Video doesnt exist: it insists.(Jean-Paul Fargier)[ 1 ]
Media art was preoccupied from the outset with locating, primarily through the visionary, lyrical or provocative aphorisms of its protagonists, the historical place and context in artistic discourse of artists video, with indexing and anchoring the medium. The assertion that the camera was the equivalent of brush, pencil or chisel, and the monitor accordingly the surface to be artistically worked upon, was intended chiefly to place the new art-form in an ancient tradition that had long gained acceptance. The insistence on an art-historical genealogy that followed the first, purely experimental, phase appears to be a symptomatic phenomenon that, delivering ever-new legitimation until the early 1980s, was an indicator, ex negativo, of the lacking acceptance afforded to the medium as an art-form. The drawing up of parallels for, and justification of, a new practice can be placed in relation to the technological development[ 2 ] and artistic usage without necessarily throwing light on the question, in the case of video technology, of the degree of interdependency between the poles of art and apparatus.
The first (and, emphatically, original) video-specific tools were considered to be the camera and monitor as deployed in the closed-circuit installations and performances of Valie Export [MKA] , Wolf Kahlen, Richard Kriesche, Marcel Odenbach, Ulrike Rosenbach, Peter Weibel [MKA] [ 3 ] and many others. The media-art discourse of the 1970s was so exclusively dominated by a concentration on the relation to space that Paik forecast it would be the pioneering art-form in the 1980s, too.[ 4 ] It seems logical that precisely this relation of the luminous image to space and the figure was the subject of discourse in the art context, with the narrative relations to film or television coming a poor second. Nor is it surprising that the classical spectrum of topos and art-historical categories was drawn upon in order to abruptly catapult Brian Eno, as a sculptor in light, into a centuries-old tradition that began with Rembrandt.[ 5 ] After analyses specific to the particular medium Video as Video and Film as Film[ 6 ] the array of categorical definitions was further refined to produce Video as Painting, Video as Sculpture, and so forth. It is debatable whether such concatenations add to our knowledge; nor was much assistance forthcoming, in 1986, from Peter Weibels assertion that video is the lost-property office of light[ 7 ], although in poetic sparkle his words matched that of video art as the poetic form of the electronic image. And yet no matter how creative the ideas thought up for signed editions, artists video was unable to be sold via the traditional channels, as the failure of Gerry Schums Television Gallery made clear from the start. Nor was it possible to convince potential curators in the museums or buyers in the galleries by widening art-historical discourse to include video art. The medium, in principle devoid of aura, all too obviously negated the market conventions. However necessary this reasoning may have been to the formation of a discriminating perception of these new artistic forms at the beginning of the video era, it also obscured awareness of the lack of simultaneity with, and differences from, tradition. In this connection, Gene Youngblood was quick to discern a new era of interpersonal exchange of images, in other words a transfer of immaterial goods able to transport values, intensities and emotions, and representing, as a technologically based exchange relationship that remains abstract, a societal symptom. From this stance, video art is also an indicator of social processes and unable to be reduced to the art-immanent discussion of styles and aesthetics. The principle question that remains open in this field of tension encompassing social theory and the histories of art and technology concerns the failure so far, despite all the efforts to the contrary, of any critical and art-historical discourse on individual works to become established.<-
Like any kind of software, critical discourse requires regular updates in the form of continuous reflection in publications, today naturally both offline and online. Leaving aside for once the journal Mediamatic published in the Netherlands, no regular academic analysis of the media-art works current at any particular time has taken place in Germany or elsewhere except in festival publications. If a visitor or reader was unable to gain first-hand experience of performances or installations, the difficulties in comprehending media works are obvious. Videotape presentation until now has been required to find new forms ranging from cinemas, galleries and television to café or club situations. Exhibit, video library item, linear programming all modes whose pros and cons have been the subject of exhaustive debate in the past. The unvarying conclusion was that video needs for its presentation specific conditions that are difficult to meet in existing contexts. For the same reason, most videotapes fail to be noticed due to a lack of public visibility that contrasts with the functioning network of ambitious independent cinemas developed in Germany in the 1970s in order to offer a forum for independent film. Catalogues, which are often only black-and-white with short descriptions and one or two video stills, generally provide orientation through a multifarious programme but cannot enable an appropriate critical reception from a distance in terms of time or space in the way that is now possible, in tendency at least, with multimedia or network publications (and aimed at with the CD-ROM accompanying this publication). All the same, the visual medium of video remains paradoxically invisible in many ways. And how is one supposed to update information if no first encounter has taken place?
