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Video art s hard to define, underappreciated, a challenge to exhibit

No genre of art is more misunderstood, or less appreciated, by the general public than video art — for a couple of reasons.

Even though it has been recognized and discussed for more than half a century — and has produced genuine art superstars ranging from pioneer Nam June Paik to current practitioners like Matthew Barney, Bill Viola and Tania Candiani — video art remains hard to define and a challenge to exhibit.

It is easier to say what it is not: cinema, or at least traditional filmmaking where creators use actors to tell cohesive stories (although some video art has a narrative and a lot of it uses actors).

But video art, speaking generally, tends to focus on presenting an idea or a concept, rather than a coherent tale. Most of the video art you see in galleries these days unfolds as a series of moving images, connected in a dream-like or surreal way that is meant to conjure an emotional response rather than to impart fact-based information.

If you think of video art more like a symphony than a painting — in that it revolves around a theme, often repeated in variations — it starts to make more sense as a category.  Although just stating that, I can think of a thousand exceptions.

Still, video art is best experienced in the way of classical music. It is a slow art. You have to be patient with it and let it unfold at its own tempo to fully get it. That makes it difficult to show in galleries and museums where people like to go at their own pace, which is usually fast; there is always too much to see and not enough time to see it.

I watch most of my video art at home, via Youtube or Vimeo, late in the evening, with a mouse in one hand and a martini in the other, a method I fully recommend if you suffer from an attention deficit.

All that buildup around characterization is meant to underscore the challenge facing video artists who want to get their work seen in a meaningful way, and the opportunity that an event like Denver Month of Video presents to both creators and consumers. It is an invitation to put the genre front and center, without other distractions, and for viewers to make time and gather the resolve to revel in its quixotic ways.

There is a schedule of offerings on the Month of Video website, but the main offering is the exhibition “Crimes Against Reality,” which features work from the art collective New Red Order. The show is curated by Jenna Maurice and Adán De La Garza, who also happen to be the founders of Denver Month of Video.

New Red Order describes itself as a “public secret society” powered by its “core contributors,” Indigenous artists Jackson Polys, Adam Khalil and Zack Khalil. The New York City-based collective has several aims, but its core work revolves around recognizing the mistreatment of Indigenous people in what is now the United States and imagining a path forward that includes rights, and reparations, for Native Americans.

“Crimes Against Reality” is not a large show, maybe a half-dozen works, but it is expansive in both the ideas it presents and the way it displays them, in some cases on very large screens that fill entire walls at the RedLine Art Center in Curtis Park, where it continues through Aug. 27.

The works range in length from a few minutes to nearly an hour and they are, like a lot of video art, abstract, fast-moving and sometimes confusing. But they are also pointed, convincing and, if you are open to it, humorous.

“Never Settle” is a 50-minute video that takes the form of a mockumentary, or an instructional film, that looks at the ways non-Indigenous people view the role of “settlers” like themselves in the displacement and exploitation of Native Americans. The piece satirizes do-gooders who empathize with contemporary native causes without firmly grasping the complexities of either the problems or their solutions.

Another piece, the nine-minute-long “Culture Captures,” deconstructs public monuments, using digital tricks to transform statues  — among them a larger-than-life bronze of Theodore Roosevelt that was deemed offensive and removed from its perch at New York’s American Museum of Natural History in 2019 — into something resembling human flesh. The piece underscores the real-life harm these public symbols can inflict on Native Americans.

There is also “Give It Back: Stage Theory,” a six-minute piece that underscores New Red Order’s very serious contention that stolen land should be handed back to Indigenous people. The work references historic panoramas that traveled the country as a form of mass entertainment in the 19th century that were built around objects dug up from native burial mounds along the Mississippi.

Each piece in the show carries a lot of personality and takes up considerable space — the projections are massive. But curators Maurice and De La Garza give them the room they need. They chose their offerings well and edited wisely. Some shows benefit from being lean, rather than abundant, and this is one of them.

And while not everyone will agree with the ideas presented — they are not radical, as much as they are direct — the works do represent the variety of  video art that is trending right now. That is to say, the visuals are a combination of old-school photography techniques and advanced digital manipulation, and the themes center on the politics of diversity and inclusion that dominate institutional art exhibitions in the U.S. in the present decade.

That makes “Crimes Against Reality” an apt flagship for Month of Video overall. It also will whet appetites for the event’s other offerings, which take place in galleries across Denver for the rest of the month.


“Crimes Against Reality” continues through Aug. 27 at RedLine. It is free. For info on this show and other Month of Video offerings, go to

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