Forget images of scantily clad MTV babes or zealous art students producing grainy films with handheld cameras. A new exhibit at London's Tate Modern--its first to be devoted to video--lays to rest the debate over whether video is truly art. "Time Zones" (through Jan. 5, 2005) features works by 10 international artists, ranging from Fikret Atay's witty "Rebels of the Dance" (2002), set in the far east of Turkey, to Yang Fudong's more cinematic "Liu Lan" (2003) which shows a young man arriving at a lake to meet a woman on a boat. The highlight of the exhibit, it blends exquisite artistry with video's realistic edge.

Indeed, the Tate exhibit shows that video artists are increasingly focused on what's most essential to their art: its ability to capture events in real time. And this has helped them secure a niche in the art world. "Video has moved back to a form of art-making that reveals itself gradually," says curator Gregor Muir. Film has long been regarded as more artistic for its ability to portray light, color and shadow with greater nuance and intensity. But by exploiting its association with newsgathering, video art helps us to digest what we see. "Moving- image work has been gaining increasing prominence," says Irit Rogoff, professor of visual culture at London's Goldsmiths College. "While we are bombarded with images [in everyday life] we are given little insight into how to think about them." New, more widely-available technology means more video is being created than ever. And prices for such works have increased dramatically, in tandem with demand from private collectors and museums.

At first glance, many of the works included in "Time Zones" appear to draw on traditional art forms. Wolfgang Staehle's "Comburg," for instance, a live Webcam picture of an 11th-century monastery in rural Germany, is reminiscent of landscape photography. Fiona Tan's vibrant, colorful "Saint Sebastian" looks like a traditional ethnographic documentary. Portraying Kyoto's annual Toshiya festival--a coming-of-age ritual in which young girls shoot arrows at a target--Tan lingers over their elaborate hair decorations and costumes. The delicate landscape of Fudong's gorgeous "Liu Lan" echoes ancient Chinese scroll paintings and his haunting, cinematic work harks back to early Chinese film.

But gradually, these works come to life, subverting their immediate impressions. Depending on the time of day, and over the course of the exhibit, the landscape in Staehle's work will change, as autumn turns into winter. In Fudong's work, the young woman in traditional Chinese dress, sewing by the lake, could come from any era. But the suitor who arrives to meet her in a Western-style white suit highlights the cultural confusion of a country in the throes of social and economic upheaval. Atay created his disarmingly simple "Rebels of the Dance 2002" when he chanced upon two Kurdish boys messing around in a grubby CashPoint lobby. Under his intelligent gaze, their lively banter and curious glances at the cash machine--representing an economy they are unable to participate in--underscore how the discovery of oil in eastern Turkey, and the influx of big business that followed, has disrupted life there.

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Other video artists play cleverly with the natural passage of time. It's hard to tell at first what Anri Sala's harsh, bright work depicts. As the angle of the sun shifts, a giant but barren billboard is slowly revealed, and the surroundings--a vacant plot of land, a rundown building--come into focus. Sala has captured an impoverished, Third World city--perhaps Tirana, in his native Albania--on the brink of change, the empty billboard anticipating the imminent transition to capitalism. The natural ending of a day lays bare a way of life that is about to vanish. These works--some beautiful, all provocative--are a reminder of just how eloquent images can be.