Meet the Distribution Team at VDB: A Q&A with Emily Eddy and Zach Vanes

IMG-5328.JPGDistribution Assistant Emily Eddy and Distribution Manager Zach Vanes

With well over 1,000 national and international orders being placed with VDB every year, the distribution team — Distribution Assistant Emily Eddy and Distribution Manager Zach Vanes — are kept on their toes. In an effort to shed some light on the work of this dynamic duo, VDB’s Development and Marketing Manager George William Price sat down with Emily and Zach to discuss all things distribution and video art related!

Tell us a little about distribution at VDB — what does your job as Distribution Manager involve?

Zach Vanes: As the distribution manager, my job is very much about the ways that the work held at Video Data Bank is seen in the outside world. Unlike a painting or sculpture, a video can be shown as part of a museum’s permanent collection, at a commercial gallery, in a neighborhood microcinema, at an international film festival, or placed in university library; and it can appear in these spaces all at the same time! On a daily basis, I’m interacting with multiple levels of the contemporary art world on behalf of the artists represented by Video Data Bank.

What’s the favorite aspect of your role as Distribution Assistant?

Emily Eddy: I love being able to help our artists get what they need and deserve from the institutions we work with. So often artists aren’t paid by museums, galleries, and educational spaces, especially when working in time-based media. Artists are often made to believe that exposure is worth their labor, and though sometimes that is true, it’s not always the case. When Zach or I make a museum sale or arrange a major exhibition and get to relay the good news to the artist, that’s a really great feeling.

What has been your most memorable distribution puzzle that you’ve encountered during your time at VDB and how did you overcome it?

ZV: We’re dealing with all levels of the contemporary art ecosystem. The main responsibility of the Distribution Manager is to understand the difference between a film festival screening and a university library acquisition, or major art museum and a microcinema. If you don’t understand who you’re working with, and also the artists you represent, the work won’t circulate. At the end of the day, I want the work to be out in the world.

How has your understanding of video as an art form changed during your time at VDB?

EE: I studied in the Film, Video, New Media & Animation department when I was an undergraduate at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and I’ve been curating and programming video since college as well, so I had a pretty good understanding of the form of video before I started here. However, I now have such an amazing grasp of the history of video art and video itself as a physical medium. I knew the basics of the history of video, but I had never seen the physical forms that people have used over the years, like half-inch open reel and U-matic tape, to older digital forms like Laserdisc and all the variations in between. I’ve learned so much from our Archive and Collection Manager, Tom Colley and our former Digitization Specialist, Kristin MacDonough; it’s been really fun to dig through the archive.

Where in the world has your position as Distribution Manager taken you?

ZV: In 2017, I spoke about the Video Data Bank at the Cairo Video Festival (Egypt), presented a program of new acquisitions at the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen (Germany), and attended Projections at the New York Film Festival. Travel allows me to share information about VDB face to face, and see up close how art spaces and festivals operate. Most importantly, when I travel I get to meet the artists who are currently thinking about video and creating the work.

As VDB’s Distribution Assistant you work with a great many moving-image festivals. Have you noticed any recent trends in the artists and types of moving image they are choosing to showcase?

EE: There are so many different trends in video art that come and go rather quickly, but for the past few years I think experimental documentary has been one trend that’s stuck – and rightly so; it’s really limitless and ripe for socially, culturally, and politically important and interesting work. I also see artists making longer works, in the 30-50 minute range. This directly challenges the festival model, which has always been generally split between shorts and features, shorts being under 30 minutes, and features being over 60. There was always a hole there where if you make a 45-minute piece, even if it’s amazing in every way, it’s more challenging to curate as part of a larger program. I think that that mentality is really changing, and I’m interested to see more and more mid-length and feature experimental works.

VDB as an organization is now more than 40-years old. Why do you think that the distribution of uneditioned video art is still relevant and necessary in the field of contemporary art today?

ZV: I think that distribution has incredible value in a time when artists are expected to be theorist, gallerist, and publicist of their work all the time. The fact that video can go anywhere and be seen at any time only increases that weight of responsibility. On the other hand, for artists, curators, and scholars, it’s an incredible innovation to have works of art that cannot be regulated by a single collector or institution. My hope is to mitigate the strain of the globalized art world on our artists while helping them to capitalize on the opportunities that are available within the current system.

Name some video works from the collection currently on your mind, and the reasons why.

ZV: A lot of my work experience prior to Video Data Bank involved documentary programming/ production/distribution. Because of that experience, I really appreciate artists who radically imagine nonfiction moving images, without resorting to #storytelling. Of course, I would argue that most of the Video Data Bank collection represents that idea, but here are a few I’m currently watching: Julie Zando’s Let’s Play Prisoners (1988), Anne McGuire’s Joe DiMaggio 1,2,3 (1991), Dani Leventhal Restack’s Draft 9 (2003), and Dena DeCola and Karin Wandner’s five more minutes (2005).

EE: I could go on and on for hours, but off the top of my head, one piece I really love that I hadn’t seen until working at VDB is C.L.U.E. (color location ultimate experience), Part 1 (2007) by A.L. Steiner and robbinchilds, a kind of movement performance to the music of Kinski. I love this piece because it rides so many different lines of experimental video, music video, performance art, and dance film, and is also just really fun to watch. Another favorite is Psycho III The Musical (1985) by Mark Oates and Tom Rubnitz, a campy musical rendition of Hitchcock’s Psycho including hits like Loose Woman on the Loose, arguably the best song to ever get stuck in your head.

What do you get up to outside of the office?

ZV: About two years ago I entered the MA Visual and Critical Studies program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, so most of my spare time is spent reading and writing. The program often engages with intermedia and contemporary art practices, so I find there’s a very productive overlap between work life and scholarship.

EE: I’m also a video artist and curator, and right now I’m working hard on programming the 28th annual Onion City Experimental Film & Video Festival! The festival runs March 8th – 11th, 2018, and is a program of Chicago Filmmakers, a local not-for-profit media arts organization and cinema. I’m so excited to be working with them. I’m also the co-director of the Nightingale Cinema here in Chicago, as well as the assistant director of an online curatorial project called Video! Video! Zine. I also occasionally write for a website which features weekly cinema-happenings in Chicago called Cine-File (

Any final thoughts?

ZV: Our artists are the best! Also, not enough people realize that the VDB screening room is completely free and open to the public. Everybody, come visit us and watch some video!

EE: Working at VDB has been such a great experience. I love our crew, and our artists constantly amaze me!

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