Between Film and Video- the Intermedia Art of Jud Yalkut:
An Interview with Jud Yalkut

Sabrina Gschwandtner

Printed in MFJ No. 42 (Fall 2004) Video: Vintage and Current

Sabrina: I thought we could begin by talking about what the Destruct Film at the Judson Gallery - later installed at the Whitney - had in common with your 1967 film, Kusama’s Self-Obliteration.

Jud: Actually, there was no connection between them whatsoever. The show at the Whitney in 2000 was media environments by myself, except for the collaborative work that I did with USCO, which was the one with the balloons, spinning around, called “Yin/Yang Sine/Pulse,” and everyone’s contributions to it were equal. Many of the films from the USCO period were shown at the final weekend of the show. The second installation, the Destruct Film, came out of my participation in the “Art and Destruction” movement—I was on the American Committee of Artists for that—which included, among other people, Jon Hendricks, Jean Toche, Al Hansen, Lil Picard, and a number of other people. The “Art and Destruction” movement was an international movement, of course, in England and all over. There was a big show of Destruction Art at the Finch College Museum; a lot of things were going on at that time. The Judson Gallery became one of the venues where that kind of art was explored, and people did a number of things there. There was a series called “Manipulations,” which included Nam June Paik and Charlotte Moorman; there was a very famous, almost infamous moment, when Charlotte was performing this piece by Paik, “One for Violin,” which involved smashing a violin, and she was about to smash it and some artist/activist—I think his name was Saul Goodman, or something like that—stuck his head right into the place where she was going to do this. It was a kind of protest to prevent her from smashing the violin. And what happened in the end was that somehow Charlotte actually completed the action, but he got hurt.

Sabrina: She smashed it on his head?

Jud: Probably. There are a lot of different accounts of that. Also Al Hansen gave a Dada lecture, and there was a painter in the area named Steve Rose, I think—he’s now teaching in Pennsylvania—and his idea was to do an Abstract Expressionist painting as a live performance. Then there was also Jean Toche with his light machines that said, “Do not hurt me, I am a human being,” and lights that were too bright, that hurt your eyes, all these other kinds of things. I filmed a bunch of these things.

Sabrina: So they asked you to be the filmmaker for this?

Jud: Well, I was a friend of all the people there, so there was never a formal asking. I filmed it all on regular 8 mm and left it unslit so that on 16 mm it’s four screens and this film was shown as a continuous loop. The big thing is that Destruct Film was a piece that I designed site-specifically for the Judson Gallery, where as you walked down into the gallery, you walked into a sea of film strewn all over the place; there were some projections, there was a loop of “Some Manipulations” that ran continuously, like feedback, of things that had happened in the space, being projected back into the space, and there were two slide projectors, which had at that time slides from filmstrips that used to have “start” and “end” printed on them, but later the slide projectors showed 35 mm slides that had the standard 35MM countdown on them, and this is the way it was presented at the Whitney. And in front of the lenses of the projectors, I had motorized beam-splitter mirrors, which spun the images around the room. So you had all these light beams going on, with all this film in the middle, and people had to destroy the film by walking on it, sitting on it; people made piles and jumped into it, picked it up and held it into the light, and so forth. The whole thing was based on the idea of film as a strip and a loop; it was a comment on the nature of film in the context of art and destruction.

Sabrina: There seems to be a thematic link between Kusama’s Self-Obliteration and Destruct Film, no?

Jud: Well, only because it happened the same year. I was filming with a choreographer at the Black Gate Theater, and Kusama came in; she was doing something there two weeks later, and she asked me to film it. It was in the beginning of December that I did the Destruct Film, and later in December, I was in Belgium for the Experimental Film Festival where the Kusama film was shown. So they were simultaneous but unrelated in other respects.

Sabrina: So you see the Kusama film as a documentary that you did for her?

Jud: No, not a documentary, it was a film that I wanted to do. I had an interest in film as an experiential medium because I did it environmentally, I did multi-media shows with USCO. Destruct Film became an experiential/environmental thing, and this was an experiential art concept expressed as a film. At the end of the film, one of the things that happened in 1968 was that Kusama started using it to lead into actual naked body painting happenings. But the whole thing is that it moves towards different levels of poetics; well, that was my real interest in doing it.

