BEYOND VIDEO ART:
WILLOUGHBY SHARP'S DOWNTOWN NEW YORK 1986
Delivered at Western Connecticut State University at the invitation of Dr. Hugh McCarney, September 12, 2006
Part of my survival strategy as a "creative worker" is to maintain a meaningful and accessible archive of all my works. The archive consists of about 50 Staples cartons, stuffed chronologically with files dating back to my earliest childhood to today.
This Monday morning when I was able to turn my attention to writing my introduction to his class, I went into my archive and located the file marked "Downtown NY 1986" (May 1986) and a document from which I quote: The title is "Beyond Video Art" and it was written for the organizers of Ars Electronica, Linz, Austria who had commissioned the edit of the 13 one-hour programs of my TV show into a one-hour special:
"Willoughby Sharp's Downtown New York 1986 is my most recent endeavor to bring culture to the Culture. This 60-minute TV program, produced with my partner Susan Britton is the electromagnetic juice squeezed from thousands of hours of highly demanding, collaborative work: covering most of the hottest downtown events in the art galleries, the late-night clubs, the fashion houses, artist studios, and the streets: pre-production planning with all the principals; the television shoot itself (which during the Willoughby Sharp Show on Manhattan cable television involved the effort of more than 50 individuals each week) the rough, off-line edit, piecing the best video bits together running the dialogue underneath the flying video images, and choosing (or commissioning) the electronic music to create the right mood making the segment work; and a final, on-line production fine-tune editing, AB rolling, audio equalizing, video graphics, special effects, timing, and slating with credits for TV broadcast (generally a few moments before actually airing to the potential 250,000 MCTV audience that we have been building up since September 1985).
This is television, Broadcast TV, not video art.
It was paid for by Manhattan Cable TV, the New York subsidiary of Time, Inc.'s TV arm, American Telecommunications Corp., the second largest cable TV system in the world, to compete against the networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, plus the other cable TV competition.
It was totally envisioned, conceived, and produced by Susan Britton and myself (with enlightened creativity by the MCTV production crew).
And it is owned in all markets by the producers, Susan Britton and I, VideoLab partners. To survive, we must sell this work as television to television. Consequently, the esthetic is basic, pragmatic and direct:
A) Examine (and experience) the environment (reality)
B) Decide what in it is most interesting and important
C) Reproduce this reality as faithfully as possible
D) Or, in other words, 'give the culture back to itself'.
New York City
May 28, 1986"
But there is more I would like to add to this for you. Susan Britton and I came together as a couple during the summer of 1980 when she first arrived in New York City from Toronto where she was an award-winning video artist working at Art Metropole.
I was the former publisher of Avalanche Magazine who had segued into media first film, then videotape, then video installation works, and then videoperformance. In 1977, I collaborated on "Two-Way Demo," the reknowned 3-day trans-continental satellite TV interconnect. This prefigured much of my subsequent media work, what I am now calling "Transmission Arts".
Susan was a vastly more creative video artist than I, and I very much wanted to work with her, learn from her. So we started a mom and pop business called Video Services. This developed into a 4-person partnership called Machine Language which enabled us to have a simple _" post-production studio. This studio was located at our living loft at 245 Eldridge Street, New York. We worked on the Willoughby Sharp Show from September 1985 to January 1986, from when we got up until when we retired, 6-days a week. In the mornings we telephoned people we wanted to shoot. In the afternoons until the late evenings we were "in production" and the remaining time was for viewing, critting, and logging.
Each of our 10 cultural correspondents, after being greeted live were supported by pre-produced video clips devoted to their report be it art, fashion, film, clubs or whatever. Some well-known figures were in charge of these departments. Vernon Reid of Living Colour was in charge of music and delivered us 13 consecutive clips of cutting-edge black music from Fishbone to the Sun City single. Carlo McCormack was our critic on the art beat. Stephen Saban, then editor of Details magazine, covered clubs that he went to nightly anyway. Janet Charlton who was contributing gossip for Rupert Murdoch's tabloids got her first TV exposure on The Willoughby Sharp Show. She contributed a simulated video phone-in from Hollywood. Tim Goslin, art director of Fiorucci USA (and one of Andy Warhol's "special friends") gave us video segments from cutting-edge fashion designers like the now world-famous Vivienne Westwood. The show was packed with this and more, I, a simulated David Letterman, and my partner Boris Policeband, a substitute for Paul Schaffer, provided the bookends to this edgy entertainment series.
Each Sunday evening (the air date was Sunday at midnight until 1:00 a.m.), we catered a roving TV party at local bars and clubs. This enabled us to build a substantial and growing cult following of many hundreds of fans.
Though MCTV claimed that they had budgeted $400,000 for this show, most of that money was paid to some 28-odd of their employees who worked weekly on the program. Susan and I shared $400 a week. My cultural correspondents, aside from our house stand-up comedian, Rockets Redglare, worked for free as a personal favor to me.
But on the plus side, we retained all the rights to the 13-week series which MCTV aired twice, continuing it until we were invited to do an Ace awarded show called "CLIPS".
But that's another story, another chapter in the ongoing Willoughby Sharp Story.
© Willoughby Sharp 2006
Used with permission