In this connection, the second striking point is that, although many artists began to urge that it was high time to discuss the software after the initial technological debates, the discourse in relation to video art and, more generally, media art, has so far concentrated primarily on aspects of the system, on the difference between video art and television, between linear and non-linear.[ 8 ] Why, on the one hand, has there been a decade-long discourse regarding new media (one look at the collected catalogues of the ars electronica in Linz is sufficient confirmation), but on the other hand no art-historical practice of reviewing, for instance, installations and videotapes (exceptions made for classicists in the field such as Bill Viola or Gary Hill have, more recently at least, served to prove the rule)? Why, beyond the buzzword interactivity, has no critical vocabulary been established for the language of electronic sound and vision?[ 9 ] Faced with the abundance of experimental, conceptual or narrative tapes at events such as a festival which might easily be mistaken for a trade fair, viewers tend to be struck dumb by their own lack of language. The changing technology, as common denominator, is thus promoted to the basic condition for analysing an aesthetic practice. Just as Microsoft, particularly in the role of anti-hero, today dominates the discussions of the Net community, SONY set the pace for video art from the beginning on.[ 10 ] The more rapidly the industry revolutionizes the generally incompatible media formats, all the more breathlessly do media-art critics and analysts try to keep up with developments.<-
Do media artists create and investigate not only new presentation forms and spaces, but also their own means of working, or do they just use the existing tools? In the early 1980s, the relevance of the newly developed synthesizer and technological experiments of artists such as Nam June Paik or Steina and Woody Vasulka appeared to be no more than of marginal interest. Artists like Klaus vom Bruch, Gábor Bódy, Marcel Odenbach or Ingo Günther were interested in different content and a both subjective and narrative visual language in a given framework rather than investigating the vectors of image production. Just as in the 80s the neutral white cube set a purist standard for exhibitions, so the SONY black cube monitor assured neutrality of design and standardized image formats.
The launch of ever-more light-intensive projectors brought about a change in the size of room installations, meaning artists were now able to choose their own framework format. From the Fuji mini projector that US artist Tony Oursler virtually made a trademark of his sculptural ensembles, the laser installations of Paik to the large-scale installations of Bill Viola or the large electronic cinema projector, it would seem that size matters. From the 80s onward, the issue of format was no longer bound up with a monitor transporting content allegedly rooted in the TV-viewing context. With its versatile presentation forms, the electronic image has been emancipated. The issue is no longer whether video is art (as opposed to just another form of television), but the traces that video leaves behind in art and in society. Research into these traces brings to light by no means the Rembrandts and da Vincis of the electronic era, but instead a multifarious artistic practice that has radically changed in the course of the last 20 years.[ 11 ]<-
It is meanwhile a truism that the notion of the artwork has become ever-more ephemeral since the Happening, Fluxus and Performance movements. The usage of electronic media reinforced this tendency. Artists in the 1980s remained faithful to the notion of art, remarkably so in view of the marked trend towards a dissolution of category-bound thinking in favour of discovering new fields of action Fuck Art, Lets Dance was one slogan expressing the zeitgeist of the T-shirt generation. Yet at the same time they combined their analysis with an artistic practice that deliberately decomposed art through the deployment of the newest technologies available at the particular time. This did not necessarily mean hi-tech, as is evidenced by the success of US artist Sadie Benning, who used a Fisher Price toy camera to record crude black-and-white images on audio cassette, and in this way radically re-introduced low-tech into the video Þeld in the early 90s. However, the usage of such a temporary technology (now long vanished from the marketplace) always harbours the risk of remaining a short-term contemporary phenomenon. Whether hi-tech or low-tech, artists played their own part in ensuring that the way a work was received was not concerned with reßecting upon a differentiated practice also in regard to the work or project, but instead it was the case then, and still is today with keeping the gaze trained on the whole, on both the tendency and the technological future. The subject of formal examination was not Sadie Bennings aesthetic translation of her coming-out as a lesbian, but the significance of using a toy camera. The subjective factor was overshadowed by the technological slant.