Sabrina: Poetic…?

Jud: Visual poetry. I was originally a word poet. And I was also a visual artist and I was interested in technology. I majored in math and physics for a year at the City College of New York, and all that merged together in film. So merging art and technology has always been present in my work in film, video, digital, or whatever. I highly enjoy an admixture of film, video, and digital manipulation, and the complex tactilities that this affords me.

Sabrina: What do you mean by tactilities?

Jud: By tactilities, I mean the unique texture which each medium has, whether it is the beautiful reflected light of film, the direct eye-brain projection of electron/photons in video, or the magical iterations of digital delay, feedback,,and electronic coloration. The contrast between "real" color in imagery and the otherworldly richness of electronic color is highly beautiful and fascinating to me, as are the confluence of pixels in digital work, raster lines in video, and grain in film. They each have a unique beauty that cannot be found in other forms.

Sabrina: How has the idea of tactilities evolved over time for you? I remember a mention of the tactile in Jonas Mekas' diary entries published in an edition of Film Culture that I read recently, in which he writes about Sol Mednick speaking at the Philadelphia College of Art. Mednick said that cinema will probably never have that tactile feeling, the energy passed from a painter’s brush onto a canvas.

Jud: Mednick is referring to what he conceives of as being the "hands-on" feel of the artist and the direct contact with the medium. In filmmaking, the tactility of editing is very direct, with the feel of the film in one's hands, the smell of the cement, the ability to cut directly to the correct frameline. Filmmakers feel that video lacks this tactility, but in video there is another translation of this hands-on effect in the almost instantaneous reaction of the medium to the maker's will, which is an experience of another ilk. If a painter could project his vision directly onto a canvas, and with a twist of the mind give the strokes the strength or gentleness required, this might somehow equate to the video artist’s tweaking of the image, producing changes and making choices almost in real time, or as close to it as is humanly possible.

Sabrina: Your film Kusama's Self-Obliteration seems to translate the tactile experience of the editing and shooting very well—not just because the film features people touching. The camera movements and the intimacy of the shots give a very tactile impression. And your piece Electronic Zen seems to me very much about tactility and energy.

Jud: Electronic Zen was Nam June's piece, in which the film is clear leader and picks up dirt and scratches and is based very much on the energy of the projection beam into the environment. Self-Obliteration and the process of its shooting involved very much my total immersion in the scene, moving with the camera, creating "body zooms" by choreographing with the camera (I owned no zoom lens at that time and used the "body zoom" in many of my films of the 60s; some people misinterpreted it as "overuse" of the zoom). Also, by involving the camera in the action, there was a new sense of the subject and object merging, which in the case of Self-Obliteration was highly relevant.

Sabrina: Tell me about your first experience with filmmaking. How did you get into it?

Jud: Well, the very first film I made was when I was 13 years old, and I was bar mitzvahed. My present was not a fountain pen, but an 8mm camera, which my father used to film the bar mitzvah. I actually made some films with that camera, and then I got into other things, but I was always interested in film, and I went to films from the time I was 12, and became really conversant in avant-garde and experimental films early on. But, as I say, I became a poet. I went to McGill College in Canada, and Leonard Cohen was my fraternity brother. But when I went to Big Sur in 1957, I stopped writing poetry and stopped doing anything art-related until I moved to the Monterey Peninsula a year later where I started painting again. When I got back to New York much later, in 1961, the woman who became my first wife—a real film buff—gave me an 8 mm camera, and I started making films again. In 1964 I got my first Bolex, and at the end of that year and the beginning of 1965, I started working with the USCO group. It was in 1965 that I started working with Nam June Paik, and the rest is history.

Sabrina: And you worked with him until 1972?

Jud: Well, the Video/Film Concert pieces went up to 1972, but the collaborations continued ever since that time, because I worked with him on a John Cage piece in 1973; there was the Suite 212 that was actually finished when I left New York in 1975, and we still do things together.

Sabrina: I know that you produced a video around the Paik retrospective.

