Plenty of readers will struggle with the concept, but in the 1980s cultural content was difficult to come by. Decades before YouTube, documentaries on graffiti or international film from your Herzogs or Fassbinders were as rare as hen’s teeth. Wanted to see Donn Letts’ The Punk Rock Movie, review cutting-edge political commentary, delve into early video art? Good luck.
Between 1981 and 1993 the ICA’s Video Library offered public access to a vast collection of over 1,000 tapes including the aforementioned and way beyond; all at a time when availability of said materials was extremely limited. Founded in 1946, the ICA has played a pivotal role in movements from Op Art to Brutalist architecture, punk to conceptual art; naturally, their collection of video content was as diverse as it was expansive.
A new exhibition at the London institute’s Fox Reading Room charts the history of this unique resource — exploring the role of public access collections, the Video Library’s own impact upon the ICA’s ongoing moving image programmes, and the evolution of video in the art world. From the format wars of video’s early days to the advent of home video, the library’s short but vital lifespan covered a time of significant social and political changes in Britain, and its content reflects the intense creative shifts in the artists and filmmakers throughout that time. In an age where content is now clicks away, this appraisal of a revolutionary moment in video is a fascinating document. The library lives on.
ICA Video Library 1981–1993 continues at the ICA’s Fox Reading Room until 16 April.