WATCHING VIDEO albums on your TV like listening to record albums on your stereo? For a long time that notion has been considered the wave of the future. But when you talk to John Sanborn, who with his partner Kit Fitzgerald will be showing a selection of their work today at the American Film Institute, it's not so much a wave; it is as inevitable as tomorrow's high tide.
Walk into Sanborn's sun-splashed loft in New York City with its tiers of TV sets, Betamaxes and recording equipment and the talk is video and art and business. Talk that is rapid and immediate, like the medium itself. Sanborn discourses over several glasses of sweet lemonade.
"I'm really more of a media artist," says Sanborn. "All of our creation is involved in a push-pull relationship with the audience. Video art is boring."
Indeed, a great deal of video art is nothing more than intellectual Sominex. But Sanborn and Fitzgerald's pieces are full of recognizable images and rhythms. And more to the point, they tell stories with a beginning, a middle, and, mercifully, an end. They are not unlike songs. The images are clear and colorful. The sounds that accompany them are well recorded.
"Television is a time-based medium," continues Sanborn. "You've got to face -- I've got to face -- the fact that someone's got to watch this ----." The recognition that there is an audience and that it needs to be entertained is a departure from the norm in avant-garde video. It is, pardon the expression, commercial. "That's not an insult," says Sanborn. "I want my audience to say 'I'm glad that happened--whooosh -- I want to see it again.'
"Besides, television is not an art. I once argued that the primary colors of TV, red, blue and green, are not those of painting: red, blue and yellow."
Long Island native Sanborn started out studying sculpture and filmmaking. But after two years in college he went off to Paris, where he first got involved with video. "I was converted in Paris. Then came back and preached." He taught video while still a student at New York University in 1976. "I never graduated. Education isn't really necessary." He met Massachusetts-born Fitzgerald (who was in Ireland this particular afternoon) while they were both videotaping an event. She was doing studio art and photography: "Sequential things which led to an interest in video."
They have done a great deal of work for Japanese and German television, covering news events and doing documentaries.
Two years ago, wanting "to prove that the avant-garde is incompetent entertainment" and "wanting to grind our music and pictures axe together," they set up Antarctica, their production company.
The video-pop tapes are "a way to play Berry Gordy," the legendary founder of Motown Records. "We want to emulate his mastery of the pop song."
The idea of video-pop tapes is not so farfetched, Sanborn says. Sony is introducing video 45s. So far Sanborn and Fitzgerald have completed a number of pieces, but none have been released.
"We've been at this just a handful of years and we're on the verge of creating a new art form," he says.
Producing video artists interests him as well. "Exactly, just like Berry Gordy." Painters, dancers, musicians -- all have people to criticize them while they are in the process of making art, he says. "Video artists need producers. There is a lack of recognition on the part of video people that their work is audience bound."
Sanborn seems certain about his future. Is there anything that bothers him? "I'm afraid I won't be an enfant terrible for too long. That -----s me off."
In five years, John Sanborn will be 32.