Jud: That was for the touring show, “Electronic Super Highway,” in 1996. I directed that thing, working with the Carl Solway Gallery in Cincinnati where the pieces were actually being fabricated, so that made it easy, because the whole show was there. And then we had someone go out and shoot the first installation in Ft. Lauderdale.

In your Early Color TV Manipulations with Nam June Paik, there is a sense that the energy comes from objectifying the subjects of the video, where you electronically manipulate the video image and destroy the video signal.

Jud: In these early color TV pieces with Paik, he was transforming the video signal through various means, either rewiring the circuits, or throwing in electromagnetic interference, and destroying the video sync signal in the process. I was discovering ways to capture these images on film, since they could not be recorded on video, and then reworking these images through film editing into final pieces. In the Cinema Metaphysique series, one of the techniques I used was a matte box to film only portions of the screen, as we were basing the series on the exploration of the "unsafe" parameters of the film image's edges when it is translated to TV.

Sabrina: And you used TV in other films.

Jud: Paik and I produced the whole series of video films in the "VideoFilm Concert" program from 1965 through 1972. I have used the video of the Woodstock Festival, transferred to film, and A&B rolled with my original color film to produce Aquarian Rushes. Of course, my ongoing video work involves various aspects of TV at various times, and I have produced works like Raw War, based on TV images of war and destruction, and another based on images from the early history of television, as well as Felix in Videoland based on the fact that an image of Felix the Cat was the first experimental image transmitted from a studio in NY to the Midwest before World War Two.

Sabrina: Tell me a little bit about the filmmaking for USCO.

Jud: There was a commune in Garnersville, New York—which is very close to Stony Point—where Stan VanDerBeek, John Cage, the sculptor Shari Dienes, and a lot of other people were. The church in Garnersville that USCO used as a base is still there; it’s the Intermedia Foundation now.

Sabrina: The term ‘intermedia,’ isn’t used so much right now. How did it come about?

I wrote an article back in 1966, when I started writing for Arts Magazine, called “Understanding Intermedia,” which was a paraphrase of Marshall McLuhan’s term. The term came about in a number of different ways; no one knows exactly how it was formulated, but some people think it might have been by Dick Higgins, who used it to talk about things that were working between the different art media. So intermedia is the combination of different media working together. Some people called it “multimedia,” but multimedia as a term is totally corrupted by the whole cyber thing. You know, it’s something else and doesn’t have the same meaning anymore.

Sabrina: What’s the difference?

Jud: At the time, intermedia and multimedia were the same thing. It was like talking about avant-garde, experimental, or independent film back then. Today, when you talk about independent film, you’re talking about people who are making feature films outside of Hollywood. It’s different. Multi-media means making things for what they call ‘new media,’ which is, you know, DVDs; it’s when people are going to do a presentation for somebody and they are providing images, word, sound, blah blah blah. And, it’s a totally other thing. People make DVDs and CD-Roms for art, of course. I use DVDs for installation work now. The Whitney USCO installation will be shown in Vienna as DVDs and video projection instead of film loops. I was one of the first and one of the few people who worked with both film and video. There were a handful of us, including Scott Bartlett, Tom Dewitt, Ed Emschwiller, Stan VanDerBeek, and myself. That was it. I interviewed all of them about it; the manuscript for that is up at the Experimental Television Center; it was finished finally with a grant in 1984, from NYSCA. Some of it is on the Vasulka web site; I think it’s also on EAI’s web, and some of it is on the ETC web pages.1 But it’s a 400 page manuscript, called “Electronic Zen: the Alternate Video Generation.”

Sabrina: What sort of questions did you ask people during the interviews?

Jud: Oh, they covered everything--technical, philosophical, social, aesthetic, questions, and so forth.

Sabrina: What do you think of the intermedia approach to ideas of social connectedness now?

Jud: It’s not as prevalent as it was back then. In New York in the 1960s and 1970s, filmmakers, composers, dancers were all overlapping, attending each other’s things. That was the time when my career was really built and there was a lot of collaboration; so my career has always been really involved with that in some form or another. USCO is a notable example; the continuing relationship with Paik is another; the collaboration with Kusama another. There used to be a real community.

