Steina and Woody Vasulka
Portrait courtesy of Meridel Rubenstein, 1981
January 20, 1937|
January 30, 1940|
Pioneers of video art, having practiced in the genre since its early days in the late 1960s.
Woody (Bohuslav Vašulka) was born 1937 in Brno. He studied metallurgy and mechanics at the School of Industrial Engineering in Brno (1952-56) and in 1960 he settled in Prague to study television and film production at the Academy of Performing Arts, also writing poetry and producing short films.
Steina (Steinunn Briem Bjarnadottir) was born 1940 in Reykjavík. Studied languages, and violin and music theory at the conservatory in Prague.
They met in the early 1960s, married in 1964, and 1965 emigrated to New York where Steina worked as a freelance musician, and Woody edited industrial films at Harvey Lloyd Productions. In 1966, at the request of architects Woods and Ramirez, Woody collaborated on developing films designed for a multi-screen environment to be shown in the American Pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal. Contact with the cinema enabled Woody to experiment with electronic sound and the stroboscopic projection of moving images. Using a 16 mm Pathe camera, he captured images at 360º, projecting them onto different screens to create three-dimensional sound and light environments. He first came into contact with the electronic video work through the exhibition TV as a Creative Medium, which took place in New York in 1969. The same year he started to experiment with electronic media and produce a pioneering body of tapes, investigating the narrative, syntactical and metaphorical potential of electronic imaging. Using a sound synthesiser and video recorder, Steina began to work on the project Violin Power (1970-1978).
Encouraged by Eric Siegel, who collaborated on their first works, Woody and Steina formed a research group which culminated in the establishment of The Kitchen (Live Audience Test Laboratory) in New York in 1971. The Electronic Kitchen was a laboratory where artists could experiment with the technology of the moment and present their projects in public. By the end of the 1970s, The Kitchen had become an important reference point, though more for the promotion of video art than for technological experimentation.
Woody's numeral experiments began with his construction of the Digital Image Articulator, resulting in his 1973 and 1974 works created using sound and video synthesisers: Vocabulary, The Matter, C-Trend and Explanation. In 1975, he published "Didactic Video: Organizational Models of the Electronic Image", in collaboration with Scott Nygren in issue 3 of the magazine Afterimage, whilst in 1978 "Syntax of Binary Images" came out in issue 6 of the same publication.
In 1974 they moved to Buffalo, New York with its Experimental TV Studio. With the idea of dissociating the camera from the human point of view and treating it as an autonomous imaging instrument, Steina began to work on a series of installations and videos entitled Machine Vision. In 1976 she received a grant from the John Simon Guggenheim which enabled her to complete her the research.
In 1976, Woody received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to produce the series Recoded Images as part of the Video IX project, presented at the Museum of Modern Art of New York.
In 1980 they moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico and continued their work in video, media performance, and video installation. Steina used the Digital Image Articulator to record the images for her videos, exploring real landscapes: Selected Treecuts (1980), Search of the Castle (1981), Summer Salt (1982). In 1982, she was given grant by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rockefeller Foundation to produce her latest version of Earthworks, entitled The West. Steina then worked with the singer and composer Joan La Barbara on the project Event in the Elsewhere, based on experimentation with voice and image.
Woody built different machines from waste material with the aim of creating an articulated control system for recording sound and image. His work Artifacts goes back to this period. He then began practical and theoretical research into what he called "The Epistemic Space". In this research, which spanned several years, he examined forms of interactivity between participant and machine through the voice, language and music. He used multi-channel projection systems, his work becoming ever more three-dimensional. Also, his literary and poetic interests led him to produce a series of single-channel videos (The Commission, 1983, and Art of Memory, 1987) which are considered his most emblematic works.
In 1989, Steina made The Elevator Girls, collaborating with the American Film Institute to produce The Other Asia. In 1990, she completed the installation Ptolemy. In the interactive performance Violin Power, Steina went back to early projects, using the a five-stringed Zeta Midi violin and manipulating her videodisks according to the sound of the musical instrument.
Woody's development of an expressive image-language began as a rigorous deconstruction of the materiality of the electronic signal, and has evolved to the application of imaging codes and digital manipulation to narrative strategies and a series of interactive installations in the 1990s, such as Theater of Hybrid Automata (1990) and The Brotherhood: A Series of Six Interactive Constructions (1990-1996).
Under a commission from Peter Weibel, the Vasulkas curated Eigenwelt der Apparate-Welt: Pioneers of Electronic Art for Ars Electronica, Linz in 1992. In 1993 Woody received a Soros Foundation fellowship to lecture and present work throughout Eastern Europe; and became a visiting professor at the Faculty of Art, Polytechnic Institute, Brno.
In 1995, Steina presented the performance Video Opera in Kwangju (South Korea). In 1996, she was appointed artistic co-director of the Netherlands Musical Research Center at the Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music (STEIM), living in Amsterdam until 1998. During her stay in Europe, she collaborated with Tom Demeyer in developing a system to process image numerically and in real time. At the invitation of Fred Forest, Steina gave the lecture "The Artist and His Tools" at the conference on New Ideas in Science and Art in Prague, whilst in 1997 she represented Iceland at the Venice Biennale, presenting the work Orka.
In 1998, Vasulkas won an award from the National Association of Media and Culture (NAMAC) of San Francisco for their work in the field of media art, later receiving honorary doctorates from San Francisco Art Institute.
Steina has taught at the Academy for Applied Arts, Vienna, the Institute for New Media at the Staedelschule, Frankfurt, and the College of Arts and Crafts, Reykjavik.
Vasulkas live in Santa Fe.
Woody and Steina Vasulka
Woody and Steina Vasulka with Eric Siegel
Heraldic View, 1974
Solo For 3, 1974
Soundgated Images, 1974
Progeny: In Search of the Castle, 1981
The Land of the Elevator Girls, 1989
The Matter, 1974
Time/Energy Objects, 1975
The Commission, 1983
Didactic Video, 1986
The Art of Memory, 1987
Computer studies, 1988-1993
The Brotherhood, 1990-1998
The Theater of Hybrid Automata, 1990-1993
East Europe 1-2, 1993
Violin Power, 1970
South Western Landscapes, 1980
Urban Episodes, 1980
Selected Treecuts, 1980
Progeny: In Search of the Castle, 1981-1982
Summer Salt, 1982
Photographic Memory, 1982
Voice Windows, 1986
The Other Asia, 1989
Tokyo Four, 1991
Violin Power (second version), 1991
The Idea of the North, 2001
Moss and Lava, 2001
- David Dunn (ed.), Eigenwelt Der Apparatewelt – Pioneers of Electronic Art, Santa Fe: The Vasulkas, 1992. Published on the occasion of the exhibition “Eigenwelt der Apparatewelt. Pionere der elektronischen Kunst”, held on June 22 – July 5, 1992, Ars Electronica, Linz.
- Steina and Woody Vasulka, Machine Media, San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1996. 80 pages.
- Iluminace 2/2006. Special issue: "Woody Vasulka and the Czech Art Tradition of Electronic Image". 
- Vasulka Lab 1969-2005, Birmingham: VIVID, 2006. Features the Vasulkas in conversation with Don Foresta, essays by Chris Meigh-Andrews and Yasmeen Baig-Clifford. 
- Lenka Dolanová, Dialog s démony nástrojů - Steina a Woody Vasulkovi, Prague: Nakladatelství Akademie múzických umění / Mezinárodní festival dokumentárních filmů Jihlava, 2011. 208 pages.
- Exhibition catalogues at Vasulka.org in PDF.
- PDF archive at Vasulka.org