From impassioned indictments of America's culture of violence to soulful lamentations of spiritual loss, Daniel Reeves' body of work constitutes an important elaboration of video poetics. Reeves began working in video in 1979. Traumatic combat experiences in Vietnam were the driving force behind his early videotapes. Reeves was in the Marine Corps from 1965 until 1969 and was awarded the Silver Star Medal for gallantry in action, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry and the Purple Heart Medal for wounds suffered during the Tet Offensive of 1968. Early work like Body Count 1980 developed from preparatory work in sculpture, photography and film, and culminated in the classic work, Smothering Dreams (1981), which won three Emmy awards and is included in over 30 major museum collections including the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Subsequent tapes refined this work's use of poetic text and structure, addressing inhumanity, the problems of violence, dispossession and social upheaval with a highly lyrical sensibility, and from an outlook informed by philosophy, poetry and metaphysics. These later works owe much to extensive travels throughout Asia. In outlining Reeves' video poetics, Amida (1983) and A Mosaic for the Kali Yuga (1986) can be seen as forming bookends in the exploration of formal strategies, arriving at their epilogue texts through elegantly precise visualizations that echo the illuminations and exigencies of the world views being addressed. Amida's observations are entirely concrete, while Mosaic's media-weaving employs sophisticated image-processing technology. Since 1988 Reeves has been focusing on new media projects, digital prints, and video installations. The videotapes Ganapati/A Spirit in the Bush (1986) and Sombra a Sombra (1988), along with Sabda (1984), occupy the central ground in Reeves' body of work. In various ways these tapes were informed by poets like Federico Garcia Lorca, Cesar Vallejo and Kabir. In this way, Reeves helps us to see according to what we hear, creating elegant realizations and rhythms that inspirit the contemplations of this companion poetry. Reeves was born in 1948 in Washington, D.C. He received a B.A. and an A.S. from Ithaca College where he studied under the Veterans Administration’s disabled veterans rehabilitation program.
Among his numerous grants are six awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, three awards from the New York State Council on the Arts, a John S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship and the Rockefeller Media Arts Fellowship. In 1988, he received a United States/Japan Exchange Fellowship. Reeves has served as artist-in-residence at the Television Laboratory at WNET/Thirteen, New York, and the Experimental Television Center, Owego, New York, among other institutions. His videotapes, installations and digital paintings have been broadcast widely and exhibited internationally, at festivals and institutions including the Tokyo Video Festival, Japan; San Sebastian Video Festival, Spain; American Film Institute National Video Festival, Los Angeles; Documenta 7, Kassel, Germany; Edinburgh International Film Festival, Scotland; the Locarno Film Festival, Switzerland; Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial, New York; Musee du Louvre, Paris; The Tate Gallery, Liverpool; and The High Museum of Art, Atlanta.
INTERVIEW: DANIEL REEVES by CHRIS MEIGH ANDREWS
C.M-A: How and when did you initially begin to work with video?
D.R: I went back to college under a veteran's rehabilitation program. I had been medevaced from the battle field, as it were, in January of 1968, and then had spent seven months in a military hospital and afterwards had about another year and a half to serve. During the last 6 months of my 4 year enlistment there was something called "project transition "which was notionally an effort to give combat veterans some other job skill, besides operating an M60 machine gun. In my case I was a field radio operator with a grunt platoon so it wasn't too far-fetched that I might study broadcasting. I was station at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia and I opted to study at the National Academy of Broadcasting in my hometown, Washington D.C. not so far away. So I enrolled in the Academy studied radio and television there 40 hours a week during my last 6 months of my four year enlistment. This was my first contact with the Sony video portapak during the summer of 1969. The curriculum was designed to get you behind the desk as a radio announcer or TV personality, and that of course meant wearing a suit and being a slave to a schedule having just spent four years wearing a variety of suits that Thoreau would have mocked with gusto of one kind or another and trussed up in duty I got cold feet of the highest order, so I took my diploma and all those assertive and persuasive mouth skills that I had learned and just vanished into the countryside.
I lived in the woods in Maine in small cabin for about 3 years completely off the grid until I began to get restless. Then in 1973, I went to college under a disabled veterans rehabilitation program. This got me out of my "wounded retreat" brought on by shock of the combat, which was deeply traumatic, but my sense of betrayal had also forced a rupture with society that had undermined the foundations of my own metaphysical being. Somehow it was easy for me to link what was happening in the war to what was happening on the home front, or anywhere in the Western world in 1968 for that matter. What I perceived was that the war was about money and greed, xenophobia, racism all those things that were such deep and abiding flaws in our society. I felt poisoned by it all. So when I decided to re-emerge, I went to study journalism and early in my studies the great photographer & documentary film maker Willard Van Dyke showed up to run an intensive 3 month film workshop, which I attended with great enthusiasm. That summer was really a rebirth in so many ways as it became clear to me that working with a motion picture camera was somehow second nature to me. I had some previous experience - years before my stepfather had a 16 mm camera that was religiously hauled out for family rituals and events. The first film footage I recorded in my life, when I was 14 years old, was of a dam explosion, which seems kind of ironic looking back. My stepfather had contracted to build a six acre lake and the contractor and I spent days packing the dam core with dynamite resulting in a spectacular explosion which I filmed. So I began to study film, and my second contact with video was as a cinematography major. As part of the course you had to do one project in the TV studio. The problem was that it was very broadcast oriented, once again. So I did a short assignment- a camera podium piece where I worked with images from Northern Ireland- it was something that deeply interested me- I could never work on anything that I didn't interest me, even if it was an assignment. But because of the studio orientation and all the suits and clap-trap, I was still much more interested in film and still cameras than any work in what I might do in a neurotic and glamor addicted broadcast industry. After graduation I went away for 6 months to India, which was a very transformative experience on every level.