Sabrina: I mentioned earlier an issue (#43) of Film Culture from 1966. It states that its purpose was to "give our readers an idea of what's going on in the avant-garde arts today," and to "serve as a sort of catalogue or index to the work of some of the artists involved." Did you know Jonas and did you know of this special issue, the Expanded Arts issue? George Maciuinas did graphic design for it, and your work and the work of USCO are catalogued inside.

Jud: The role of intermedia was a predominant force in the 1960s, with involvement from the Fluxus artists, many of whom were friends of mine, and of course with the annual New York Avant Garde Festival, of which I was the Film coordinator for many years, starting in 1967. Yes, I knew Jonas from way back in the old Cinematheque days, when I had my first one-man show in New York in 1966. I was one of the devotees of the Cinematheque from the early days, when only a few people often attended shows, except for regulars like Hollis Frampton and myself. The Expanded Arts issue of Film Culture emerged after the Expanded Cinema Festival at the Cinematheque in 1966, where I was part of the Film Co-op Board of Directors for four years through 1974 when I was in Ohio already.

Sabrina: During this movement of expanded arts in the late 1960s, happenings, installations and expanded theatre works were all seen, experienced, and written about by those who were also involved in the avant-garde film world, right? If this is the case, I'm wondering what happened in the 1970s. How did the movement evolve, and why is it that the film and video worlds seem to have become so polarized?

Jud: During the 1960s in the film world, there was a great deal of interest in using film in non-traditional ways, often triggered by the Happening movement in the art world, with people like Red Grooms and Bud Wirtschafter, who worked briefly with Warhol and then set up a neighborhood projection event on a block in the Lower East Side. Also, in 1968 when the alternative video groups started working, some film people moved over into that medium, like Ira Schneider, former filmmaker, and they started groups like Raindance and the VideoFreex. All of these people were friends of mine, and I had been involved early on with video, working with Paik, so that I was accepted among the video people, used their equipment, and actually shot early video, some of which is in the Raindance archive. "Pure" film people disparaged or distanced themselves from video, but a few like Vanderbeek, Emshwiller, DeWitt, and Scott Bartlett used both when needed. So, the polarization between film and video started early on, something that I never could understand. As I have stated, I was interest in "rubbing the two media against each other, and polishing each into its full essence." As the video world began gaining force and attracting arts funding, such as NYSCA, there was for a long period, a fragmentation in the video world caused by rivalry, backbiting, and scrambling for funds. I observed all of this close up, and somehow all of the combatants were and continue to be friends of mine. I was one of the first film writers to write about video, beginning with my "Electronic Zen" article in The West Side News in 1967.

Sabrina: Wasn't there scrambling and backbiting in the film world, too? Since video was new, was there new funding that wasn’t available to filmmakers?

Jud: The scrambling and backbiting in the film world really started when the Anthology Film Archives began its "pantheon" grouping of filmmaker acquisitions for what they called "The Essential Cinema", a terminology which may be attributed to P. Adams Sitney, who was on the selection panel. Back in the Cinematheque days, there were chances for many filmmakers to show their works in multiple contexts, but the new Anthology left out many of them. Later, it was stated that budgetary concerns prevented the second and further rounds of selections, which supposedly were intended all along, but that expansion was never implemented. The Filmmakers' Co-op continued its democratic practice of distributing the works of any filmmaker who wanted to participate. Now, The Anthology has opened up its theaters to a variety of film shows, but the Essential Cinema still remains as a kind of temple.

Sabrina: But inclusion in this temple really just means a kind of prestige, not money, since there was no funding involved for Essential Cinema-makers?

Jud: That part is unknown to me. Certainly though, acceptance in the Essential Cinema guaranteed academic bookings and rentals for those concerned.

Sabrina: What about EAI—didn’t that serve as a kind of collection of "Essential Video?" And wasn't Howard Wise more concerned with getting money for video makers through distribution? He also offered a place to make work--Anthology never offered that, did they? I know that the Millennium Film Workshop offered a space to show work as well as a space to make it.

