top of page

Archive Reference


The 1997 season of Women of Vision seeks to engage audiences with remarkable films and videos by Bay Area women directors. Now in our fourth year, the series of broadcasts, screenings and community forums presents the talents of diverse creative women to ever wider audiences.

Hosted by the highly regarded journalist, Jan Yanehiro, Women of Vision 1997 brings audiences programs directed by fourteen female directors.

"Volcanic Eclipse, a stunning video of both a total eclipse and an active volcanic eruption by JoAnn Gillerman ..."
                                                           - Joanne Kelly 
                                                         Artistic Director
Volcanic Eclipse video by
JoAn GIllerman © 1991
JoAnn Gillerman • written by Celeste Connor, art historian

• JoAnn Gillerman •

JoAnn Gillerman is a Berkeley-based electronic media artist and educator who has taught at the California College of Arts and Crafts since 1976. Her artwork is impressively broad in range, including video production, interactive installation, interactive CD Rom, internet on-line design and performance art. Like most artist of her generation, Gillerman's early art training was in the fine arts, principally painting and printmaking.  Yet, by the time she received her MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1975, she had already begun to experiment in the new media of video and performance. Although they were created before artists had access to personal sized computers and appropriate software, the early works were interactive in nature. Gillerman has always been and remains interested in stimulating audience participation.

Gillerman started building a Sandin [video] Image Processor in 1976 before migrating to California. The Sandin, which she used to manipulate video signals in many subsequent live performances, was completed in 1977. Music and sound have always been important components in her art.  Gillerman's first series of performances, dating between 1976-78, were accompanied by audio created by the Real* Electronic Symphony. In 1978 Gillerman was selected to broadcast excerpts of her work on KRON-TV the San Francisco NBC affiliate. In that same year, Video Free America featured her multi-channel installation "Predominantly Fafnir", in a one woman show. In 1980, David Ross curated a one woman show of her work at the Pacific Film Archive at the University Art Museum in Berkeley. During this period her pioneering work was also broadcast in Canada and Australia.

Viewed broadly, Gillerman's art of the 1970's was primarily concerned with an exploration  of the relationship of visual imagery and music.  During this decade Gillerman, often in collaboration with others, explored the limits of sound controlling video and video controlling sound. It is important to consider that all this was undertaken without the aid of sophisticated MIDI system used today.  Further, these experiments were conducted in real time. It is the element of time that Gillerman considers the most unique and beautiful property of the medium. Works of the 70's were also concerned with expanding the sensory perceptions of the audience. As a body, they share a sensuousness suited to their predominately erotic themes.  The culmination of her experiments of this period is Whispers in a Plane of Light as work performed live with Jean Piché that was featured at both Digicon 1983 and CADRE 1984, two influential computer industry conferences.

Gillerman's signature themes of erotic and sensual elements are important threads that connect Gillerman's work over time. They are carried into the eighties when Gillerman's work attention was to experimentation on the Aurora Video Graphics system, her preferred "high-end" (i.e. very costly) paint system of that decade. At this time she created works like Orchid a highly erotic depiction of the flower that is composed of the body of a fully-frontal male nude in a seductive Georgia O'Keefe like palette. Gillerman commuted to San Francisco at 4am to create on the Aurora and traveled to Canada to use a Key Frame animation system until a small personal computer, the Amiga, became available to artists in 1986. Since 1979, Gillerman has exhibited frequently at the premiere computer graphics convention, SIggraph, where the relationship of art and technology has been explored with landmark success.

The early '80's were also significant in Gillerman's development of new subject matter for her art. On February 26, 1979, she had witnessed in person a total solar eclipse at the Washington-Oregon border. Not only did she capture the event on several videotapes, but this was also the first time she employed a panning device. The new method, which Gillerman still uses in recording such celestial events, supplied the artist with unique compositions and novel views of the environment. Gillerman's passion for the optical pleasures of extraordinary astronomical occurances magnetized her to the lrgest island of Hawaii in July 11, 1991 to observe and record a total solar eclipse. This occasion is represented in the six minute video Volcanic Eclipse that will be broadcast as part of the Women of Vision series on KCSM-TV. The same spectacular confluence of  natural events is also the subject of an interactive installation by Gillerman titled The Sun Drops its Torch, a ten monitor multi-channel interactive environment that was featured at the Blasthaus Gallery in San Francisco, in 1995. The original footage and sound was recorded on location by Gillerman and Rob Terry, with whom she often collaborates. 

In some sense, Volcanic Eclipse inaugurated a new phase of Gillerman's work. The neon glow of the molten lava and the unique quality of light that emanates from the flow inspired the higher pitched palette of subsequent works. As viewers will see, Gillerman's two hour hours of on-sight videotaped material has been meticulously edited. The chosen six minutes of remaining imagery highlight the visual splendor of the coincidence of a total solar eclipse with t eruption of an active volcano. The most visually compelling and memorable shots remain for our pleasure and education. Without the mediation of this image maker, how many of us would have dared to witness this profound  - but also dangerous - event? Not only is Volcanic Eclipse marked by the obvious care and patience that accompanied the artful selection of images from raw footage, but it is also enhanced by the use of a 360 degree panning device that Gillerman and Terry use to capture an "in-the-round" experiential, quality for their viewers. This "surround" effect is especially forceful when the imagery is presented in the installation format: The Sun Drops its Torch.

In the six minute videotape, the primary effect of the pan is the notably unusual compositions if affords. In the early 1920's, the American photographer Alfred Stieglitz conducted a series of experiments originally known as Songs of the Sky and later called Equivalents. In the early series and a later version, Stieglitz pointed his camera up into the heavens, frequently omitting a horizon line and other landmarks that traditionally aided viewers in locating their "footing" in the pictorial landscape.  Gillerman's Eclipse extends these early panning experiments in a more exotic climate but with similar effect.  Her unique framing of the land and sky permits us to view them - and thus conceive of them - freshly. Volcanic Eclipse is a celebration of nature that provides a privileged view of an extraordinary confluence of cosmic  events. It thereby challenges our everyday habits of mind by setting the routine thoughts of our more mundane daily events with in the frame of a much wider perspective than our imaginations generally provide.

Gillerman's interest was ignited by the results of the Hawaiian experiment, and so she and Terry chased down another eclipse in a remote are of the Bolivian Andes in November 1994. This resulted in the interactive CD Rom Intijiwana. In October 1995, these collaborators recorded another eclipse in Fatehpur Sikri, India, a well preserved Moghul city of the 16th century about 40 kilometers west of Agra, site of the Taj Mahal. They hope to follow and document similar planetary events to the Carribbean in 1998 and Turkey 1999.

In the nineties, Gillerman continues her interest in interactivity and the audiences' relation to new technology and media. Not only does she keep current in the newest developments of the computer arts, but she is expanding her themes into community based projects that raise different issue of the environment than those of the cosmic explorations.

   ------ Written by Celeste Connor, art historian

Volcanic Eclipse by JoAnn Gillerman screens on local PBS on July 16 (Wed) at 8pm and July 19 (Sat) at 10pm on KCSM=TV, Channel 60.

For information about Gillerman and her work, visit her websites at []


"Women of Vision is a collaborative project of New American Makers, KCSM-TV and the Exploratorium which are supported in part by the California Arts Council, grants for the Arts, the San Francisco Arts Commission and other generous supporters."

bottom of page