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THE TUBE : Video Pen Pals

October 09, 1994|Janet Kinosian

It's sort of like video matchmaking, but the matches are not at all what you'd get from a dating service. See, Wendy Clarke believes that friends can be found in the most unlikely places using the magic of video.

Clarke, a video artist, had been teaching a workshop at the California Institution for Men in Chino and got the idea to engineer a series of video conversations between inmates and people on the outside. She interviewed 15 inmates, then took the tapes to members of Santa Monica's Church in Ocean Park and Crenshaw-area business people, who taped their own responses. Clarke shuttled the tapes back and forth, resulting in video dialogues that Times critic Howard Rosenberg called 'stimulating' and seductively potent. The tapes were shown recently on KCET and became available last month at Vidiots, the eclectic video store in Santa Monica. They've also been purchased by sociology professors around the country.

" 'One on One' let people, who otherwise never in a million years would have gotten to know each other, clear up all kinds of prejudice and preconceived notions," says Clarke, who holds a doctorate in psychology.

"It was sort of like writing in a journal and having someone read it," says Louise Dobbs, a member of the church, who videologued with inmate Ken, pictured in the illustration above. 'I was as real and honest as I could have been. I wanted to get to know Ken--and I think I did--but also be authentic.' She poured out her emotions, telling Ken about her 'extreme loneliness.' He assured her that her 'dark, overclouded look at things will pass.'

Clarke's next project, pending funding, will be video dialogues among homebound terminally ill people. This time, however, she'll also be using new videophone technologies. Meanwhile, she's continuing work on 'The Love Tapes,' which she began in 1979, in which hundreds of people philosophize on love for three minutes. It's a lifelong project that can safely be described as ambitious: 'I want to get everyone in the world on tape,' she says.

'Video has the potential for really deep healing,' says Clarke. 'It can bring people together in real time, and that can bring down isolation so people don't have to feel so alone.'

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