Jud: No, Anthology never had work facilities for filmmakers. Millennium has always been a viable exhibition space for filmmakers, with workshops and access to equipment. Millennium was where I premiered the majority of my works in New York, including works with Paik. I also led the Personal Non-Narrative Filmmaking workshops every Wednesday at Millennium for four years until I left New York. If not for Millennium, I think the New York film world would have been much poorer.
Anthology has served an important function as an archive for many films that would be lost otherwise, and this includes filmmakers who are not included in the Essential Cinema.

Sabrina: What about EAI? Was that the only resource center for video in New York City?

Jud: EAI was definitely the main resource for video artists. For a time, Raindance had been a place where interested people could access equipment for shooting early CV and later AV video. EAI did provide for a time editing and post-production facilities available at low cost to video artists, as I remember. Technical help was available to members of the video community from technicians in the Videofreex group. Bill Etra and I taught a Portapak workshop for the Continuing Education department of NYU, and I was able to obtain my first Portapak through their resale of old equipment to Technisphere Corporation. Other helps to the video community included C.T. Lui and his Egg Store where there were some post-production facilities.

Sabrina: So, video makers could make money by showing the work. Video wasn't being sold, right? Instead there were grants that everyone fought over?

Jud: One other factor in the video scene at that time was the attempt by gallery dealers to distribute video works and documentation of their artists like Vito Acconci, Jonas, and others in limited edition videos for a high price. Considering that video was an infinitely reproducible medium at the time, some people felt that that was a counter-productive move. However, much important work came out of the Art Video world, some of which EAI distributes today. The main grants as I mentioned were from NYSCA and those were the ones that video groups, like Raindance and Global Village, fought over—which particularly polarized the movement for a time. I was involved with both, being part of the first Global Village show which was based on the screening of video of the 69 Woodstock Festival along with my 16mm film of that festival.

Sabrina: Were gallery owners able to sell videos for high prices? What was the result of the bickering over funding by video makers who didn't want to sell their work through the gallery system, or who couldn't sell work that way or otherwise make much money through other means of distribution?

Jud: Basically, there were two different worlds that never merged. Many video makers of that time came from different areas, including radical software or alternative television documentaries, and more abstract image-processing, There were also the most didactic or conceptual uses of video, and this aspect coincided more with the gallery video art world. How extensive the sales were for gallery video, I don't know, not having ever seen any figures, but the word was that the take was limited. The conceptual forms of video are what might be called "Teledynamic Environments" and would include such varied things as Paul Ryan's confessionals and "Earthscore,” Dan Graham's video viewing environments, and for me, the use of video as a distance and space coordinator in my series of "Video Vector" pieces staged during the 1970s, out of New York, but in venues in California, Minneapolis, and the Midwest.

Sabrina: Do you think that the video world or the film world has been more receptive to your work over the years? Has one been kinder to you than the other? Which one were you more attached to?

Jud: I have always been involved in producing single channel works, whether as film, or later as video pieces. The installation aspect has been a concurrent interest, and I did film installations in the 1960s like the Destruct Film piece and others like the "Openings" installation with USCO materials at the Black Gate. I have not deserted either the film or the video worlds or favored one over the other. Being in the Midwest for the past thirty years, access to film laboratories has not been convenient. I was spoiled in New York by being able to bring work into a lab and get it back the same day, instead of having to rely on shipping. Video does not present that problem, being instantaneous, and so it has become more convenient for me to pursue work in this medium now. I know that after the founding of Anthology, there were a number of filmmakers, including myself, who found it more difficult to show and get good rentals. The video world has in recent years unofficially adopted its own "Pantheon" with a limited number of video makers being shown internationally in the museum world. I have been relatively lucky since my long association with Nam June Paik has assured a place in history for our collaborative works.

Sabrina: Yes, you were really in the film world, the video world, and the expanded cinema world. Do you think that these histories have been kind to you?

