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First in a series examining the video art scene in Los Angeles. Subsequent articles will appear in daily Calendar.

October 18, 1987|DON SNOWDEN

What makes an artist's video different from what an everyday person with a video camera might create?

Welcome to one of the running philosophical debates within the video art world.

In the early, "guerrilla television" days of video during the late '60s, many artists downplayed any such distinction. Their focus was on stripping away the glossy sheen of regular broadcast television to capture and depict events free from the commercial slant of the networks. But technological advances, the increasing facility of artists in handling that technology and the differing goals of individual artists over the years have caused the wide range of styles currently under the video art umbrella.

The big difference is that most homemade videos aren't edited or treated with effects. The amount of work an artist puts in may not be visible to the naked eye--what might seem like a random assortment of images haphazardly strung together may be carefully chosen and placed in a particular order for the symbolic content. The casual observer would recognize that a lot of effort went into Ed Emshwiller's densely layered "Skin Matrix" piece . . . but probably wouldn't guess that the 20-minute finished version was whittled down from 30 hours of rough footage and a first edit of 3 hours and 40 minutes.

But artists are no different from general consumers in one crucial regard--more people will buy new equipment to create art works when the price is right. Ann Bray, video director at L.A.C.E., anticipates a spurt of new activity by younger artists in five years, stimulated by the recent arrival of affordable, portable 1/2-inch format video cameras. To Bray, that prediction would confirm a recurrent cycle that she has observed between technology and creativity.

"When 'Porta-Paks' (the first portable video cameras) came out in the '60s, and right after World War II when 16-millimeter film came out, there was a rash of independent work in relation to the new technology," said Bray. "(People think) I can put the little camera on my shoulder and go out and make something.

"Over the years, problems with access to equipment, money and distribution pares down the number of people working in the medium. Each time the equipment gets smaller, cheaper and more distributable, it goes widespread again."

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