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Archive Reference


1st Year, No.87  Sunday, May 29, 1983

Hayward/Oakland, California

'Clone Baby'

Art of the future

by David Weinstein

   OAKLAND - As television and movies ride into the high tech age - with video discs, proliferating cable networks, and computer graphics - three Oakland artists are preparing to ride along.

   Their company, Viper Optics, will do most anything in the fields of video and computer graphics.  They produce computerized logos, industrial and traffic safety shows, an exercise show and rock music extravaganza. But what they prefer doing is art - "our own stuff" as Jody Gillerman puts it.

   Ms. Gillerman, who heads the film and video department at the California College of Arts and Crafts, built a video synthesizer in 1975 while a student at the Chicago Art Institute. Based on designs by electronics expert Dan Sandin, the machine, which cost $4000 would be considered low tech today but can still create whirlwinds of imagery on command.

   Ms. Gillerman moved to Oakland in 1976 and formed Viper Optics  ...

   Video graphics is an expensive and ever-expanding industry, and most of Viper Optic's income is plowed back into new equipment or rental of computer time, which can cost hundreds of dollars per hour.  Their best tapes require a lot of computer time. 

   Jim Whiteaker, a graphics artist who used to design for the Donrey Media chain in Arkansas, is the artiest of the three.The video tapes he directs are meditative, large abstract and slow moving. Viper Optics is a business as well as an art group, he agrees, but he's not in it for the money.

   "We obviously do this because we love the medium," Whiteaker says. It's incredibly exciting."

   Ms. Gillerman adds: "We're trying to make money to support our habit."

Video technology artists' tool

   James Gillerman, her brother, studied electronic music at Mills College with modern masters Terry Riley, Robert Ashley, and David Berman. He's played with rock bands and performs Renaissance music at restaurants. He was also a member of Ron Pellegrino's Real Electric Symphony which played "contemporary art music a la John Cage. Some of it was contemplative, some it was more violent. I wouldn't say it had a beat."

   By combining their talents, Whiteaker and the Gillermans figure they have something unique - a video music music band whose creative visuals will knock boring rock films off the air.  Once video discs really hit, they figure, people will want to buy exciting visual spectacles, such as they create.

   On the arts scene they are already succeeding. The Whitney Museum i New York recently selected several Viper Optics tapes for a show called "Video-Music", which was exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

   "Clone Baby," one of their most popular tapes, was also shown as a short on TV's "Creature Features." A razzle dazzle series of visual jokes accompanied by a new-wave beat, the tape is fast and fun.

   But is it art? The Viper Opticians disagree. Maybe, James Gillerman says, but it's on the commercial end of what we do as art." Jody Gillerman thinks it's art - and what's more, she says, the art world loves it.  I don't think we should bite the hand that feeds us" she says.

"'Clone Baby' may be art, Whiteaker says, but adds, half jokingly, "it's not my art. It's not depressing and morbid."

   The three artists fight a lot, but they agree about one thing - video is the future, and Viper Optics want to be the future of video.

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