The ever-widening gulf between technological innovation in a growth economy and the decreasing number of specialists capable of analysing the aesthetic and social implications can be blamed for the loss of all-embracing utopias of a different, and participatory, media practice. Nam June Paik dreamed, in 1966, that a video library would offer not just an opportunity to see all visual products (his own included, naturally), but also enable the user to take an exploratory, creative approach to visual footage and concordances similar to that long since possible with secondary literature on Shakespeare.[ 12 ] He may, guileful as ever, have been thinking of himself as the Shakespeare of video; but what astonishes is that we are only now, more than 30 years later, beginning to make some aspects of this dream reality with the aid of digital storage media. All the same, the utopian impetus of video art was not condemned to eternal vagrancy. Paiks vision in 1976 of an electronic Sistine Chapel took on at least partial form four years later in Laser Video Space I[ 13 ] before finding, with assistance from a battery of video projectors, final realization under the ironic title Sistine Chapel Before Restoration in the German pavilion at the 1993 Venice Biennale. A mere quarter-century was needed for Paiks all-encompassing multimedia experience to come into being. Not every utopia, it would seem, evaporates on becoming practicable. Is it justified, however, to discern an aspect of a social utopia in the creation of potentially unlimited access to digital footage and the realization of immersive visual electronic realms? As the account below makes clear, the stealthy abandonment of the media-political utopia of participatory production and distribution models for video was first re-addressed in the 1990s, and by then involved a new technology.[ 14 ]<-
5. Video aspects of an ideological debate
Just how little media artists were in fact able to creatively solve the problems of using the mass media is demonstrated by the historical controversies surrounding the correct method of distribution and presentation. Entire debates were devoted to the merits of monitor vs. projector, film vs. video, museum vs. television, and so forth.[ 15 ] In 1985, the highpoint of the video boom, two main models were competing for leadership: Detlef Kuhlbrodts plea in favour of avant-garde practice video strategy as the art of life (the remote control is the rule of the image consumer) was countered by Oliver Hirschbiegels view of video as merely a humble storage medium to be used in the scope of a more comprehensive artistic practice. Writing under the motto No video art!, he denounced the latter as simply inane 98% of the time and often much too long.[ 16 ] The subcategories of clip, sculpture, dance, theatre, opera, graphics, installation and, naturally, tape all emerged as part of the separate genre of video or, as it was sometimes critically dubbed hyphen art (due to the fact that in German all the subcategories are separated from video with a hyphen). Yet this debate about video arts status as a separate genre of art as opposed to just one artistic practice among many was concerned with false alternatives, and sometimes even theological in tone: Godard once maintained that film and video were like Cain and Abel. [ ] Cain and Abel are in reality television and video.[ 17 ] The video medium appeared permanently caught between the ideologies whether television, film, or museum uncomfortable, underbudgeted, no business potential, excluded de facto from public discourse outside meetings for insiders. From the beginning, it was doomed, as a medium, to disappoint utopian expectations.
For a few years, consciousness of the counterculture utopia seemed to survive, if anywhere, in the alternative media scene. In 1982, nine German media centres collectively founded Cut In Videoinformationsdienst für den subversiven Bandzug (video information service for subversive tape tension), an alternative information service which functioned as forum for discussing the ambitions and reality of alternative video. As a historical document, this circulating information sheet is of similar importance to the contemporary mailing lists nettime or Rhizome. The alternative scene, however, was not spared the pressure of the merchandise aesthetic. At the highpoint of the discussion surrounding the relevance of professionalization and more stringent formal experimentation, the Medienwerkstatt in Freiburg delivered in Geisterfahrer an artful parable, produced by a TV broadcaster, on how left-wing content had been betrayed as the alternative movement became institutionalized. It is difficult to imagine today the vehemence with which hi-tech and low-tech were ideologically pitted against each other with statements such as, To choose U-matic is to choose Capitalism.[ 18 ] In endless debates the media groups laboriously discussed the problems of improving the shaping of content, since the clientele of the political scene was at last likewise demanding more form. The grassroots democratic position, however, was no less doomed to failure than were the hopes that professional equipment would win a wider audience for left-wing subject-matter.
The era of squatters, anti-nuclear protest and big demonstrations was over, the campaigners legalized or professionalized. The successor generation in the 1990s was wholly non-political with its raves and techno parties utopia lite for masses of young people agitated by a star DJ. While nobody would claim that a techno club is a place of critical discourse, clubbing the idea of the club as a kind of post-modern salon for like-minded spirits and activists conveys something of the complex fabric combining art, the alternative scene, and business. Various technological and cultural threads run through this mixture of non-simultaneity, feedback and revivals. In order to discuss this dynamic and constantly re-mixed texture of art, technology and ideology, it will be necessary in the following to unravel a few strands making up the parallel weave.<-
After the launch of the video cassette recorder and, in particular, the enforcement of the VHS (Video Home System) standard in the market for the consumer sector in 1975,[ 19 ] the video recorder (termed an instantaneous water heater by Siegfried Zielinski) exposed classical television to the risk of being destructured, watched with a time-lag, of being a rich source of material to be found[ 20 ] and further processed by artists or, as feature film on video cassette, being hawked by pirate copiers in the video-rental shop round the corner. The broadcasters reacted by imposing their station logos over the images transmitted, thus creating a mass-media relict of the artists signature.[ 21 ] The conceptual video artists of the 1980s saw themselves losing the competition for wider audiences to the German New Wave of the video-clip generation on the one hand, and of Neo-Expressionist painters on the other hand. The debate about the seeming opposition of highbrow and lowbrow culture, of serious art versus entertainment (in Germany always conducted more strictly and more ideologically than elsewhere), linked up with the discussion of the appropriate context in which to appreciate video art. After the heroic interventions undertaken by such artists as Keith Arnatt, Peter Weibel, and Valie Export[ 22 ] (or David Hall in Scotland, Chris Burden in the USA), television still offered the potential for mass distribution, but at the same time a setting felt to be ever-more compromising due to the deregulation of the West German broadcasting system and the commercialization that resulted. Mentors such as Das kleine Fernsehspiel on ZDF, a teleplay and film series whose editors welcomed the deployment of video primarily in the scope of narrative experimentation, were very much the exception.
