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PRODUCTION / FUNDING Iceland / Czech Republic / Sweden / Denmark

The Vasulka Effect looks back at the lives of the grandparents of video art


- The new documentary by Hrafnhildur Gunnarsdóttir maps the lives and oeuvre of video-art trailblazers Steina and Woody Vasulka

The Vasulka Effect looks back at the lives of the grandparents of video art
The Vasulka Effect by Hrafnhildur Gunnarsdóttir

Czech-born, US-based experimental video artist Woody (Bohuslav) Vasulka died on 20 December 2019 and is survived by his wife Steina Vasulka, with whom he collaborated on various projects. The couple, dubbed “the grandparents of video art”, are the subject of a recent documentary by Icelandic director-producer-cinematographer Hrafnhildur Gunnarsdóttir, The Vasulka Effect (formerly known as Violin, Video, Vasulka).

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The doc, which was five years in the making, maps their life from their first meeting in Prague in 1959, where Woody studied Documentary Production at the Film Academy of Performing Arts (FAMU), followed by their emigration to the United States. They began experimenting with video – which they found as compelling as film or painting – founded an avant-garde performance space in Manhattan called The Kitchen, and worked with luminaries such as Andy Warhol, Philip Glass and Laurie Anderson.

Despite their work in the 1960s and 1970s having influenced a plethora of artists, they remained shrouded in obscurity. “They were totally broke when I started. I had the sense that they would be rediscovered at some point, and it did happen! More recently, they had an art dealer, and they travelled to exhibitions and tributes around the world. I wanted to wait for the film to end at a major show or museum,” said director Gunnarsdóttir to the Nordisk Film & TV Fond.

“Through their journey, we begin to understand the major impact that video has had on art and society from the 1960s until the present day, and how media art contributed to the decentralisation of art and corporate media,” reveals the synopsis, adding that the film explores “human memory, media memory and the memory of art as an institution”. The board of the Czech Film Fund noted when supporting the work, “The founders of video art are portrayed throughout their careers and through their extensive body of work; however, their current situation and their efforts to organise their lives and film material are also taken into account. This project is undoubtedly an honourable one.”

The Vasulka Effect was produced by Margrét Jónasdóttir, of Iceland’s Sagafilm, together with Gunnarsdóttir's Krumma Films ehf, in co-production with Sweden’s Simon Klose, Denmark’s Vibeke Vogel, and the Czech Republic’s Radim Prochazka (the second-biggest co-producer) and Czech Television, with co-financing from Icelandic national broadcaster RÚV, Sweden’s Sveriges Television and Denmark's DR, and with support from the Icelandic Film Fund, the Nordisk Film & TV Fond and the Czech Film Fund. Juno Films handles the North American rights, while the BBC has acquired the UK rights. The Vasulka Effect will screen at the upcoming 49th edition of International Film Festival Rotterdam (22 January–2 February).

You can watch the trailer below:

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