Attack Piece, 1975

Installation, Variable dimensions

In the mid-seventies, Dara Birnbaum was among the first artists to begin to explore the possibilities of video as a contemporary form of expression. Her videos use the vocabulary of television as raw material, and return it to the public arena transformed into critical discourse.

Attack Piece is one of Dara Birnbaum's earliest two-channel installations, and one of her major works. It consists of two monitors placed on facing walls, which show the images recorded during performative clashes or confrontations between Dara Birnbaum and some of her peers, including the artists Dan Graham, Ian Murray and David Askevold. The action was filmed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1975. Birnbaum, armed with a 35mm still camera, takes a relatively fixed position as she tries to defend her territory. Meanwhile, four people attempt to penetrate her physical and mental space with the help of a super-8 camera. Both sets of images are then transferred to a third medium – video – and screened on two monitors.

Aside from being visually effective, the apparently simple action shown in Attack Piece can be read on several levels. It can be construed as a metaphor of the role of the media, more specifically television, on the lives of viewers. The media's privileged access to personal space and the private realm gives them a power that is exceptional and also ambivalent, and it is this “invasive” capacity that is staged performatively in Attack Piece. The weapon in this new form of contemporary violence is not a physical object, but an image code. The piece is based on structural aspects similar to those used by artists from the seventies, such as Dan Graham and Vito Acconci, who influenced Birnbaum's early artistic development. But at the same time, the work makes a radical break with these predecessors by emphasising a gender position that would become an essential part of the artist's later work: the aggressors in Attack Piece are all men, and the person being attacked is a woman.

Another important aspect of the installation is the element of formal research around image reproduction technology. The slides taken by the woman being 'attacked' during the action are projected onto one wall, while the facing wall shows the footage filmed by the 'attackers'. Both sets of images reflect the movements of the body, the rhythm, and the position in space that the two different media impose. Attack Piece shows how the ways in which the formal aspects of technological means of representation are transferred to the object that is represented.

Technical details

Original title:
Attack Piece
Registration number:
Birnbaum, Dara
Date created:
Date acquired:
On display
MACBA Collection. MACBA Foundation
Object type:
Two-channel video, b/w, sound, 7 min 45 s each
Variable dimensions
Edition number:
Ed. 2/3 + 1 P.A.
Meier Building, Level 1, Rooms 7 and 8
MACBA Collection. MACBA Foundation
© Dara Birnbaum
It has accessibility resources:

The MACBA Collection features Catalan, Spanish and international art and, although it includes works from the 1920s onwards, its primary focus is on the period between the 1960s and the present.

For more information on the work or the artist, please consult MACBA's Library. To request a loan of the work, please write to colleccio [at] macba.cat.

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Dara Birnbaum "Attack Piece", 1975
Dara Birnbaum "Attack Piece", 1975
Dara Birnbaum "Attack Piece", 1975
Dara Birnbaum "Attack Piece", 1975
The artist has to face the unknown with a positive mood and sink his teeth in without fear.
Eduardo Chillida