John Sanborn | media artist

John Sanborn is a key member of the second wave of American video artists that included Bill Viola, Gary Hill, Dara Birnbaum and Tony Oursler. Sanborn’s body of work spans the early days of experimental video art in the 1970s through the heyday of MTV music/videos and interactive art to digital media art of today. Vanity Fair called him “the acknowledged genius in the field.”

His work has been shown at every major museum in the world; including the Whitney Museum; MoMA, New York; the Prado, Madrid; the Centre Pompidou, Paris; the Tate Gallery, London; and the Seibu Museum, Tokyo. Electronic Arts Intermix distributes his video art and has since his first project, “The Last Videotapes of Marcel Duchamp. Sanborn’s television programs have been broadcast worldwide, including works with Robert Ashley, Bill T. Jones, John Zorn, Nam June Paik, Philip Glass, Twyla Tharp, Mikhail Baryshnikov, David Gordon, and The Residents.

Sanborn’s recent works are media installations addressing questions of identity, cultural truth, memory, mythologies, and humanity’s compulsion to tell stories.

In the 1970s Sanborn was an artist-in-residence at The Television Laboratory at WNET/13, a groundbreaking electronic sandbox started by the Rockefeller Foundation and Nam June Paik so video artists could create works for broadcast. Sanborn created 5 works as AIR and created works for the VISA series (started by Paik) and showed installations at the Whitney Museum, participating in 2 biennial exhibitions.

In the 1980s Sanborn was an artist-in-residence at the 1980 Winter Olympics as well as one of the first directors with work appearing on MTV (music video with King Crimson). He produced hours of performance-based video for the PBS series “Alive TV” and directed “Perfect Lives”, the seminal opera for television, by composer Robert Ashley.


The 1990s were spent on projects with Hollywood and Silicon Valley, developing interactive movies and some of the first web-based interactive content – as well as series for Comedy Central (“Frank Leaves for the Orient”) and pilots and scripts for Columbia Tri-Star, USA Network, MTV, and the National Lampoon. His video self-portrait "Quirky" was purchased for broadcast on the PBS series "The Independents", hosted by Buck Henry.

In the 2000’s, Sanborn’s feature length works “MMI”, “The Planets”, “PICO (remix)” and “ALLoT (A Long List of Things)” have played at over 150 international film festivals including the Mill Valley Film Festival, the Seattle, London, Victoria, Tribeca, and Sundance Film Festivals.

In 2019/2020 Sanborn received commissions from Jeu de Paume (NONSELF) and the National Museum of Qatar (Alchemy); mounted solo exhibitions at Tokonoma Gallery, Paris (“Postcards from Post America”), and Telematic Gallery. SF (“In Translation”); participated in festivals including Videoformes in Clermont Ferrand and CitySonic in Brussels Belgium and developed “God in 3 Persons” - a live video/theater work in collaboration with the anonymous music group The Residents, which premiered at MoMA NY in January 2020. His live online event “Come Stream with Me” with the California Film Institute in July 2020 attracted a record audience and included an interactive Q&A.

“V+M” is a retelling of the story of Venus and Mars, but with non-heteronormative couples. The work investigates the balance of power in relationships, the nature of myth making and the origins of desire. The work premiered at the Videoformes Festival in March 2016, and showed at SF Cameraworks in San Francisco and BACC in Bangkok.


“A Sweeter Music”, a collaboration with pianist Sarah Cahill, is a live performance work with Sarah playing new compositions on the subject of peace – inside a 3 channel video projection for each composition. The work premiered in January of 2009 at Cal Performances, and has played in New York at Merkin Hall, Rothko Chapel, Spoleto USA, Dickinson College and the Mill Valley Film Festival.

"MMI" a short feature film about Sanborn’s adventures in New York in 2001, is focused on death and the redemptive power of family. The work premiered at the Mill Valley Film Festival in 2002 and was reviewed by VARIETY "Avant-garde in form yet poignant, funny and accessible, normally acerbic experimental filmmaker John Sanborn's short feature "MMI" unites the political, the personal and the philosophical in one deft package. Reflection on his tumultuous first post-millennial year -- one that encompassed a cross-continental move, stressful new job, deaths and 9/11 -- is an inventive audio/visual collage that carries real emotional heft." MMI has been selected to screen at over 20 festivals worldwide, including the Tribeca Film Festival (founded by Robert DeNiro) in 2003.

John Sanborn holds an honorary Master of Cinema Arts degree from ESEC, in Paris, and in 2015 was named a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the Minister of Culture of the Republic of France. Sanborn’s YouTube channel has over 20 million views and over 110,000 subscribers. In 2017, the Mill Valley Film Festival honored him with its lifetime achievement award. John Sanborn lives in Berkeley California.

some blasts from the past