‘Art should not be different from life, but an act within life. Like all life, with its accidents and variety and disorder and only momentary beauty.’-John Cage
In 1994 Eng participated in her first time based performance at the Kitchen in New York City with a video collective called 77Hertz. Her role was to video tape objects inside a maquette. She was responsible for unloading a carton of live giant ants on top of a plastic toy village. Instead of taking over the village as intended, the ants decided to disperse, run off their set and escape into the real world. The video mixers, camera people and musicians improvised as she frantically gathered the bugs back to plastic toy land. This was her introduction for a passion for live video performance .
By 1999 the video spectacle transformed into a circus of cameras, props, projection screens and cables with a video performance trio called, The Poool (Eng, Nancy Meli Walker, Benton Bainbridge). The medium expanded from Hi-8 video camera to mini-DV format, tube and surveillance cameras.
The Amiga was replaced by digital video mixers combined with the Fairlight and in-camera video effects. The video monitors were replaced by multiple projection screens build within a set. Video artists rehearsed moving images and objects with improvised electronic and acoustic musicians. Everyone based their creative direction by a video score. The term, ‘video band’ was sometimes attributed to the group.
Demystifying the process of cinema making was a parallel concept with the reoccurring theme of a fantastic voyage and/or an escape from reality.With the concept of non-linear and more powerful computers, she altered her position from video juggler to video conductor.
In researching her projects, she traveled around the world, capturing experiences, sights, smells, shapes on tape. Focusing on indigenous tribes and nomads, she documented in Niger, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Morocco, Indonesia, Myanmar, Yemen, China and India. Movement and poetry dominated her videos from 2000-2008.
More and more she combined her own footage with found footage and video made in real-time.
For Eng, time-based video performance (a term she prefers to use) is not only the medium is the message, but an important conceptual factor in her art practice. She is not interested in syncing nor triggering sound with visuals and vice-versa as many VJ or live video artists do. Nor does she work solely with a library of clips. Using a computer, live camera, and video clips allow her to create non-linear narratives with the element of chance, change of perspective and dialogue between visuals and music.
“Live video” as an art medium
The fundamental difference between cinema and video lies in their respective treatment of time. Video is real time. The video artist can relate more to happenings, chance operations, action theatre which made efforts to demolish boundaries between art forms and practices. Random Adventures/Chance Operations
(Duchamp, Cage) challenged the presumption that making art is active and viewing passive. Working in real time produces a chaos characteristic of nature which gives the artist an opportunity to create open ended structures.
‘The very act of viewing a captured image creates a distance from the original event. The captured image becomes a relic of the past. Life is a moving target and any object that is isolated becomes history.’ Heisenberg’s Theory
Experimental video tends to be an exploration of aspects of time unique to the medium- its instantaneousness, intimacy, immediacy, and simultaneity achieved through multiple cameras and monitors. With multiple views, the video performer offers a series of comparisons between different points of view of images to dislodge the spectator’s habitual perceptions. This fragmentation or decomposition of events is common in performative video. Early performers, such as Joan Jonas and Dan Graham used video to de-synchronize vision and destablize the viewer.
‘You only get the future by your memories of the past… in a certain kind of way… which you are constructing in present time.’-Dan Graham
Other trends include playing video using video synthesizers as an instrument treating rhythm and color. Like experimental film, early video broke away from established story-telling grammars. Use of edited repetition and juxtaposition to build pyschological parallels create a different visual structure. Artists such as (Paik, Etra, Vasulkas) approached video as a dialogue between tool and image. Whereas Ulrike Rosenbach‘s live video performance the spectator follows the video beginning and end of a temporal process to discover subtle details that kindle a sudden interest and create a revelation. Eventually, Post-structuralist cinema reconciled the two with its plasticity and interactivity of cinematic image-events made possible with the computer.