Lincoln artist repurposes old technology to create glitchy video masterpieces
Editor’s note: This story contains flashing images.
VHS may be a long-obsolete format, but there’s one place where old tapes still reign supreme: thrift stores. The walls of Goodwills across the nation are lined with hundreds of tapes — mostly standard Hollywood fare, including an inexplicable number of 1990’s classics like “Forrest Gump,” “Babe” and “Jerry Maguire” (so many, in fact, that the comedy group Everything Is Terrible is constructing a giant pyramid of “Jerry” tapes in a desert).
Scattered among household names, however, are far more obscure titles — old nature documentaries, early computer animation reels, bizarre religious programs, amateur UFO recordings — and these hidden gems are what Lincoln video artist Tyler Meyer seeks out to start his next project.
“If I’m looking for new source material, I’ll just take a trip to Goodwill and see whatever looks cool,” said Meyer, who graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln last May with a degree in news editorial.
Over the past few years he’s been producing colorful, glitchy and unique visual creations for musicians, events and his own art installations.
Meyer’s basement is filled with analog video gear, from old TVs and VCRs to specialized video art equipment. He starts by connecting a source, such as a VCR or camcorder, to one or more special devices that are connected to a TV. He flips switches, buttons and knobs on these devices to distort the source material before it reaches the TV, transforming the original image into a glitched-out work of art. While Meyer also uses computers to create more digitized art, he likes to keep his analog work as authentic as possible.
“I basically do video painting on a TV, and I use a lot of circuit-bent devices from the ‘90s, like old video editing hardware,” Meyer said. “When you’re making stuff on an old television, you don’t really get the full effect unless you’re standing right in front of it.”
This is why Meyer prefers to display his work in a live setting, such as his installation at a III of Cups gallery show curated by Walker Pickering, as well as performances at Third Space, an art showcase at The Commons organized by Michael Johnson, Rosana Ybarra and Ryan LaBenz. He’s also done live visuals for musicians, poets and a VHS trading show hosted by the blog Outpost Zeta.
Meyer said he doesn’t know anyone else locally who does this kind of video art, so other artists know to contact him if they’re looking for analog-style visuals. But on the Internet, Meyer found a like-minded community of fellow artists through video art Facebook groups, where people post their work and share tips and tricks.
“Generally, when they post something, they’ll share how they did it if you ask them,” he said. “The whole community is really open, so it’s great for getting ideas from other people.”
Meyer first discovered video art through these groups. After joining one in 2015 he purchased his first piece of hardware, a customized video mixer, and started messing around with it. Meyer continues to add gear to his arsenal, which now includes a second video mixer, a pattern generator and a titler.
From a creative standpoint, Meyer said inspiration often strikes him when he’s just watching something on TV, like a tape from his collection. If a certain scene triggers an image in his mind, he’ll load the scene into his chain of equipment and get to work.
“Whatever idea popped into my head, I’ll just try and piece that together however I can,” he said.
Meyer’s personal favorite tapes to use are nature documentaries with single, focused subjects, such as volcanoes, insects or skeletons. He also likes older anime, such as the film “Akira,” and a compilation of CGI demo reels from the 1990s called the “Mind’s Eye” series. He often shoots his own footage on a vintage, tape-based camcorder.
“I try my best to consider what I’m actually adding to my source material, rather than just going off of how it’s already cool,” Meyer said, though he does prefer footage that is “already kind of flashy.”
A quick scroll through Meyer’s Instagram feed reveals an array of colorful loops and images: Melting rainbow patterns projected behind a live band bleed onto the surrounding walls; a four-TV installation forms a face, with separate videos of eyes, a nose and a mouth on each screen; a 360-degree rotating loop of Meyer’s head almost looks like a 3D model but was actually filmed on his camcorder.
In addition to his analog pursuits, Meyer creates digital glitch art with modern software like Adobe After Effects. He’s experimented with techniques like datamoshing and slit-scan photography to create mind-bending animated GIFs. Meyer is also a photographer and an avid LaserDisc collector.
“I try to make my hobbies intersect when it makes sense,” he said.
Last year’s Third Space art showcase was a chance for Meyer to utilize his wide range of talents, as he performed his own work and photographed the other performers. Artist and organizer Michael Johnson, who frequently collaborates with Meyer, said Meyer’s photos had a major impact on the show’s success.
“He really managed to capture the spirit of each performance,” Johnson said. “A lot of fantastic art got made at Third Space, and because of his photos, that art has a chance to live on.”
As an experimental artist, Meyer’s workflow is always evolving and he has no shortage of plans for the future.
He’d like to make a video wall, which displays a single image across several TVs but requires more complex connections. And he has a wishlist of dream gear, like the hard-to-find Atari Video Music, to add to his existing setup.
“There are so many more combinations of my own gear that I have yet to utilize,” he said.
Meyer also hopes to collaborate with more musicians, such as rap and electronic acts, on live shows as well as music videos.
In an age of ubiquitous screens and disposable content, Meyer’s art has a more permanent quality. He’s not just creating clips for computers and smartphones — he’s manipulating the medium of video itself.
By adding unexpected glitches to a familiar medium, Meyer makes his videos occupy a physical space, forcing the audience to look beyond the surface images and into the unstable world that lies within them.
We often accept that reality is whatever we see on the nearest screen, but Meyer’s work shatters this illusion. His work breaks past the boundaries of television to create something both mesmerizing and authentic — in Meyer’s words, “something that would make you stop and look if you were walking by.”
Meyer posts video art and photography on his Instagram profile.
Electronics that Meyer uses to produce his video art.
Tachyons+ Rainbowonic 2
An old video mixer that is circuit-bent, meaning the hardware is modified to produce new and unexpected effects. It can distort videos with a wide range of bizarre, colorful filters.
Videonics MX-1 mixer
An unmodified mixer from the 1990s, used to combine multiple sources and add effects. Meyer also uses it to stabilize the video signal when connecting his gear to projectors.
Videonics Titlemaker 2000
A device with a keyboard that can add text on top of videos. This was used for generating text before editing software like Adobe Premiere was common.
An audio/video synthesizer that generates visual patterns, which can be combined with other sources or used on their own.
Archer Super Video Processor
A modified video processing box Meyer bought on eBay. It adds lines, warps and other destabilization to videos.
Sony PVM CRT TV
A high-end monitor used for professional video work in the 1990s. It produces higher-quality images than standard CRT screens.
Photos and videos courtesy of Tyler Meyer.
Page design by Nolan Cooney.