EDITORIAL: Why was I there?

THIS WILL BE SHORT; very short. I was in New York City last Wednesday evening as a guest, among scores of others, for a preview of a new show at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) called “Signals: How Video Transformed the World.”

If I was still a reporter, I’d give the museum high marks for the scope of its collection of video recordings. Some are made by artists, some by activists, the makers of culture and those who would tear it down. Wisely, the curators have chosen the weird and quirky as well as regular people documenting a smidgen of their time on Earth. But really, why read about it when it can be watched until July 6?

These recordings are the roots of my communication skills. I made video recordings but that’s not what got me an invitation to MoMA’s preview. It was a book. The title is “The Spaghetti City Video Manual.” It was illustrated by Ann Woodward. The subhead reads: “A guide to use, repair, and maintenance.” The author was listed as “Videofreex.”

That was also the name of our “video group” of roughly 10 adults. By the time the book came out we had left NY City for an old boardinghouse in the Greene County hamlet of Lanesville, where we set up a tiny broadcast TV station for ourselves and our neighbors. This was 50 years ago. And while “Spaghetti City” remained relevant for most of the 1970s, new technologies eventually rendered it obsolete.

And then, late last year, as the MoMA staff was planning the “Signals” show, they contacted Ann seeking illustrations about video. MoMA then contacted me and I readily agreed that yes, for the book, I was “Videofreex,” the author of “Spaghetti City,” and the museum could use the illustrations. But as I was preparing to send a few items to MoMA I received an email advising me that the museum had changed its plans and would post a picture of the book on a wall instead.

That’s the way it goes, right? I mean, how much can hippies with cameras transform the world? Then last week came the MoMA preview. “Spaghetti City” is a hard cover book eight-and-a half inches wide by eleven inches high. I missed it at first. The staff had recreated Ann’s group portrait of Videofreex. I’m guessing it now covers a space 12 feet high by 15 feet long. If you get there by July 6 you can’t miss the group portrait. I doubt I’ve transformed myself or anyone else, but in the portrait I’m the guy in blue overalls holding a copy of the book.

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