Controversial Video Art Installation

What is a video installation?

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No! It’s a contemporary art form that combines video technology with installation art, making use of all aspects of the surrounding environment (space) to affect the audience.

David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in my Belly (1986–1987) –

Screened at the National Portrait Gallery, a Smithsonian museum in Washington, it was withdrawn after the president of the Catholic league described it as anti-Christian hate speech. The 13-minute video, featuring images of ants crawling over Christ on the crucifix, is about death, social inequality, faith and desire. It attracted controversy not only over its use of religious iconography but also because the art world was angered when the museum pulled the exhibit – accusing it of stifling artistic freedom. The artist made the artwork in a time during the AIDS crisis of the late 1980s to early 1990s. According to the museum, the artist himself was diagnosed with HIV and was the artwork was probably a reaction to that. Personally, I think that the casual use of religious icons in artworks can be quite powerful, though it would most definitely anger religious folk. I imagine that there would be two schools of thought in Singapore: 1. Outrage from the religious community. 2. “Aiya this artist purposely do this to attract attention one.”

Bill Viola’s Anthem (1983); or Nope. Nope. Nooooooope. –

Body parts being picked at. Ew. Cannot.
Whether this piece if good or bad, it is definitely going to be difficult to stomach. I didn’t manage to sit through it because I don’t enjoy watching gruesome images. I couldn’t find where exactly it was screened, though I imagine that it was probably at a museum. The artwork has to be presented as cinema: screening has to take place in an isolated dark room with seating for the audience as opposed to an open “walk through” gallery. It is played on a scheduled basis, not on a loop. It seems that it was the artist’s intention for this to be viewed from start to end and not experienced in an installation space. This artist focuses on the theme of life and death, and their relationship, not only in Anthem but throughout his works. Anthem is supposed to be an evocation of “our deepest primal fears, darkness, and the separation of body and spirit.” For me, it is communicated quite clearly, at least for the parts that I watched. I respect that it dared to show graphic content. Personally, I would have approached the matter entirely more subtle. This makes me think that it comes off as a very emotive piece in contrast to the way I would have approached it.

On the topic of controversy, I’m going to do something controversial and talk about a video installation that isn’t necessarily controversial but one that I want to talk about to contrast with the rest which makes a clear argument for being controversial. Is it even necessary to make controversial works? (Ooo controversial)

Apichatpong’s Primitive (2009) – 

Primitive is a multi-screen video installation displayed within a gallery – 7 videos with different durations and eight projections (two being the same video, titled Primitive, in sync). The artist re-imagines the history of Nabua, Thailand, as an elusive science fiction ghost story rooted in Thai folklore.

According to the artist, “Primitive is a reincarnation of presence (and absence). It’s also a reincarnation of cinema as a means of transportation as it was in the time of the early cinema innovator Georges Méliès: the “motion picture” carries us from our own world. Primitive is a meditation on those voyages in fabulous vehicles that bring about the transformation of people and of light”

The artist’s works tend to make use of the supernatural or the surreal to create artworks that dreamlike and tend to be difficult to explain in words – the experience is communication.

Nabua was a place of violence and oppression from the 60s to the 80s when the Thai army occupied the place in order to curb those who were accused of being communists. What makes this work of art controversial could be that it was made in a time of political turmoil in Thailand.

The video installation was exhibited in Germany and UK, but I could not find if it was exhibited in Thailand. If it was then that would definitely be cause for controversy but perhaps it was in not exhibiting it in Thailand which makes it controversial – controversy in the absence of it.


The nature of controversy these days seems to border on the line between controversy for controversy’s sake or for purposely artistic expression. When thinking about controversy in art, I thought about how these artworks take some form of current affairs and their own opinions to create. I don’t think it has to be controversial as long as the message is powerful, or if the experience leaves a lasting impression.

Alter Ego – Sabina

from The Unbearable Lightness of Being; or some character (not even the main character) from this one book that you may or may not have heard of.

Before working on the inspiration file, I did some research on the character as I wanted to go beyond face value. Since this is really for my own use, I’ll dump it out here.

It starts out with my deciding if it was the main character TOMAS, or Sabina that I felt more affinity towards. I started with Tomas because protagonists get more “screen time”

Tomas or Sabina



Tomas: Womanising | Lightness or weight of being | I, too, struggle with the lightness and weight of life.


His character experiences the temporary sweet lightness of being when Tereza leaves him to return to Prague. Thereafter, he experiences the unbearable lightness of being that comes with his compassion for Tereza


Tomas reminisces about lightness and weight after a night of sex with someone else


Ideas: Sex vs. Shared Sleep | Eternal return (An interesting concept)

The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become.

As free as you are insignificant


We make decisions at each point in our lives but we can never know what the other outcomes could have been. We can never know if we chose correctly. (To me, a very important epiphany)

So what?


I am standing at the window of his flat and looking across the courtyard at the opposite walls, not knowing what to do.

From here I started to research on Sabina and found that-

Betrayal is Sabina’s way of fighting kitsch – a word that keeps popping up in Sabina’s story


Why does Sabina’s relationships always end in “betrayal”; i.e. leaving good people for uncertain and empty loneliness and freedom (Lightness).

Why is she drawn to “betrayal”?

Why am I drawn to “betrayal” and, by extension, lightness? (The main thing that connects us)

Beauty is a world betrayed

Sabina was searching for new beauty; to break away from kitsch


On the surface, an intelligible lie; underneath, the unintelligible truth

Repetition gives things “weight”

Nothing more magnificent than going off into the unknown

Es Muss Sein – It Must Be. (A song lyric that talks about things that are fundamentally the character or maybe even intrinsic nature)

The only way you can sufficiently guard your heart is if you live a life in which you have nothing to lose. (Trying to see how Sabina sees)
Take lovers, use them for what they are good for, let yourself be used, but remember to return to your solitude, always. I don’t know where this idea came from, that we need another person. Throw that idea out the window.


In death, you can only hope to become nothing. This is the ultimate beauty. There are times when I feel so empty, I am sure death has come for me. I imagine that is very much how death will feel. (Source)



Sabina: Confidence | Choosing a “light” life results in her irrelevance in the world | While not confident, it is uncanny how the both of us always find ourselves feeling both alone and irrelevant. It is a choice we consciously make.


Lightness of being | Too much lightness | I feel affinity towards her view on the lightness of being and also bear the unbearable lightness of being. Nothing matters: a dual-edged sword.


Does not hold anything dear to her; with the exception of her bowler hat


Sabina holds that the ideal of one-voice-no-individuals is actually much worse than any violent or imperfect totalitarian reality.


She likes to be humiliated sexually by men (?) Backstory stuff

Sexual promiscuity = lightness

Commitment = weight


Of everything in the Inspiration file brief, I found the sentence starters to be the most useful in giving my alter ego, form.

I firmly believe that meaning has no place in what my idea of life is.

I would like to run away to America. / I would like to know what would have happened if I had chosen differently (weight over lightness)

I love being truly free.

I hate the kitsch of the world; the unoriginal and aesthetic ideology imposed on us

I have no problem with nudity

I know that my choice to betray (to break off into the unknown) will leave me irrelevant and unknown. This makes me uneasy.

BUT, that doesn’t mean that the pursuit of lightness is any less unbearable

I chose to focus on the lightness that Sabina has chosen. I feel affinity towards her views on kitsch and several ideas too. With the limited time that I have I want to focus on one thing only. Cramping in too many ideas into a one minute film is just too tall a task for me. Who knows, maybe our fight against kitsch will come through the film itself. That is the challenge.