Televisions fear of perceptional experiments that would supposedly overstrain the viewers played no small part in coining the catch-phrase VT unequals TV. This motto, used as the title of the video section of the documenta 6 in 1977, in conjunction with the demonstration of autonomous critical television by the transmission of videotapes on the cultural channels of the ARD network, prepared the ground for researching into artistic messages appropriate to the TV medium but not radically placing in question the television system. The ZDF arts magazine Aspekte produced one such reflective TV action by Richard Kriesche to accompany the documenta, a move followed up in 1978 by the producers of Das kleine Fernsehspiel who, for the first time in German television, afforded artists video the same weight as the then flourishing independent German film. All the same, it remains noteworthy that Video 50, the first art-video production, was entrusted to the prominent US stage director Robert Wilson. Even before MTV went on the air, Wilson had recognized from the American perspective that television is not a medium of concentration and indoctrination but of distraction, casualness and serialism.[ 23 ] This view he reflected in his tape by chaining together 50 sequences lasting respectively 30 seconds, and linking them associatively rather than structurally, not unlike the linkage of one-and-a-half-minute news items in a way that suggests prioritization but fails to establish any general correlation (which is why attempts to move naturally from one item to the other seem so forced). Wilson, then, was not concerned with disrupting a structural TV standard, and certainly not with critically exposing the latter, but with artistically using the given framework conditions. By doing so, he proved that the often propounded difference between television as visualized radio and the experimental video medium is not so much essential as the result of historical and contextual divergence.
Robert Lembke, one of the most popular game-show hosts on German television in the 1970s, believed that the introduction of TV sets into the German living-room had metaphorically opened up into a semi-circle the circle round the camp fire. This overestimation of the manipulative and suggestive power of television, characteristic of German thinking, and evident too in the arrangement of furniture to offer a view of the TV set, increasingly gave way to a US-influenced diffuseness. That is what makes Nam June Paiks recycling and remixing of his material a so obviously American, ornamental pattern, a self-referential tautology to which there had always been resistance in Germany. The critical theory of Adorno and Horkheimer already viewed television as the apparatus that defeats everything else with similarity.[ 24 ] If one joins Siegfried Zielinski in viewing television as a serial supertext that was always fragmented, dispersive, variable, then one would have to share Klaus vom Bruchs faith in the meditative vortex of the loop My ambition is to make tapes you can watch a hundred times over[ 25 ] in order to think it is possible to defeat television by multiplying its own means: extreme compression versus extreme distraction. Interestingly, vom Bruch considers the economy of attention granted by the extremely compressed moment to be the adequate attitude towards both television and exhibition settings. Whether serial pattern or dense loop neither case demands the reproduction of reality in naturalistic fashion, be the scale 1:1 or 16:9.
As far as Germany was concerned, only the electronic-music and acoustic-art programmes made by WDR [MKI] radio came close to realizing the idea of an institutional media laboratory Brecht had demanded from state-owned radio, Ruttmann from the film industry, and video artists from TV in general.[ 26 ] The well-known animosity of German artists in particular towards public television resulted merely in subversive illegal micro television activities produced from individual to individual in the artists own studios. The first German producers group ATV (Alternative TV), composed of Klaus vom Bruch, Marcel Odenbach and Ulrike Rosenbach reacted to the de facto ban on transmission by devising its own strategy for broadcasting to neighbours and friends within a radius of several hundred metres [MKA].[ 27 ] Another attempt to gain an audience for alternative voices was launched in the mid-1980s by the makers of Radio Dreyeckland, a pirate broadcaster transmitting from the forests of the Upper Rhine. Its regular 10-minute broadcasts (brief enough to foil detection attempts by the post office) provided information on the political protest movement from the viewpoint of demonstrators and citizens directly affected.
