Frank Gillette

Frank Gillette studied painting in New York. In 1968, he met Marshall McLuhan and was to remain profoundly influenced by him. Shortly afterwards he began working with video. In 1969, he was among the founders of the Raindance Corporation (with participants including Louis Jaffe, Marco and Judi Vassi, Judi Bosches, and Michael Shamberg) and he created his first installations entirely composed of videos. In fact, in that same year, he presented, together with Ira Schneider, Wipe Cycle, the first example of a multi-screen installation with image feedback in real time. His video work elaborates a system of correspondences, echoes, communicative ties, and visual dialogues—all modalities to connect the Ego with surrounding reality. Already by the early seventies, Gillette experimented with multi-channel video installations that incorporate the images of the observer in authentic feedbacks, but which also question the seeming passivity of the information that is broadcast. He uses technological advancements in order to bring about changes in his relationship with viewers, addressing their subconscious.
In coupling rich visual sensibility with an almost scientific attention for taxonomies and descriptions of ecological systems and environments, Gillette is one of the pioneers in video research. His multi-channel installations and single videos offer examples of an investigation where empirical observations of natural phenomena are reorganized into refined and layered audiovisual compositions. From among the first rigorous theorists of the formal and aesthetic parameters of video, Gillette has also written important essays on this topic, contributing to Radical Software, the most authoritative theoretical publication on video in the early seventies. [F.B.]

List of Works

Hark! Hork!, 1972–1973
video, black and white, sound, 19 min. 25 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
With a title that refers to James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (a passage where Finnegan awakens from a dream), Hark! Hork! evokes natural and subconscious landscapes. Inspired by the writer’s stream of consciousness technique, Gillette creates a text of parallel visual and acoustic force that combines organic and abstract forms with fascinating still lifes of plants and vegetation, capable of evoking all of the sensuality of nature.

Quidditas, 1974–1975
video, color, sound, 19 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Originally conceived as a three-channel work, Quidditas (the Latin word for “essence”) is a study of the forests and coastal landscapes of Cape Cod. Subtitled Seven Phases of the Natural Process, the video is made up of seven sequences that show the gradual transformation of the surroundings from the land to the sea, passing across ponds, lakes, and marshes up to the dunes facing the ocean. The subtle, almost imperceptible flow with which one environment follows another seems to echo the time and sense of geological transformations.

Rituals for a Still Life, 1974–1975
video, black and white, sound, 24 min. 54 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
In this refined and meditative work of sensatory exploration, Gillette brings together video and collage with diverse surfaces and forms. Using a television monitor that shows some of his former work as a background, he creates a relationship between overlapping static objects and moving images, thereby obtaining an ambiguity of scale and dimension, due above all to the two-dimensional effect of the video image.

The Maui Cycle, 1976
three-channel video installation, color, sound, 45 min. 40 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
This three-channel video is a tribute to the beauty of the natural coastal environments of the famous Hawaiian Islands. Modeled upon the rhythm of the surroundings and the changes in the islands’ coasts, the video presents a detailed study of extraordinarily beautiful natural phenomena: lava rocks, volcanic beaches, and geysers follow one another in a series of sequences with refined and meticulously descriptive attention, thanks to precise photography and editing.

Mecox, 1976–1977
three-channel video installation, color, sound, 18 min. 06 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
In this three-channel work, the artist re-creates the environment and swampy microclimate of Mecox Bay (Long Island) inside an aquarium. Flowing water, plants, and other living organic forms are the images Gillette uses in order to address the progression of different geological periods.

Symptomatic Syntax, 1981
video, color, sound, 27 min. 20 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
In an ecological environment, every natural form—from leaves and flowers to petals and butterflies—gives life to a series of compositions of constant transformation.
Interwoven with organic forms, a series of descriptive texts examines time, organizational logic, and the dichotomies between physical and mental states.