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The All-Consuming: Scratch Video’s Ambivalent Bodies

by Ethan Tussey

by Leo Goldsmith for IN MEDIA RES

While previous posts this week have looked at recent nostalgic returns of video as a medium in works that use (real and fake) found footage, I'd like to look at a short-lived, but no less influential movement that originated techniques for capturing, editing, and manipulating images using videotape.

Scratch Video arose in the UK in the early 1980s somewhere at the intersection of artschools, danceclubs, and postpunk subcultures. Deploying an aesthetic of moving-image appropriation heavily influenced by similar techniques in the work of video artists like Dara Birnbaum as well as American hip-hop and East London soundsystems, Scratch existed somewhere at the nexus of video art and expanded cinema. But it framed itself – and the medium of video more generally – as a response to broadcast television. Armed with home video systems, video synthesizers, and flexible editing platforms to sample, edit, and manipulate images, artists like George Barber, Gorilla Tapes, Sandra Goldbacher and Kim Flitcroft, and other “young video-scratchers” established a style that married mass-media critique and music-video aesthetics.

In Scratch's hands, videotape gave artists new ways not just to capture images, but to manipulate them as well, and thus served as the medium for a newly dynamic, interactive mode of image-consumption. While this style was often used to lampoon political figures and hack television's own modes of address – turning Thatcher and Reagan into puppets of political spectacle, policemen into fascist armies; and “average consumers” into hapless robots – its fast, colorful aesthetics also made it suspiciously seductive, ripe for appropriation by commercial media, especially the emerging music video genre. Scratch courted this ambivalence, highlighting the utopian/dystopian paradoxes inherent in a new media landscape marked, for better or worse, by interactivity and participation.

This ambivalence is especially evident in Scratch's remixing of television's images of the human body. In Fuh Fuh, by the Duvet Brothers (1984), hungry mouths are fragmented and looped through a kind of visual ingestion and regurgitation. The scratch deforms the image graphically and rhythmically, and the loop entraps the body in a spell, a machinic gesture. Aligning the consumption of images with images of consumption, Fuh Fuh's critique fuses the consuming body onscreen with the consuming body of the spectator, both mechanized through video remix. But there lies the paradox of found-footage aesthetics: the image becomes irreconcilably an object of critique and a source of fascination, even seduction.

The All-Consuming: Scratch Video’s Ambivalent Bodies

by Ethan Tussey

by Leo Goldsmith for IN MEDIA RES

While previous posts this week have looked at recent nostalgic returns of video as a medium in works that use (real and fake) found footage, I'd like to look at a short-lived, but no less influential movement that originated techniques for capturing, editing, and manipulating images using videotape.

Scratch Video arose in the UK in the early 1980s somewhere at the intersection of artschools, danceclubs, and postpunk subcultures. Deploying an aesthetic of moving-image appropriation heavily influenced by similar techniques in the work of video artists like Dara Birnbaum as well as American hip-hop and East London soundsystems, Scratch existed somewhere at the nexus of video art and expanded cinema. But it framed itself – and the medium of video more generally – as a response to broadcast television. Armed with home video systems, video synthesizers, and flexible editing platforms to sample, edit, and manipulate images, artists like George Barber, Gorilla Tapes, Sandra Goldbacher and Kim Flitcroft, and other “young video-scratchers” established a style that married mass-media critique and music-video aesthetics.

In Scratch's hands, videotape gave artists new ways not just to capture images, but to manipulate them as well, and thus served as the medium for a newly dynamic, interactive mode of image-consumption. While this style was often used to lampoon political figures and hack television's own modes of address – turning Thatcher and Reagan into puppets of political spectacle, policemen into fascist armies; and “average consumers” into hapless robots – its fast, colorful aesthetics also made it suspiciously seductive, ripe for appropriation by commercial media, especially the emerging music video genre. Scratch courted this ambivalence, highlighting the utopian/dystopian paradoxes inherent in a new media landscape marked, for better or worse, by interactivity and participation.

This ambivalence is especially evident in Scratch's remixing of television's images of the human body. In Fuh Fuh, by the Duvet Brothers (1984), hungry mouths are fragmented and looped through a kind of visual ingestion and regurgitation. The scratch deforms the image graphically and rhythmically, and the loop entraps the body in a spell, a machinic gesture. Aligning the consumption of images with images of consumption, Fuh Fuh's critique fuses the consuming body onscreen with the consuming body of the spectator, both mechanized through video remix. But there lies the paradox of found-footage aesthetics: the image becomes irreconcilably an object of critique and a source of fascination, even seduction.

Found Footage and Bodies

A classic 1984 Duvet Brothers scratch to a soundtrack by Voice of Authority (Adrian Sherwood / Daniel Miller)

from The Duvet Brothers - Fuh Fuh (2011)
Creator: Duvet Brothers
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey
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