On Paul Kos

Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | November 3, 2016

This week, we welcome back George Price of Video Data Bank to write for us. In his essay, Price discusses the work of video and conceptual artist, Paul Kos, a key figure in the West Coast whose career spans nearly 50 years.

Still from Ice Makes Fire (Paul Kos, 1974/2004). Image courtesy of Video Data Bank.

Still from Ice Makes Fire (Paul Kos, 1974/2004). Image courtesy of Video Data Bank.

I am delighted to welcome conceptual artist and educator Paul Kos to Conversations at the Edge this week as part of Video Data Bank’s (VDB) 40th Anniversary Celebrations!

This Fall 2016 VDB at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) celebrates forty years of fostering awareness and scholarship of video and media art. From VDB’s humble beginnings in a small closest at the back of SAIC’s library, to becoming one of the world’s leading resources for video by and about contemporary artists, VDB has pioneered far-reaching support for moving image artists, advocating for this most democratic and widely distributed of art forms.

Over its forty-year history VDB has grown to include the work of more than 600 artists and 6,000 video art titles. These titles describe the development of video as an art form from the late 1960s to the present day. During that time VDB has proudly supported countless emerging and established artists, including Paul Kos who we have had the delight of collaborating with since the mid-1980s.

Still from Lightning (Paul Kos, 1976). Image courtesy of Video Data Bank.

Still from Lightning (Paul Kos, 1976). Image courtesy of Video Data Bank.

Kos has been a practicing artist for five decades, working between video, performance, and sculpture. Throughout his practice he has responded to simple, humble materials, and the indigenous elements of specific sites, which are mined for their physical properties and metaphoric possibilities. In videos such as Lightning (1976), Kos creates self-reflexive psychological spaces through the observation of natural phenomena. This early tape, originally part of the legendary Castelli-Sonnabend video art collection, poses questions regarding observation and the nature of reality. During the 80-second video, Kos’s then-wife, Marlene sits inside a car, facing away from a lightning storm. As the lighting strikes the barren landscape she turns to observe the electrical bolts. She repeatedly misses the event by a few seconds every time—highlighting the privileged position the camera holds.

These conceptual experiments, rooted in materiality, run through Kos’s body of work. Many incorporate the body—from an action consisting of fashioning a magnifying lens from a block of ice to a sculpture of an inclined plane that invites its audience to attempt to climb it—as a physical register for the success or failure of the body and humanity itself. It is because his conceptual work takes a real, physical, and sculptural form—rather than the more cerebral philosophical framework favored by his East Coast contemporaries—that his bone-dry wit and sincere interest in the metaphorical makes Kos, according to Charles Desmarais of the San Francisco Chronicle, “one of the Bay Area’s most entertaining, influential, and important living artists.”

Still from A Trophy/Atrophy (Paul Kos,1972). Image courtesy of Video Data Bank.

Still from A Trophy/Atrophy (Paul Kos,1972). Image courtesy of Video Data Bank.

Thursday’s screening will include highlights from Paul’s upcoming DVD box set Paul Kos: Sympathetic Vibration, published as part of VDB’s 40th Anniversary Celebrations. This box set will feature 25 poetic works, along with a 50-page monograph containing specially commissioned essays that expand upon Paul’s practice by art scholar Constance Lewallen and SFMOMA’s Curator of Media Arts, Rudolf Frieling. I hope that you will join us for an evening filled with humor, wit, and the unexpected.

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