Axis of Observation: Frank Gillette

by Suzanne Anker (Author) Sabine Flach (Author)
©2018 Monographs 240 Pages
Series: Art – Knowledge – Theory, Volume 7


This volume chronicles the visual art and writings of pioneering video artist Frank Gillette. Revisiting his work from the late ‘60s and ‘70s to his current practice, this book traces Gillette’s incorporation of the natural world into new media technologies. Surveying the oeuvre of this seminal artist, the reader is offered an insight into how technology erupted and continues to intersect with sense perception, and visual thinking. Axis of Observation I: Frank Gillette includes essays written by Suzanne Anker, Sabine Flach, Taney Roniger, David Ross, and Roy Skodnick, together with a facsimile of Gillette’s first publication Between Paradigms: The Mood and its Purpose (1973).

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Editors
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Foreword (David Ross)
  • Introduction (Suzanne Anker / Sabine Flach)
  • Acknowledgments
  • Essays
  • Frank Gillette and The Ineluctable Modality of the Visible (Roy Skodnick)
  • “That poignant sense of the real whole”: Frank Gillette’s Epistemology of Video (Sabine Flach)
  • The Colliding Garden: Intercepting Nature (Suzanne Anker)
  • Towards an Epiphany of the Whole: Agon and Ambiguity in Frank Gillette’s Digital Images (Taney Roniger)
  • Appendix
  • On Between Paradigms (Frank Gillette)
  • Between Paradigms: The Mood and its Purpose (Frank Gillette)
  • Biographies
  • Series index



Frank Gillette is one of the key figures in the development of video art, yet curiously, this is not why we should pay attention to his complex and varied output over the past half century. He was a pioneer in experimenting with a new set of tools for the production of art and poetry in the late 20th century; of that there is no doubt. But what sets Gillette apart from that generation of artists, poets and musicians who first adopted portable video technology is the ways in which he has continuously (perhaps even relentlessly) examined the importance of this new medium within a philosophical context—an ontological framework that he referred to as “between paradigms.”

For Gillette was not simply interested in video’s potential as a new art-making tool, but in its role linking a radical transformation in the purpose of art and the evolving nature of an artist’s job. Frustrated as a painter looking for ways to create new knowledge, Gillette found in the ideas of Buckminster Fuller and Gregory Bateson (among others) an opening to a way of connecting video’s unique capacity for exploring time and the neurophysiology of cognition with a profound interest in our planet’s ecological crisis. A Joycean by temperament, Gillette asserts that a visual poetic formed through recording the ecological complexities in real-time could best mimic nature’s playful complexity and reflect its beauty in ways that opened up new ways of thinking; might function as truly experimental epistemologies.

Gillette’s work has always been primarily concerned with observation. He works in the landscape genre. Expanding upon that tradition, he records more than static images of the world—he explores the nature of time within an ecological context. Gillette searches for patterns—patterns in his daily life, patterns found more broadly in what we might term nature—and finds himself drawn into a conversation with the possibility of timelessness. Eschewing religiosity of any form, his work in video, photography, drawing (as well as his writing) leads us to a confrontation with belief itself. Not simply as the basis for what feels true, but belief as a seductive trap set to ensnare and misdirect. (Can someone not believe in believing?) Yet as the core of the scientific method is itself formed by a commitment to iterative processes based on objective observing and recording, Gillette’s art seeks to produce new knowledge by other, far more personal/subjective means.

For as the artists and art historians in this volume make clear, Gillette challenges and upends the simple categorization of artistic practice by gently insisting that there is far more at stake than art’s cloistered history. ← 9 | 10 → ← 10 | 11 →



Since the nineteenth century, art and media practices interact with each other insofar as art history sustains, discards and comments upon media evolution. However, it is also possible to observe certain abstinence with regard to art history concerning technologically-produced artworks. Ultimately, the critical vocabulary for analysis in the visual arts is still determined by traditional image mediums: the implied opposition of art and media appears obsolete. This is particularly true in a century marked by avant-garde movements artistically aimed at transgressing hierarchies, negating genre boundaries, questioning tradition and, finally, merging art and (mass)-media into one aesthetic practice.

The intersection of art and technology continues to yield new aesthetic territories. From the camera obscura to celluloid film to the digital matrix of coded pictorial presence, media production constructs a version of physical nature by generating an artificial one—in a word, achieving mimesis, as formulated by Aristotle some two thousand years ago. As early as the late 1960s, with three Porta-Pak video cameras loaned to him by Marshall McLuhan, Frank Gillette would begin his odyssey of discovery and innovation through the worlds of art, science, and naturalism.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2019 (June)
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 240 pp., 70 fig.

Biographical notes

Suzanne Anker (Author) Sabine Flach (Author)

Suzanne Anker is a visual artist and theorist working at the nexus of art and the biological sciences. Her work has been shown both nationally and internationally in museums and galleries. She is the Chair of the Fine Arts Department of School of Visual Arts in New York since 2005. Sabine Flach is Professor of Modern of Contemporary Art at the University of Graz, Austria, where she is also Chair of the Art History Institute. In addition, she is member of the Faculty at the School of Visual Arts, New York City. She studied art history, theory of literature, philosophy and humanities in Marburg, Perugia, Kassel, and Berlin


Title: Axis of Observation: Frank Gillette
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242 pages