Vocabulary (fragment)
Woody Vasulka, 1973, 4'29''

Viewing this artwork is possible at the LIMA media library in Amsterdam


Using the Multikeyer, Scan Processor, and Dual Colorizer (1) in Vocabulary, two three-dimensional "objects" are set in a new spatial relation to each other through processing their forms. Woody’s hand is placed in the foreground of a sphere, and through replacing one luminance value with another, and through modulation of certain areas of the two-dimensional presentation of a three-dimensional form, the hand and sphere seem to loose their shape, and brighter parts reflect, like arrows, across the "image" field. The Dual Colorizer system feedback is used to create a new form of the transmitted electronic information that presents a different, unseen kind of spatial hierarchy, fundamentally different from the "real" spatial relationship between the two "object." What happens is the keyer is used to take out areas of a certain luminance, replaced with a different mapping of electronic noise. While the Scan Processor in this video work is used for raster manipulation that causes the forward movement of the image, it functions as the keyer as well, because it can affect both dark and bright properties of the electronic image (normally the Scan Processor can only affect the brightness). The texture of an array of lines in triangle form is generated by system feedback, which, unlike optical feedback, generates a delay in the form of texture. System feedback is an electronic operation where the signal itself is fed back and needs to be distinguished from optical feedback, such as, in Orbital Obsessions, where the camera points at a monitor.

Conceptually, Vocabulary demonstrates the interplay of keying and feedback, because while the replacing of luminance makes visible the incoherence of the electronic "surface," system feedback at the same time disrupts and visually merges the otherwise distinctive shapes of the hand and the sphere. The disorder of object placement, first of all, results from the appearance of the electronic "raw material" on certain surface parts of the sphere and the hand, when both are subjected to processing and keying. Primarily, multiplication of the distorted shape is achieved through extended feedback where the presented hand as visual object gains a new spatial behavior that is independent from physicality and directionality of Woody’s actual hand movement as it is presented. Clearly, an image of a body part becomes a spatial object, similar to the object of the sphere that is treated here in the same manner, because the visual field on the whole is "processed" by a system feedback operation. Not only does the presentation of the objects shift visualization from realism to an artificial look, more disturbing is the merging of parts of the objects with each other that creates a physically impossible situation.

(1) “A colorizer is an instrument with which ‘artificial’ electronic color can be added to a black-and-white picture. Through internal circuitry, a chrominance signal, or signal subcarrier containing color information, is electronically generated and integrated with the monochrome luminance signal. In real time, the user can select colors of specific identities as well as the areas of the monochrome picture in which each color is to be intersected... For example, one could decide that all areas of the lowest luminance — dark grey to black — will be colorized blue, while areas of white, or the highest luminance turn orange... By comparison with the colorizing techniques of other artists, the Vasulkas’ use of Eric Siegel’s Dual Colorizer is controlled, almost subdued in effect." John Minkowsky, "Five Tapes—Woody and Steina Vasulka" in Program Notes for The Moving Image State-Wide: 13 Tapes by 8 Videomakers.

Although The Vasulkas worked within the medium of television during their early experimental years, they rarely created, performed or composed their work specifically for television broadcast. 'Our work has evolved through the channels of video, which has its own forms of presentation and exists in its own cultural environment.' It was only after being approached by a local television station, with a a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and Corporation for Public Broadcast, that they eventually attempted to summarise their work in a broadcast format. Six half hours of material from 1969 and 1978 were edited together ('Six Programmes for Television'), each centered around a single theme indicated by the title: 'Matrix' (1969-72), 'Vocabulary' (1973-74), 'Transformations' (1974-75), 'Objects' (1975-77), 'Steina' (1975-77), 'Digital Images' (1977-78). The character of the programs was informational as well as aesthetic.
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  • Date: 1973
  • Length: 4'29''
  • Type: Video
  • Participants: The Vasulkas
  • Copyrights: All rights reserved (c) LIMA
  • Keywords: video (subject), technology, process, perception, movement, image, electronics