Czech-born video art pioneer Woody Vašulka dies at 82

Woody Vašulka, photo: Dave Pape / Public Domain

Woody Vašulka, one of the pioneers of electronic and video art, has died at the age of 82. The Czech-born artist, who had lived in the United States since the 1960s, inspired generations of video artists all around the world. Together with his wife Steina, he established the legendary art space The Kitchen in New York City, dedicated to electronic media of all sorts.

Woody Vašulka,  photo: Dave Pape / Public Domain
“Media is the same language for all of us. It has a different code, and we, we share the code. And suddenly we have these visual and acoustic and other codes that we communicate easily.”

The Brno-born artist Woody Vašulka, who died last Friday, described his work as a dialogue with tools. He and his wife Steina saw new technologies as a means for a new type of creativity and knowledge and through their art work they explored analogue and digital processes generating electronic images, sounds and spaces.

Christened Bohuslav but taking the name Woody from a favourite musician, Vašulka graduated from the Film and Television Academy in Prague in 1965. In that same year, he married his Icelandic wife Steina and they left for the United States to pursue a joint artistic career.

The Vašulkas were the first generation of artists to experiment with video, creating abstract as well as documentary video images and inventing tools for working with electronic images and sound.

Their work includes video tapes, video-performances and spatial installations that used audio-visual, optical and robotic components.

In 1971, they established an experimental art space The Kitchen in New York City, one of the first places dedicated to video art and other art, especially electronic music.

Last year saw the opening of the Vašulka Kitchen Brno, a space dedicated to the legacy of Woody and Steina Vašulka in the Moravian capital. Professor Tomáš Ruller is one of its co-founders:

“I believe I am not exaggerating when I say that just like musicians have their Leoš Janáček, architects their Miese van der Rohe and geneticist their Johan Gregor Mendel, we artists have Woody Vašulka, who made a mark in the history of world art and his legacy is finally being recognised also in his hometown of Brno.”

Woody Vašulka - 'Mystery of Memory',  photo: archive of Woody Vašulka
After the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, Vašulka renewed his ties with Czech media artists and helped to raise awareness of electronic and video art in his home-country. In 1993, he helped to establish the country’s first multimedia art lab at the Technical University in his native city.

Terezie Petišková is the director of the Brno House of Arts, which houses the Vašulka Kitchen Brno.

“Woody and Steina Vašulka, in cooperation with Tomáš Ruller, helped to prepare the first edition of the Hi-Tech / Art show in Brno in the early 1990s. For people in the Czech Republic it was something of a revelation at the time, because, unlike in the West, where artists experimented with video art since the second half of the 1960s, it was still a largely unexplored medium in this part of the world.”