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The digital world 21

video portrait

The and beyond

The visual art of video portraiture has come a long way since it first emerged in the early 1970s. As a practising performance video artist and academic, Marty St James has done much to challenge the definition of this fast-moving genre and shift its frame of reference. Professor St James is Head of Postgraduate Studies, and Professor of Fine Art, at our University’s School of Creative Arts.

The human face is endlessly fascinating, so it’s hardly surprising that portraiture is one of the oldest and most popular visual arts genres. Digital technologies have revolutionised the traditional genre, opening up new ways of seeing and thinking about the human face.

Professor St James’ substantial body of research and artworks in this area is highly influential in widening people’s access to video portraiture and enhancing their understanding and enjoyment of it. Over more than thirty years he has explored the boundaries of visual art and confronted viewers’ expectations of video portraiture. His very individual perspective – reflected in practice by his innovative use of live performance, photography, moving image and drawing – redefines the portrait for today’s contemporary and digital world.

‘Different media forms affect how we see and understand ourselves, and can play an important role in creating our sense of self and self-image. The high-definition canvas of the twenty- first century challenges our thinking about time and space’, explains Professor St James.

Artistic vision mixed with exploration and clever use of digital editing and control technologies led to him producing seminal video artworks. Their unique quality – characterised by a strong performative element, the

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notion of journey, and his hallmark sense of time and space – is widely acclaimed.

Professor St James’ work has been shown extensively at world-leading venues such as the Pompidou Centre in Paris, New York’s Chelsea Art Museum, the National Centre for Contemporary Arts in Moscow, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Tate Modern and Tate Britain. In 2000, his Boy/Girl video diptych was chosen to represent the year 2000 in Painting the Century 101 Portrait Masterpieces at the National Portrait Gallery, London – showing with Picasso, Freud, Bacon, Munch and Warhol. Forty of his video portraits are archived by the British Film Institute at the National Film and Television Archive.

was commissioned in 1990 by the National Portrait Gallery. As the second-ever video artwork to be purchased by a major British institution, The Swimmer is regarded as a milestone in the history of portraiture and video art. The newly re-digitised version has been seen by an audience of 250,000 people over six months.

His moving image artwork, Upside Down World produced in 2009 is a prime example of how Professor St James’ research stimulates new developments in the composition of the genre of time-based media. This ecological landscape portrait video is based on the idea that there are many ways to see the world and locate ourselves in our environment. Upside Down World inspired an artist’s residency in Antarctica in 2010, courtesy of the Cultural Projects for National Antarctic Affairs Argentine Chancellery, and the making and recording of a giant, non-toxic image in the snow and ice, based on photographic memory.

He is probably best known for The Swimmer, a portrait of Olympic swimmer Duncan Goodhew, which

More recently, Professor St James’ thought-provoking work has been celebrated in You, Me and It: The Video Portrait and Beyond. The event, part of the University’s arts programme (UH Galleries touring exhibition) looks at the development of video portraiture since the mid 1970s and features many of his artworks past and present.

‘Marty St James’ portraiture, in the form of performance art, digital photography and video installations, mirrors the innermost reactions of

individuals under the stimuli of a world profoundly changing as science and technology

evolve.’ Nina Colosi – New York City Curator, and Founder and Creative Director, Streaming Museum

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