Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Hippie Modernism, the series Counter Currents invites a range of individuals and collectives—from writer Geoff Manaugh and artist Tomás Saraceno to Experimental Jetset and Josh MacPhee—to share how countercultural artists and designers of the 1960s and ’70s have influenced their work and thinking today. Here Luke Fischbeck of Lucky Dragons—which performs at the Walker May 13 as part of Devendra Banhart’s two night mini-festival—considers the influence of the collective Videofreex. Hippie Modernism opens at the Cranbrook Museum of Art on June 18.
Videofreex (1969–1978) was a close-knit, intensely collaborative group of artists united by the common goal of displaying a perspective they saw as missing from available media. They carried portable video equipment while participating in protest marches and acts of civil disobedience. They recorded the inside of a Washington, DC jail. At Woodstock, they turned their cameras away from the stage to show the health workers and the clean-up crew. They were the ideal audience: every museum or gallery show related to video as an art form was dutifully and meticulously recorded. They interviewed members of the Hell’s Angels, the Weathermen, and the Black Panther Party, crawling on the floor with a handheld camera to get multiple angles of Fred Hampton speaking to a small group weeks before he was murdered. They captured intimate moments of play and experimentation—birthday parties, lovemaking, and leisure time, laughing at an image of their composited faces, aiming a laser at the camera lens just to see what would happen.
Presented at weekly screenings in their communal SoHo loft, and later by means of a pirate television station in the rural community of Lanesville, New York, the tapes (some 1,500 of them) were viewed by the participants in the context of their making. What was this remarkable archive made to do? To redirect viewers to a new way of looking? To evaluate and refine a way of being in the world, as players reviewing practice tapes before a performance? Does every archive hope to contain some recipe for re-creating the reality that it was drawn from?1
Firmly in the context of “democratized” or “participatory” media movements of the time, Videofreex placed a premium on access to tools and techniques in their do-it-yourself publication Spaghetti City Video Manual (1973) and in their contribution to the compendium Guerrilla Television (1971). Unlike other projects that explicitly aimed to make production technology available to a wide and disparate public,2 Videofreex’s inward-focused archival impetus is what survives most intensely—the conviction that what they were seeing, and the way they were seeing it, should be preserved. The flatness of history, broken into freaky perspective, by “investing computer time and human energy in storing data about video people and video tapes in an information bank… aaah, spaceship earth, what’s in store for you!” 3
In my own work as part of the collaborative broadcast project KCHUNG (2011– ), I have felt just how productive this balance can be: an affective impulse to open up the means of production, an active impulse to crystallize a collective point of view. The result, an archive of every single KCHUNG broadcast—more than 9,000 recordings that continue to accumulate—can be browsed, sorted, or searched, but can’t be comprehensively interpreted. It just sprawls, and in this sprawl, we come closest to representing the way we see.
1 As with Erkki Kurenniemi’s project to continuously and obsessively document what he sees as an unstructured archive, does this collection of recordings contain some anticipation of an imminent age in which the viewer’s perspective can be reconstituted (as artificial intelligence)?
2 Compare with projects that sought out structured collaborations with under-served or excluded communities, such
as Experiments in Art and Technology’s Anand Project (1969), which promoted locally-produced educational programming for Indian television.
3 Feedback: Videofreex in “Radical Software,” Volume I, Number 5, Realistic Hope Foundation (Spring 1972).
Luke Fischbeck is a Los Angeles–based artist, composer, and organizer who designs and tests structures for collaboration. He is a founding member of the group Lucky Dragons (with Sarah Rara, 2000– ) and the collectively-organized broadcast project KCHUNG Radio (2011– ).