Video Art Pioneer Bill Lundberg Tells Us Why Good Art Isn't About High Tech
In the early 1970s, American artist Bill Lundberg created installations using Super 8 image projections that earned him recognition as a video art pioneer. British critic Guy Brett defined Lundberg’s unusual work as “film-sculpture,” a term that becomes clear when you see his pieces. “Lundberg’s shifted the paradigm of looking at the art object, from his research in image projection to new ways into contemporary visual arts,” says Brazilian art critic Alberto Saraiva.
“In my work, I hope the use I make of projected illusion can be comprehended, especially metaphorically, as more than just a technology display,” explains Lundberg, talking to us about the relationship between technology and contemporary art, the importance of looking for the accidental in electronic processes, and what his 30-plus year long career has taught him about the audience. “Some people are thirsty for knowledge, others are thirsty for art, but there are many others who are just thirsty.” Intrigued by these views, we spoke to Lundberg in depth about his work.
The Creators Project: You have been using video projections since 1970, and now we have a boom of video mapping in contemporary art. Is this the kind of work you have been engaged in all along, only with more complex technology?
Bill Lundberg: The ideas I’ve established for my work are consistent with technology and the methods I choose to use. Technological advances make production easier, but don’t make it easier to create a worthy work of art—which is always really, really hard. Good artwork, whatever media or method it uses, represents a subtle conscience and a surprising combination of form, content, and insight.
What do you think of technological advances applied in art today? Do they bring more possibilities out, or could they also represent a risk where the artist could lose focus?
“Advanced technology” is our environment. So why wouldn’t art use advanced technology? Technology has been one of Western art’s main components since the Renaissance. The invention and application of chiaroscuro and perspective in painting (the idea of creating the image of a moment in time) eventually led to photography, which in turn evolved into cinema, which is essentially the advanced use of static images, counting on stroboscope effect or the “persistence of vision.” In my work, I hope the use I make of projected illusion can be comprehended, especially metaphorically, as more than just a technology display. Art pieces that just play or deal with technology can be very sterile and disconnected from human desires and feelings.
Silent Dinner (1976)
You will soon be living in Brazil. What Brazilian artists do you admire?
Well, I like the adventurous reach and intelligence of my wife’s works, Regina Vater, especially her wonderful installations and photographs. Her talent was one of the things that most appealed to me in her in the beginning of our relationship. I really like the inventive symbolism of Cildo Meirelles, who’s been a friend of mine since the 80s. I also like the humor of Laura Lima and Lenora de Barros, as well as the work of many other Brazilian artists, a number too big to be mentioned here.
Are you currently working with new technologies? How have they changed your process?
I work with any new technology that can make my work more efficient and effective. Technology is interesting when you don’t know exactly what can be made of it, or you don’t have complete control over it. Video production and post-production, in the beginning, were somehow raw and crude. But many artists like myself liked it precisely for that reason. It was not about making something cute, but something that was away from art gallery consumerism and, when you worked with it, any kind of flaw and unexpected effect could happen. You could be positively surprised with the medium’s electronic accidents, if you appreciate abstraction. With digital video, visual results tend to be more predictable, so you have to look for the accidental and surprises in other way, in how you use the camera and the way you compose your ideas. But still, it’s a medium that resists the spontaneous. I usually start working with a strong feeling and a particular image, and then go on to experimenting until I find the final result. I work slowly, and in the process of making the piece, I pay attention to images and sounds that I was not expecting or preconceiving.
In this show in Rio de Janeiro, what are the pieces that most amaze the pubic?
Actually, I don’t know. But I get the feeling my piece Guest has been driving people’s attention. But usually, we don’t know what appeals to someone in a specific piece, or what people are thinking of it. For example, when Charades (a game of charades projected on a glass of water) was exhibited in New York for the first time, one morning I was at the gallery when I noticed a man looking at it, really interested. The guy was staring at the piece for about fifteen minutes, and I started to feel rewarded for the fact that my piece would cause such fascination. I was tempted to introduce myself to him, when suddenly the gentleman grabbed the glass (from the piece), drank the water and got out of the gallery. So I learned that some people are thirsty for knowledge, others are thirsty for art, but there are many others who are just thirsty.