David Cort, one of the cofounders of the Videofreex collective—which ranks among the most important early video art groups of the 1960s and ’70s—has died at 85. His death was announced on social media by Electronic Arts Intermix, an organization that distributes and preserves video art.
“David shared his laughter with the world and his twin daughters are the inheritors of his spirit,” Videofreex said in a statement. “And those of us who knew him laughed and cried with him too. May we all go rollicking on as he would … and resisting in the face of an imminent thrashing, as he did.”
Cort founded Videofreex with Parry Teasdale and Mary Curtis Ratcliff in 1969, after Cort and Teasdale met at the legendary Woodstock music festival in upstate New York. Cort and Teasdale had gone to the concert with video technology in hand, and they intended to use it to document the era’s leftist activism. In 2015, Ratcliff told NPR, “What we were doing is videotaping what was of interest to us, and it was what CBS, NBC, and ABC were not videotaping—the counterculture. They had no cameras in the counterculture.”
Videofreex, which went on to comprise 10 members, became one of the first video art collectives, working alongside groups such as Ant Farm, Raindance Foundation, and People’s Video Theater during the ’70s. All of these collectives produced moving-image work that existed somewhere between art and activism and attempted to wrangle the technology used for television—which artist groups tended to view as a bourgeois mass medium—to create material that was politically minded.
Many of the videos crafted by Videofreex have an agitprop feel—they are un-aestheticized and often appear clumsily made. This messiness was, however, the artists’ intent. One of the collective’s most famous works, 1969’s Fred Hampton: Black Panthers in Chicago, is a 25-minute interview with a Black Panther activist who helped lead the movement’s Chicago chapter. Throughout, as Hampton opines on the oppressive policing of Black communities and who is truly helping his cause, various camera and sound equipment are left visible in the frame.
With funds dwindling, the Videofreex collective disbanded in 1978. Although the group did not last a full decade, it has been considered key in the early history of video art. In 2015, the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at the State University of New York in New Paltz staged a survey of the group’s work, and Jon Nealon and Jenny Raskin made Here Come the Videofreex, a documentary about the collective.
Some of the Videofreex members, including Cort, also worked separately from the group. With Ratcliff, Cort made the video Mayday Realtime (1971), which documented antiwar protests in Washington, D.C., that turned violent. That work is now owned by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Critic Daryl Chin has written of the video, “The parameters of chance and of documentation have never been as acutely realized.”