Video art: great when it's good


Following the presentation of the Turner Prize this week, the very thought of video art has got some Luddite arts columnists frothing at the PC. But we're rather more happening and groovy here at Cries & Whispers, so we proclaim it to be the most vital medium of the Nineties. Two of my personal favourite pieces of video art, for instance, are the promos for the Rolling Stones songs "Love is Strong" and "Like a Rolling Stone". Each of these is technically groundbreaking, immensely influential and visually ravishing (no small achievement, given the protagonists). It's not easy to imagine the amount of time and inspiration that must have gone into putting these ingenious clips together and producing their special effects, but the memorable results are worth it.

So don't knock video art, just because the particular pieces which won the Turner Prize are - like most of the video art which is shown in galleries instead of on television - so bewilderingly dull and inept. One of these, by Gillian Wearing, was 60 Minutes' Silence, and it featured some policemen impersonating a group photograph by standing and sitting relatively still for an hour. More worthy of the name of "art" than a Rolling Stones video? So it seems. But as this is the sort of thing you might come up with in your first week at film school, it must be galling for anyone who's actually been there. Why waste years learning about editing and lighting when you can get paid pounds 20,000 for switching on a camera and letting it run for an hour? (I haven't heard whether Wearing is sharing her prize-money among the police officers who posed for her, but I'd assume so, given that they did most of the work.)

We can't leave the subject of the Turner Prize without hearing a few choice words from the judging panel. Apparently, Wearing's art represents "a highly personal form of what might be called urban realism". Well, true enough, it might be, but I can think of a lot of other things it might be called. "It also offers a rich insight into the lives of ordinary people." Ah, yes, ordinary people. Thank goodness there are artists around who can educate us extraordinary people about those odd, exotic creatures who aren't so fortunate.

I Was perplexed by a profile of Joseph McFadden in this week's issue of Time Out, the London listings magazine. McFadden was the bright-eyed young star of The Crow Road, he appeared in the STV soap The High Road, and, making a bold departure from television programmes with "Road" in the title, he can be seen on BBC2 tonight, in Bumping the Odds. According to Time Out, he's also performing in a Welsh production of Joe Orton's Entertaining Mr Sloane, "his first stab at professional theatre". Now, this is what perplexed me, because I saw McFadden playing the title role of Peter Pan last Christmas at the Ayr Gaiety Theatre, home of light entertainment in the west of Scotland. I don't know who's to blame here, Time Out or McFadden, but someone is either denying that the pantomime took place, which is very upsetting, or questioning its professionalism, which is more upsetting still. Not only did McFadden turn in an inspired, impish interpretation of the Boy Who Never Grew Up, but he managed to stay in character while a friend of mine rudely and unforgiveably shouted out lines from The Crow Road. That seems like the mark of a true professional to me.

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