Steina and Woody Vasulka

Steina Vasulka (born Steinunn Briem Bjarnadottir in 1940)[1] and Woody Vasulka (born Bohuslav Vasulka in 1937) are early pioneers of video art, and have been producing work since the early 1960s.[2] The couple met in the early 1960s and moved to New York City in 1965, where they began showing video art at the Whitney Museum and founded The Kitchen in 1971. Steina and Woody both became Guggenheim fellows: Steina in 1976, and Woody in 1979.

For the first few years following their relocation to in New York, the Vasulkas were not involved with the local art scene; Steina continued to practice as a violinist and Woody began making independent documentaries and edited industrial films at Harvey Lloyd Productions. In 1967, at the request of architects Woods and Ramirez, Woody collaborated on developing films designed for a multi-screen environment to be shown in the American Pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal. In 1968, Woody conducted his first experiments with images made with electronics and put aside the cinematographic form in favor of video. Steina was experimenting with video at the same time as Woody, with equipment that the couple had borrowed from Lloyd. Over time, the Vasulkas became more closely involved with the artistic communities around them and the emerging fascination with video and new-media, and grew more dedicated to their developing video art practice until they made it their shared full-time occupation.[4]

In 1971, the Vasulkas founded The Kitchen, a multi-use media theater located in the kitchen of the Mercer Arts Centre in Greenwich Village, in the interest of cultivating new-media art in an inclusive, comprehensive, and un-administrative context. Under the direction of Dimitri Devyatkin, and with help from Andy Mannik, Sia and Michael Tschudin, Rhys Chatham, and Shridhar Bapat, the space received a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts and expanded its programming, which was foregrounded by video and electronic media performance and would come to include new music programming under the direction of Rhys Chatham.[5] The Kitchen would relocate following the collapse of the Mercer Arts Centre, but maintain its mission.

The Kitchen was valuable space for a number of music, performance, and media artists in New York who at the time did not feel welcome in commercial galleries or the mainstream art-world.[6][7] The Vasulkas' programming for The Kitchen provided the space to a number video artists who would become prominent, including Joan JonasNancy HoltVito AcconciMary LucierDara BirnbaumBill Viola, and Gary Hill.

The work that the Vasulkas presented at The Kitchen's original Greenwich Village location, which amounted to a handful of performances and showings each month, included a range of live documentary and experimental videos, live video performances, live video processing, media installations, and “experiments in perception.”[9]

The Vasulkas' work at this time was colored by the artists' interest in negotiating terms like "space" in the context of video and what Yvonne Spielman call video's "image object." The Vasulkas' wide exploration of video in this ontological regard led to apparent contrast, such as that between the documentary-style Participation series involving footage of real-life performances (occurring in the space in front of and around the video camera), and works like Caligrams, in which the Vasulkas use hardware devices such as scan processors, video sequencers, and multikeyers to "play" or perform with video like a musical instrument, and in a different kind of space.

In 1974, The Vasulkas moved to Buffalo, New York to pursue a faculty position at the State University of New York's Department of Media Studies, though they would maintain involvement with The Kitchen and its programming. Though Steina and Woody had worked outside their duo before, their practices diverged to a greater extent following this relocation. Woody's practice became more focused on digital image manipulation and the employment of tools like the Rutt/Etra Video Synthesizer (Bill Etra, a co-creator of this device, showed frequently at the Kitchen during the Vasulkas' tenure). Steina's practice centered around environmental, mechanical, and physical relationships between body, video, and camera, beginning with a late-1970s series of moving-camera environments titled All Vision and Machine Vision which were shown, in part, at The Kitchen.