has succeeded internationally on an astounding scale. In the USA, videocassettes are distributed by shops in every neighborhood, libraries, and now, even in vending machines. In India, Thailand, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Indonesia, and many other countries considered poor or backwards by the North, videocassettes are available in almost every marketplace. I have even seen VCRS in small villages which did not have electricity, run off of truck batteries.
Most of the work being distributed is commercial cinema. Most of the tapes are
rented, rather than purchased, for very small amounts of money. In New York one
can rent a so-minute feature film for one or two dollars , and a video-artwork of ten of
thirty minutes for fifty dollars. The artworks, therefore, are primarily distributed to educational, museum, and festival audiences, with some smaller amount of distribution through television. Given the nature of audiences' tastes at this time, the possibility of wide dissemination of independent video work through these channels is very small, nor does the work truly enter global circulation.
The economy of this small-scale art distribution is indeed very small. Festivals
do not pay rental for tapes , schools rent them once and copy them. My own yearly
income from video rentals pays my rent in New York for only three weeks. It becomes
necessary for us to live off of funds meant for production, or to have a job in addition
to that of doing our video-work, relegating it to the cultural status of hobby . If so man}
video works are almost-good,it is because the producers cannot sufficiently concentrate on their work.


Why do we hold onto the notion of the copyright? Restricting duplication has two effects. First, it tries to maintain the technical quality of the copies. Multiple generation copies continuing to be copied return video to its natural, blissful state random noise. Most videomakers, however, are not happy about this, and the general tendency is towards a Tv-like appearance, clean and glossy. Second, it assumes, that income will return to the distributors and producers. This is true, but both operate in a very marginal way; in either case, the current system is insufficient to reach wider audiences, and for us to be able to see the work made by others in the world apart from the more commercial cinema.
I would suggest that companies begin to produce double-VCRS, like the audio cassette machines, which would allow quick and easy duplication of tapes. Producers can easily make many inexpensive copies and mail them directly to as many people as they can, effecting a much wider and more direct, personal form of distribution, much like small-press or vanity-press book publishing. Of course, income would' be very, very small, if it existed at all, but it would be an interesting alternative, and would force the 3/4" U-MATIC distributors who charge high prices and take 50 per cent of the income to revaluate their practice.
We cling to the methods of distribution that exist because they are all we have, or all
we have invented so far. The intentions of distributions are not bad; they are simply trapped by disfunctional ideas. it is time to reinvent.