Installation view of DANNY YUNG’s Video Circle 2000, 2000, 32 television sets and video players showing loops of video works from 108 artists of the Asia-Pacific region, dimensions variable, at “No References: A Revisit of Hong Kong Video and Media Art from 1985,” Cattle Depot Artist Village, Hong Kong, 2016. Courtesy Videotage, Hong Kong. 

Ellen Pau on Danny Yung

Also available in:  Chinese

I made my first super-8 movie The Glove, a surrealist tale of desire, in 1984, while studying radiology in Hong Kong. Besides filmmaking, I was working in theater as a sound operator, assistant backstage manager and in costume management. I even played a few acting roles with speaking parts and directed a short play. Yet my curiosity for the arts was not fully satisfied.

At the time, I frequently visited the clubhouse of experimental theater company Zuni Icosahedron to watch European New Wave cinema. There, I met the founder and artistic director Danny Yung. He invited me to document their workshops, rehearsals and performances. Through these exercises, I witnessed how the process of deconstruction can birth a new, avant-garde theater language. Through the camera lens, I not only documented but also created new images. I had the opportunity to work with artists such as Pia Ho, Dick Wong, Pik Yu Chan and Johnny Au. We were all inspired by Danny’s experimental practices and the arts that he introduced to us. My friends in Zuni took up experimenting in many different fields such as literature, dance, music and photography. I flew into the forest of multimedia arts and couldn’t settle down. I became a moving-image maker and began experimenting at the intersection of video and stage performance. 

One of my earliest videos, Drained II(1989), uses footage from my own video recordings of Danny’s theater work. The moving-image medium itself is fascinating to me. The still frames of video are in fact not still at all. Video is not only a screen; it is also a black box, with an input and an output. A video is a mirror that allows you to look at yourself, but it is also an electronic stage for creating new life, time and space. 

In 1996, Danny invited me to take part in his video installation, Video Circle. The piece expanded on his concept of co-creation and collaboration, this time in providing a platform for video artists. In Zuni’s theater and workshops, Danny always created space for interaction, experimentation and brainstorming in order to cultivate collaboration. I would describe these creative processes as a dialogue, between ourselves and between us and the audience. In a similar way, dialogues are fed as inputs intoVideo Circle, the outputs of which are then visible in the black-box space of the videos. Video Circleis inspired by the I Ching. There are 32 identical monitors that are placed in a circle. The screens of the monitor face inward, so the audience is required to walk into the circle in order to view the videos. Yin and yang are present in this work; the screen is the bright “yang,” like the face of a coin. However, we don’t see all of the yang when we stand in the circle; some of the screens fall out of sight. Video Circle operates on an automatic playback platform in which each VHS player, attached to an individual monitor, plays an artist’s work in a staggered sequence, creating a loop across the 32 screens in either a clockwise or anticlockwise direction. In terms of time, two adjacent machines will have a playback lag of about five to eight seconds. The tape is played many times over the day and each work only begins after another has ended. Yet the tension of the tape, and the mechanics of the VHS players do not function perfectly. Over time, the differences between video playbacks increase.

This platform—comprising VHS players, artists and audience—creates a different viewing experience. Video Circle brings forth not only the idea of automatic writing and reading but also comments on dualism: in machines and humans; in positives and negatives; in breathing in and breathing out. I found Video Circle fascinating, similar to John Horton Conway’s “Game of Life.” Danny presented more than six editions of Video Circle. Over 100 artists from Asia, Europe and the United States contributed. The project witnessed not only differences in artistic practices but also geographical and generational differences. 

With digital players there is no more lag-time, errors or delays. In order to perform Video Circle today, we would need to design errors to make it work “perfectly.” Yet our lives remain imperfect. We are not identical beings.  Each one of us has that little human touch that makes us stand apart from other humans. In the I Ching, a change can be predicted by interpreting 64 divinatory symbols. A computer makes use of the 0/1 binary arithmetic, giving us more than a million possibilities in one go. Quantum computing goes beyond the binary; errors and differences are automatic and alive. Video Circle is a curated platform but it is, at the same time, a crowdsourcing project. I am so happy that it existed before we had the internet. It is so powerful that it preempted a whole new system of looking at images, networks and technology.

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