By definition, video art is a recent form. After all, video itself didn't really exist until the 1950s -- not to be confused with television, which appeared earlier but is still relatively recent in the history of art and technology -- and it wasn't commercially feasible for artists until the early 1970s.
But artist Bill Viola (don't call him a "video artist," plzkthxbye) was one of the first to explore the possibilities of video, back in the hardcore analog days of video tape and stone knives and bearskins. He's still at work now, creating immersive installations using considerably more modern video technologies.
This Friday at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Francisco, Viola is participating in "Transformation From Within," a benefit for the San Francisco Zen Center which will include the full-motion videos "Three Women" and "Visitation" from his Transfigurations series as well as a discussion with art historian and former J. Paul Getty Museum director John Walsh about "contemporary art and the capacity of human beings to transform their inner selves." Fair enough, art and woo have always gone hand in hand, but as far as I'm concerned, it's all about getting to see these pieces (both of which will be displayed on large HD plasma screens with sound) up close and personal.
I've always been a fan of video art -- it's one of the reasons I loved USA's Night Flight so much, and I'd like to think that my old public access show kittypr0n qualifies as kind of low-rent video art -- but my first exposure to Bill Viola's work came from seeing Nine Inch Nails at the Cow Palace in June 2000. During "La Mer" and "The Great Below," my two favorite songs from The Fragile (which would be my favorite Nine Inch Nails album by a long shot if Year Zero didn't exist), three oblong video screens reminiscent of the monoliths from 2001: A Space Odyssey descended to show absolutely gorgeous water imagery by Viola. Here, he describes working with Trent Reznor and creating the videos.
Viola's images were the high point of the show for me, and one of the most transcendent concert experiences of my life. I'm not even kidding about that. Nor am I kidding when I say I was stone cold sober at the time. (When I saw Pink Floyd at the Oakland Coliseum in 1994, on the other hand ...)
The year before that Nine Inch Nails show, the SFMOMA had an exhibit of Viola's work. By some miracle of the deep web, it's all still on the SFMOMA's website, including still-working video clips of 15 of his installations. Though it can't replace actually being there, I recommend watching 1982's "Reasons for Knocking at an Empty House" and 1993's "Tiny Deaths" with headphones on to get a sense of just how wonderfully spooky video art can be.
For more information on "Transformation From Within" and to buy tickets (they're pricey, but it's a benefit for a thing, and who knows when we'll get to see these again?), visit the San Francisco Zen Center's website.