Jud: As far as histories are concerned, I think I have done pretty well. As Barbara London of MOMA once said to me, "you're in all the books.” Of course, I am still waiting for recognition of my own works, apart from all of the collaborative efforts, such as my Aquarian Rushes, Planes with Trisha Brown, USCO films like Turn Turn Turn, Us Down by the Riverside, and Clarence. I have also been called a historian of my cultural times, for my writings as well as films like the Avant Garde Festival in Central Park, John Cage Mushroom Hunting in Stony Point, and Metamedia: A Film Journal of Intermedia and the Avant Garde: 1966-1970.

Sabrina: Why did you move out of New York?

Jud: I left New York in 1973 because I had been teaching in four different places in the city: NYU, York College, Visual Arts, and Millennium—and then I was offered an Assistant Professorship, setting up my own film and video area in the Art department of Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. Howard Guttenplan of Millennium told me he was surprised that I left New York because I was what he called "the archetypal New York filmmaker."

Sabrina: Did you enjoy setting up your own area at Wright State? And now you're the Director of the Miami Valley Cooperative Gallery, and doing major projects with them?

Jud: Setting up the media area at Wright State was great; the honeymoon lasted for the first three years until the political-economic monster of state-funded educational reality hit the fan. I lasted four years, and the program continued a few more years with short-term contract teachers until it expired. Now there is a narrative and documentary program of Motion Pictures in the Theater department and no media in the Art area. Overlapping with the demise of my program, I started the non-profit Contemporary Media Study Center, first with a couple of years of filmmaker showcases at the Little Art Theatre in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and then a gallery and performance space in Dayton until 1981, bringing in many important and national artists. The Miami Valley Cooperative Gallery started in 1989, with its first exhibitions in 1990, always using donated quality public venues. This was part of my vow never again to have to pay rental for a non-profit space, the finances of which collapsed the Media Study Center. Since 1980, I have been an arts writer in Ohio, 19 years for Dialogue magazine, and for the last seven years and counting for the weekly Dayton City Paper for which I am Art Critic. I continue to wear several hats, as Art Critic, as a video artist, and a collage maker. I have had quite a number of shows, including at the Dayton Art Institute, and for the past six years have been published on covers and with inside illustrations of the literary magazine The Vincent Brothers Review.
I've always done collage work, and did the covers for the first year or so of the Filmmakers' Newsletter published by the New York Co-op in the early 1970s. Occasional collages were published in the pages of The East Village Other and The New York Free Press in the late 1960s. So, I like to do several things simultaneously, each providing a break from the other, and refreshing myself as it goes along.

Sabrina: What are you working on now?

Jud: Currently, I am continuing to do a series of new collages, to be shown in an exhibition here at the Riverbend Art Center opening April 30. I received a $10,000 Lifetime Achievement Fellowship from the Montgomery County Arts and Cultural District, a program that is unique in the U.S. Thus, I am trying to finish and show new work before the end of June. There are several single channel video works that I plan to finish, and my major thrust is to try to set up venues for two major video installations that I have been working on for the past year. Finding venues with the proper space and video projectors is still a task, although I have gathered other equipment needed, like industrial strength DVD players and a custom DVD-synchronizer designed by Dave Jones Design, one of the greatest innovators in video manifesters in the Western World.

Sabrina: So you're working on collages and looking into venues for this large scale video work.

Jud: Two major pushes which have helped my installation work were of course the Film/Video retrospective at the Whitney Museum in 2000 where I premiered my "Vision Cantos" three-projector installation, along with classic works from 1967 like the USCO balloon piece and Destruct Film. From April to June 2002, there was the "Videoscapes" exhibition at the Miami University Art Museum in Oxford, Ohio, where the two projector version of Vision Cantos was shown, Light Display: Color was premiered, and the "Flash Video" rocketship installation from 1996 was included. Also compilations of "Video Vectors" and the "Video Dada" series were installed. So, my sights are set on large-scale video work as my major thrust for the near future. In my new video work, I enjoy using elements of film that I previously shot and then transferred to high-quality video. This can then be image-processed in my studio and through residencies at the Experimental Television Center. In the "Video Dada" series and related works, I blew up my collages with quality Xerox to 30" x 40" photomurals incorporating video monitor motifs, and cut out some of these monitors to make apertures in which closed-circuit monitors could be placed to incorporate the viewers and the spaces into the piece.


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