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Surrounded by Me

Surrounded by Me
Saturday, March 18 and Sunday, March 19, 2017

Organized by: Tyler Coburn and Robin Simpson

Saturday, March 18th, 5:00 pm: Presentations by Felix Rietmann, Judith Rodenbeck, and Robin Simpson

Sunday, March 19th, 2:00 pm: Screening of video psychotherapy training tapes from the 1970s, as well as works by Richard Serra & Nancy Holt, Howardena Pindell, Kate Craig, Ulysses Jenkins, Sadie Benning, Jennifer Montgomery, Mike Crane, Tyler Coburn, and Sidsel Meineche Hansen

When video emerged in the 1970s, its simple camera and closed-circuit monitor setups were quickly diagnosed in art criticism. Rosalind Krauss, writing in the inaugural issue of October, argued that the ease of video feedback suggested the medium to be psychological by default, asking: “Yet, what would it mean to say, ‘The medium of video is narcissism?’” For Krauss, though video had the possibility of being a means of reflexive observation, the artists of her generation appeared to be trapped in a reflective loop. 

Outside the art world, video was developing a parallel life in the clinic. From the start of the 1970s, psychotherapists—including New York-based Milton M. Berger—employed video feedback techniques as an adjunct to the therapeutic process. Where Nancy Holt utters, “I am surrounded by me” in Boomerang (1974), as she negotiates the echoes of her voice fed back through a headset, so a colleague of Berger’s, facing a fleet of cameras and monitors, remarks, “I feel surrounded by myself.” The studio and the clinic thus functioned as staging grounds for narcissism, a term fast becoming paradigmatic of what Tom Wolfe called the “Me” decade. In this era, narcissism expanded beyond the constraints of Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, coming to play a central role in post-industrial, service-based societies that valued individuation and self-encapsulation above all else.  

Comprising two evenings of presentations and screenings, Surrounded by Me interlaces clinical practice and critique, through an encounter between early video art, video psychotherapy, and the work of contemporary artists and scholars. While narcissism is a starting point, this program also considers the influence on art and psychotherapy of a number of disciplines that emerged contemporaneously and often interdependently, including behavioral therapy, neuroscience, cybernetics, and corporate pharmacology.


Tyler Coburn is an artist and writer based in New York.  Coburn received a BA in Comparative Literature from Yale University and an MFA from the University of Southern California. He also served as a fellow in the Whitney Independent Study Program from 2014-2015. His work has been presented at South London Gallery; Kunstverein Munich; Kunsthalle Wien; CCA Glasgow; Western Front, Vancouver; Grazer Kunstverein; UCCA, Beijing; and Sculpture Center, New York. Coburn participated in the 11th Gwangju Bienniale and the 10th Shanghai Biennale. His writing has appeared in e-flux journal, Frieze, Dis, Mousse, and Rhizome.

Robin Simpson is an art historian and curator based in Montreal where he is Public and Education Coordinator at the Leonard and Bina Ellen Gallery, Concordia University. PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia, his research investigates the intersections between clinical and critical discourse and practices in early video art of the 1970s through to the early 80s. Select writing includes contributions to A Play to be Played Indoors or Out: This Book is a Classroom (Ed. Corinn Gerber et al. Passenger Books, 2012), Heteropolis (Ed. Adaptive Actions, 2013), Oh, Canada (ed. Denise Markonish, MIT Press, 2012) and Sarai 9: Projections (Ed. Raqs Media Collective and Shveta Sarda, CSDS, 2013). Frequently collaborating with artists, he recently co-realized Missives with Patrick Staff, a video program and broadsheet for the Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver on direct address and communication in Canadian queer and trans video production. 


Felix Rietmann is a German-Swiss medical doctor trained in pediatrics, and a PhD candidate in the History of Science and the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in the Humanities at Princeton University. Before coming to the USA, Rietmann studied and worked in Germany, France, the UK, and Switzerland. His scholarship focuses on the history of film and video in child psychiatric research and practice.

Judith Rodenbeck is a cultural historian and critic specializing in art and intermedia of the 1950s and 1960s. Her current research examines the intersections of artistic practice and visual anthropology, read through the imaging of the bipedal; a second project examines the multimedia work of key women artists in the 1960s and 1970s. Rodenbeck is an Associate Professor in the Department of Media & Cultural Studies at the University of California, Riverside.

Earlier Event: December 22
Regarding the state of others
Later Event: March 31
Sick Time, Sleepy Time, Crip Time