Dara Birnbaum

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Dara Birnbaum
Birnbaum cat.jpg
Born1946 (age 76–77)
Known forinstallation artist, video artist
MovementFeminist art movement

Dara Birnbaum (born 1946[1]) is an American video and installation artist.[2] Birnbaum entered the nascent field of video art in the mid-to-late 1970s challenging the gendered biases of the period and television’s ever-growing presence within the American household. Her oeuvre primarily addresses ideological and aesthetic features of mass media through the intersection of video art and television.[3] She uses video to reconstruct television imagery using materials such as archetypal formats as quizzes, soap operas, and sports programmes. Her techniques involve the repetition of images and interruption of flow with text and music. She is also well known for forming part of the feminist art movement that emerged within video art in the mid-1970s. Birnbaum lives and works in New York.

Early life and education[edit]

Dara Birnbaum was born in 1946 in New York.[4] In 1969 she received her BA in architecture at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.[4] She subsequently worked in the Lawrence Halprin & Associates architectural firm in New York City. Her work with the firm instilled a lifelong consideration of civic space and exploration of the relationship between private and public spheres in mass culture. In 1973 Birnbaum attained a BFA in painting from the San Francisco Art Institute.[4]

Career and artistic practice[edit]

In 1975 Birnbaum moved to Florence for a year and was introduced to video art by the Centro Diffusione Grafica, a gallery that pioneered video art exhibitions. Shortly after her return to New York City in 1976, Birnbaum met Dan Graham, an artist/critic who greatly impacted her artistic development. He introduced her to Screen (journal), a British film-theory journal, which provided a critical analysis of mainstream cinema during the 1970s. Birnbaum was very interested in the journal’s discussion of an emerging feminist context in the critique of cinema but found Screen (journal) to be flawed in its failure to consider television—a medium she believed to have replaced film as the dominant force of American mass culture.[5]

During the mid-1970s, the poet Alan Sondheim lent Birnbaum his Sony Portapak, which enabled her to create her first experimental video works, such as Control Piece and Mirroring. These works explored the separation between the body and its representation through the use of mirrors and projected images. The presence of mirrors continued into her late-1970s video works which focused primarily on the appropriation and of television's conventions. Through the fragmentation and repetition of TV conventions, she used borrowed images to examine the medium's technical structures and bodily gestures.[6]

These explorations laid a foundation for her most prominent work, the 1978 - 1979 video art piece Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman.[6] In this work she used appropriated images of Wonder Woman to subvert ideological subtexts and meanings embedded in the television series.[7] "Opening with a prolonged salvo of fiery explosions accompanied by the warning cry of a siren, Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman is supercharged, action-packed, and visually riveting... throughout its nearly six minutes we see several scenes featuring the main character Diana Prince... in which she transforms into the famed superhero."[8] Her citational use of Wonder Woman illustrates the efforts she made into exploring "television on television," which indicates a consciousness of analyzing the television/video medium within its own terms, an exploration of the structural elements of television content, and an attempt to talk back to television.[9]

In 1979 she started to make fast-edited video collages from footage appropriated while working for a TV post-production unit.[10] In 1982 Birnbaum created the piece titled PM Magazine/Acid Rock with appropriated video from the nightly T.V. Show, PM Magazine, and a segment of a Wang Computers commercial. Created for Documenta 7 as part of a four channel video installation, PM Magazine/Acid Rock underscores the themes of consumerism, T.V., and feminism in Birnbaum's work through the use of pop images and a recomposed version of "L.A. Woman" by the Doors.[11] She participated in the 1985 Whitney Biennial.[12]

In her 1990 single channel video work Cannon: Taking to the Street the political act of taking to the street is framed through an iconic evocation of the Paris uprising of May 1968, interspersed with amateur footage from a Take Back the Night march held at Princeton University in April, 1987.[13]

Her 1994 six channel video installation Hostage has as its subject the kidnapping of Hanns-Martin Schleyer in 1977.[14]

Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman is held in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art.[15] She also has works in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada.[16]

Selected works[edit]

Dara Birnbaum works distributed by the Electronic Arts Intermix include:

  • Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman 1978-79, 5:50 min, color, sound
  • Kiss The Girls: Make Them Cry (1979), 6:50 min, color, sound
  • Local TV News Analysis (1980), 61:08 min, color, sound
  • Pop-Pop Video (1980), 9 min, color, sound
  • General Hospital/Olympic Women Speed Skating (1980), 6 min, color, sound
  • Kojak/Wang (1980), 3 min, color, sound
  • Remy/Grand Central: Trains and Boats and Planes (1980), 4:18 min, color, sound
  • Fire! Hendrix (1982), 3:13 min, color, sound
  • PM Magazine/Acid Rock (1982), 4:09 min, color, sound
  • Damnation of Faust: Evocation (1983), 10:02 min, color, sound
  • Damnation of Faust: Will-o'-the-Wisp (A Deceitful Goal) (1985), 5:46 min, color, sound
  • Artbreak, MTV Networks, Inc. (1987), 30 sec, color, sound
  • Damnation of Faust: Charming Landscape (1987), 6:30 min, color, sound
  • Canon: Taking to the Streets, Part One: Princeton University - Take Back the Night (1990), 10 min, color, sound
  • Transgressions (1992), 60 sec, color, sound[17]

Arabesque, Special Limited Edition 2021[edit]

Dara Birnbaum is the first artist who participated in the D’ORO D’ART Project, for the creation of books that contain digital art. Birnbaum took on the challenge of specially transforming her four-channel video, Arabesque from 2011, to a single-channel video for the book. In the video, sound and image are integrated, and together retrace the love and artistic relationship of Robert and Clara Schumann. Birnbaum brought together selections from films of performances of Robert Schumann’s Arabesque Opus 18 and from films of Clara Schumann’s Romanze 1, Opus 11. Birnbaum juxtaposed these clips with still images made from footage of the 1947 film about the Schumanns, Song of Love, which tellingly features only Robert Schumann's Arabesque Opus 18. Birnbaum’s Arabesque delicately reflects on the troubled love relationship of Robert and Clara Schumann, a love relationship closely linked to music, as they are both pianists. The video Arabesque, Special Limited Edition 2021 is activated by opening the book in which it is contained. The curators of the project are Barbara London and Valentino Catricalà. The book is produced by the publishing house D'ORO Collection, based in Rome. Arabesque, Special Limited Edition 2021 was post-produced by Michael Saia. The video lasts 6 min. and 29 seconds.


In 2010 she won a United States Artists Fellow award.[18]


  1. ^ Phaidon Editors (2019). Great women artists. Phaidon Press. p. 63. ISBN 978-0714878775. {{cite book}}: |last1= has generic name (help)
  2. ^ "Dara Birnbaum", Walker Art Center, Retrieved 31 October 2018.
  3. ^ "Dara Birnbaum, The Dark Matter of Media Light", ed. Karen Kelly, Barbara Schröder, and Giel Vandecaveye, DelMonico Books, 2010, p.10. ISBN 978-3-7913-5124-7
  4. ^ Demos 2010, p. 11.
  5. ^ a b Demos 2010, p. 11–12.
  6. ^ Margot Lovejoy, Digital Currents: Art in the Electronic Age, Routledge, 2004, p108. ISBN 0-415-30780-5
  7. ^ Demos 2010, p. 1.
  8. ^ Demos 2010, p. 14–16.
  9. ^ Catherine Elwes, Video Art: A Guided Tour, I.B.Tauris, 2005, p108. ISBN 1-85043-546-4
  10. ^ "PM Magazine/Acid Rock". Electronic Arts Intermix. Retrieved 6 April 2012.
  11. ^ Margot Lovejoy, Digital Currents: Art in the Electronic Age, Routledge, 2004, p129. ISBN 0-415-30780-5
  12. ^ Dot Tuer ' Mirrors and Mimesis: An Examination of the Strategies of Image Appropriation and Repetition in the Work of Dara Birnbaum' issue 3 May 1997 n.paradoxa: international feminist art journal online pp.4-16
  13. ^ Dot Tuer, Mining the Media Archive: Essays on Art, Technology and Cultural Resistance, YYZ Books, 2006, p45. ISBN 0-920397-35-2
  14. ^ moma.org.uk
  15. ^ National Gallery of Canada's Cybermuse website[permanent dead link]
  16. ^ "Electronic Arts Intermix: Dara Birnbaum".
  17. ^ United States Artists Official Website Archived November 10, 2010, at the Wayback Machine


  • Demos, T. J. (2010). Dara Birnbaum:Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman. Afterall Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84638-066-2.

External links[edit]