I became interested in video in 1967 when Antioch College provided student access to several 1/2" reel to reel portapaks and a remote control television studio. With Bob Devine's guidance, Peter Kirby and I, with many others, began learning video technology and experimenting with its aesthetic and communication potentials. We were particularly encouraged by philosophy professors Keith McGary and Jim Green. Peter and I continued this research and creative activity at California Institute of the Arts where we watched Nam June Paik and Shuye Abe build their first processing tools. Peter and I worked with musicians, performers, and other visual artists on a series of experimental projects including narrative, abstract, and installations.
On returning to NYC in 1971, I was able to access video equipment from MERC and other public access centers. In 1972 I produced a multi-channel audio installation for the Jewish Museum in New York as part of a multimedia exhibition "Jerusalem Calling." In 1973 I worked with John Cage, John Giorno, and Richard Kostelanetz on a series of poetry/video experiments funded by Poets and Writers Foundation. In 1974 I received a grant from America the Beautiful Foundation to use video to explore places where Edward Hopper painted in Haverstraw, NY, and contrast the changes in a place that had become home to Carribbean immigrants. In 1976 I produced and starred in a yearlong cable television program, Raster, featuring an ensemble of improvisational actors given challenges in a reality television format; street performers; interviews with unusual guests: and abstract video art. From 1975-79, I travelled extensively in the United States, Israel, Spain, and other places recording images for TRAVELS, a program of 5 short videos and US Sweat. Two selections from TRAVELS were included in the 1981 Whitney Biennial and US Sweat was included in the 1983 Biennial and called a "tour de force" by Grace Glueck in the NY Times.
From 1975-91, I was a visiting artist at the Experimental Television Center in Owego, NY, collaborating with engineers on new analog and digital imaging tools leading to a prolific body of experimental work. My videos were distributed internationally for exhibitions in festivals, museums, and galleries. Some were shown in epic proportions, for example, during half time of a football game in the Seattle Kingdome. In 1984 I visited Morocco twice to create a documentary about the artist Mohammed Melehi and collect images for a personal project, "A Blind Beggar's Prayer." I was artist in residence at the Bronx Museum of the Arts from 1983-85 working on the streets of the South Bronx with student/artists, collecting images for "Run" (shown at the 1985 Whitney Biennial), "Blue Swee: Some Thoughts on the US Invasion of Grenada", and "Promised Land."
In 1987 I was commissioned to create an interactive installation at the Washington, DC children's Museum based on recordings and historical account of a Black Mesa in New Mexico where Native Americans were able to withstand a Spanish invasion of their land, a story that resonates with Masada, but with a happy ending. In 1988 I was asked by the US Information Service to spend a month in Israel, consulting with the Beer Sheva Art Institute as it began to add video and new media to their curriculum; leading workshops for high school teachers; and screening my work at diverse venues. A 1989 Guggenheim Foundation grant supported a visit to Eastern Europe with my colleague Warner Wada to see my ancestral home in Sighet, Romania; make a sad pilgrimage to Ashwtiz; and witness the fall of the iron curtain in the former Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Austria. The following year, Warner and I each received individual grants from the Asian Cultural Council to visit and work in Hiroshima during the Peace Day Ceremonies and honor Warner's ancestral homeland. This led to "Damaged Visions", perhaps my most directly personal and emotional video, and "Ten Thousand Things", an attempt to reconcile with faith.
While serving as dean of the School of Contemporary Arts at Ramapo College of New Jersey from 1991-98, I used curtailed art making time to learn PhotoShop, Avid, Final Cut Pro, and other digital software that was beginning to emerge for Apple Computers. My personal work became more abstract and structural with titles like Eclipse, Devotion, and Dark Light. During this time I withdrew from the art communities that I had been part of as I focused as dean on fundraising for a new arts building and implementation of a new technology plan. Ramapo College is home to the Seldon Rodman Collection of the Popular Arts of the Americas, which includes the largest collection of Haitian art in the United States. I travelled to Haiti with Seldon, his wife Carol, and my colleague Edouard Eloi to document locations he was associated with. My video essay "The Last Tourist", broadcast on the New Television program on PBS, reflects my experiences.
From 2000-01, I collaborated with Brazilian choreographer Regina Miranda on Ghazal, a dance/theater project that premiered in Rio de Jeniero, Brazil and has been performed internationally. I created a 60 minute backdrop for the performance that was projected on a wide screen behind the dancers. Levinas in Yorkville, a 2001 exploration of that upper East Side of Manhattan neighborhood while reading the French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, was shown at the Jewish Museum in NYC a few years later. Like many others living in NYC after 9/11, much of my work was obsessed with the public and private damage caused by the attack on my city. I made a series of videos collected as Before, During, and After that share symbols of destruction and mourning. Many other videos during the dark years of the Bush 2 administration were "artivist" in nature: "Hot Stains" is about the water crisis; "Soft Targets" is about the fear of another attack; and "Thrashing" is about the watershed known as the Meadowlands. Other videos reveal my attempts to practice more meditation and follow Jewish traditions with more discipline: "iShiviti", "Meditations during Wartime", "The Shape of Emptiness", and "The Rabbi in Berlin" are examples of this strand.
During the last few years I've worked in three areas: 1. as a video essayist exploring philosophical themes like space, time, and meaning; 2. pure color studies that are often generated without a camera; 3. activist art during a time when art itself is under attack. For example, Edouard Eloi, Rachel Hadas, and I have worked for about four years to produce An Elegy for Stivenson Magloire, a brilliant Haitian painter who was assassinated in broad daylight on the streets of Port-au-Prince. After the catastrophic 2016 US presidential election, I produced DTTV, a series of short videos that consider the causes, symptoms, and solutions for dystrumpia. Rachel and I continue to work together on poetry films that explore the connections between language and the cinematic image.
I recently wrote an original story/screenplay for a feature animation, The Legend of Nana Yaa, the story of a young Ashanti girl who tries to free her family from slavers set in 1742 West Africa. Please contact me for more information about this project.