REWIND: Artists Video in the 70s and 80s

Recognition and recovery

REWIND started investigating video art in 2003 with funding from AHRC, and has since become an important resource for academics, curators, students, artists and critics. REWIND’s collecting strategy is an act of recognition and recovery – identifying (and in some cases rescuing) seminal video art works from the 1970s and 80s, and thereby addressing a gap in our collective historical knowledge regarding the evolution of video art and other electronic media arts during these decades.  Initially focussing on the UK, the scope of REWIND’s research has expanded with two more recent studies: REWIND Italia, and the European Women’s Video Project, which have also resulted in further works being taken into the collection. Of course, the reasons for the relative obscurity of these works are also REWIND’s primary challenges: the ephemeral nature of video and rapid, ongoing changes in playback technology.  These factors have pushed almost beyond our reach what was only recently regarded as pioneering work.

The REWIND research project is hosted by the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design (University of Dundee), and has re-mastered and archived over 450 works since 2004. As important video works come to light, REWIND must recover them from their original media in order to view and archive them. With future scholarship in mind, REWIND also produces master copies in the most reliable media currently available, which at this time is data tape and Digital Betacam.

Combining technical and archival skills with curatorial understanding

By also collecting “lost” works, REWIND reintroduces important pieces of work and experimentation into the narrative of media art, which is widely underrepresented in public collections, and establishes a genealogy for the emergence of ‘New Media’. As collections have begun to address this gap and are focusing on the challenges of collecting New Media art, the technical and archival efforts of REWIND may prove to be hugely influential.

The project’s description as an archive, rather than a collection, is a pointed one, and forces us to consider where art film and video tends to be placed. Archivist, Adam Lockhart, remarks that although REWIND’s founding premise was its research practice, developing an understanding the aesthetic of the artworks, particularly with regard to installation for example, is equally important to the project. REWIND works with many galleries both in the UK and abroad to ensure that the work is shown correctly and in the proper context.

As well as this authoritative knowledge related to their collections, REWIND also have the expertise and the equipment to help others in recovering and transferring video.  REWIND is thus leading the way in researching and recovering experimental and pioneering work in a medium not largely collected by institutions, and their efforts are encouraging and facilitating the inclusion of important video works within other collections.  Although effectively by-products of their original brief, REWIND’s advisory and consultancy roles are important extension of their impact.

Scope and reach of research

As with all collections, resources are finite and judgements of value ultimately dictate where energy and funds will be focussed.  REWIND was limited in scope to British artists (although this is now expanding to incorporate Italian artists and pioneering female Europeans uncovered by new studies), and curators are specific and rigorous in selecting and inviting new artists to submit their works.  In contrast to most collections, REWIND is concerned with art works that are reproducible, and it seeks to take in as much of an artist’s oeuvre as it can, rather than one or two works.  This enables a mutually beneficial and collaborative relationship with the artist: the process of acquiring for REWIND is described as a ‘deposit’ where the artist gives the work to the care of REWIND, but the rights to the work remains largely in the hands of the artist.

Not acquiring, but adopting

REWIND uses the term ‘adopt’ rather than ‘accession’ to describe their relationship with artists. In fact, their limited ownership over the video artworks only allows them to show the videos to individuals by appointment. They have hosted screenings in the past, but REWIND largely offers support to outside curatorial interest.

The scope of research that REWIND conducts is demonstrated in their publications and accessible through their website. Additionally, their online database, and a recently opened viewing centre at CSM in Kings Cross, makes this research available to a larger audience than can make the journey to their location in Dundee. 

REWIND now represents over 50 artists, and is capable of taking in the work of two additional artists a year.  In addition to the rapid deterioration of the material, the advanced age of the artists who made these primary works in the 70s and 80s adds another degree of urgency to capture works and artists’ accounts of it before the opportunity is lost.