Media Underground: Naked Eye Cinema

March 11, 2020
Visual Studies Workshop

Founded in 1980 by a collective of artists known at Collaborative Projects, Inc. (Colab), ABC No Rio was “a kind of skid row alternative museum” which housed numerous artist groups and community organizations in New York City. The venue at 156 Rivington Street was among the many squats situated within the derelict tenement buildings of the Lower East Side, and it was transformed by its caretakers into a site of social struggle for the arts and against the coming onslaught of real estate speculators and developers.

The film program of ABC No Rio, known as Naked Eye Cinema, was created in 1985 by artists Jack Waters and Leslie Lowe. This program exhibited Super 8, 16mm and video work in nightclubs, galleries, loft spaces and empty lots in the neighborhood, highlighting work from women and queer people at a time when no other venue was doing so. Naked Eye Cinema was preceded by Colab’s Potato Wolf, another avant-garde film and video collective working in and around New York in the early 1970s, and it shared an ethos of creating accessible art with other groups such as Videofreex, Cheap Art, Sister Serpent, The Erotic Psyche and Rehab Video.

In addition to programming film screenings, many of these groups also took to the airwaves to broadcast their ideas and projects from cable access television studios. This offered artists a chance to incorporate and manipulate the tools of broadcast media, resulting in quirky video experiments that were able to reach wide audiences for the first time. Naked Eye Cinema TV utilized this platform to share work from artists and activists, and to broadcast the triumphs and tribulations of ABC No Rio with audiences both regionally and abroad.

The videos in the program consisted of a series of live or in-studio recordings created for public access television by Videofreex, Potato Wolf and Naked Eye Cinema, as well as film works by Peter Cramer and Jack Waters, partners of 40 years and co-directors of ABC No Rio from 1983-1991. These films touch on the protests and political climate of the 1980s, the struggles of the LGBTQ community, performance art and dance collaborations, and dialogues on race and sexuality. The videos by Videofreex and Potato Wolf are held in the collection at Visual Studies Workshop and the Naked Eye Cinema TV programs are in the archives of the New York Public Library. The films of Jack Waters and Peter Cramer are catalogued at the Film-Makers’ Cooperative in New York City.

Video Games, Videofreex, 1973, 15 min; Potato Peelings (excerpts), Potato Wolf, 1983, 10 min; Naked Eye Cinema TV (compilation), Allied Productions, Inc., 1990-91, 15 min; Corrective Measures: Politically Speaking, Peter Cramer, 1986, 10 min; The Male GaYze, Jack Waters, 1990, 11 min; Black & White Study, Peter Cramer, 1990, 8 min.

In Streams host Ben Lovell speaks with artist and curator Louis Chavez about their upcoming film program, Media Underground: Naked Eye Cinema, at Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, NY. They are joined on the line by filmmakers Jack Waters and Peter Cramer to discuss their film and video work, artist collectives and the avant garde scene of the Lower East Side in the 1980s and 1990s.