It was not only television that represented barriers, however, but also the art markets obstinate refusal to accept video artists. In addition to the conceptual difficulties of marketing video as a non-auratic medium, the symptomatic West Art show in Cologne in 1979 was the first blatant demonstration of gallery owners and curators preference for affording space to the fresh, and also marketable, attitude of the young Neo-Expressionist painters from Cologne or the Kreuzberg district of Berlin. Marcel Odenbach delivered a striking resumé of the new situation that arose around 1980 [MKI] .[ 28 ] The suspicion also remains that the painters were especially aware of how to use the media, were the media-oriented thinkers: The We, the Painters mode of presentation was always a media affair, and therefore as modern as possible, whereas the mode of production, the painting, was as antiquated as possible.[ 29 ] To use the media meant, in this context, to use the airwaves as a marketplace a feat that, paradoxically, the video artists failed to bring off due to their ambiguous relationship with the mass media. Questions of distribution, as opposed to production, had become decisive.<-
The issue of deregulating the media market was high on the neo-liberal agenda of the 1980s. The Conservative Thatcher government in the United Kingdom blazed the trail by founding Channel 4, which was conceived as corrective to the independent BBC. Ironically, the staff recruited for the new station created a channel that offered space for alternative television programmes, for experiments and for artists video. Germanys Conservative-Liberal coalition was quick to imitate its counterpart in London by loosening the state monopoly on broadcasting in Germany in order to admit private broadcasters (RTLplus in 1984, followed by Sat 1 one year later). German televisions commercial era dawned on 1 January 1984, the very day that Nam June Paik realized investing no small sum of his own money the fulsome satellite project Good Morning, Mr. Orwell.[ 30 ] This mega-mix in the tradition of Paiks Global Groove of 1973 featured pop singer Sappho singing TV eats your brain, Joseph Beuys and daughter Jessyka denouncing the materialism of the world in the Trousers for the 21st Century action, along with contributions by John Cage, Allen Ginsberg, Laurie Anderson and many others besides. Walking the precipice between highbrow and mainstream art, Paik reached an audience of 10 million or, if the later repeat transmissions are included, more than 25 million viewers worldwide. The simulated human-to-human satellite communication of Douglas Davis 1977 performance The Last Nine Minutes here became a global exercise in international relations conducted in real time, from West to East and back again via Paris. Such a broadcast made Paik a solitary gem in the art world, a mediator between commerce and artistic ambition, while filmmakers and artists in Germany were busy recording and staging more sinister Orwellian fantasies such as Michael Kliers The Giant (1983) [MKI] and Dieter Froeses complex closed-circuit installation Unpräzise Angaben (Not a Model for Big Brothers Spy-Cycle) of 1985 [MKI] .[ 31 ]<-
Paiks visual mixture was not just a model, it also profited from the success of the US music broadcaster MTV (Music Television) which, endlessly looping music-industry output for satellite or cable transmission, far surpassed the success Radio Bremens Beat-Club had enjoyed in Germany in the early 1970s. By 1981, MTV was successfully integrating into its programme even the most rebellious counter-movements such as Punk. Video indeed became the commercial standard, but not in the way envisaged by the pioneers of the first decade. Artists video, with its critical deployment of images and anti-system stance, was suddenly being overtaken by an exploding visual language which, although on closer examination it proved to be merely a permanent loop endlessly varying a small number of stylistic devices, ultimately made viewers capitulate due to the speed of perception it demanded. MTV established, in line with postmodernist theory, wholly new image standards and production values unable to be corrected by critique or alternatives. By now, if not earlier, video art was tainted with the air of being of a long obsolete opposition or embarrassingly dilettantish. MTV perfected the blurring of the boundaries between art, television and commercialism,[ 32 ] meaning it was time to ask: is there a context in which the electronic image can still be perceived as artistic?
Forced repetition, loops reduced to the essence, or permanently mutating image chains are logical variations on the tautological video feedback of artists in the 70s. An artist like Klaus vom Bruch deemed the whole world to be, in principle, footage since, as he said in 1999 (paraphrasing Wittgensteins The world is everything that is the case), the world is everything that is on the box.[ 33 ] The hissing white noise of the television set deprived of a signal has been replaced by the ceaseless flow of programmes. The gaps between transmissions are closing, and the video recorder has been succeeded by zapping as a means of dé-coll/aging, in the fashion of Wolf Vostell, the unit of programming. Thus, television has finally taken its leave of the concept of a medium acting as a societal basis, as the TV as a Fireplace that Jan Dibbets broadcast into the living-rooms of Germany at the close of daily transmission during 1969.[ 34 ] Earlier theories that viewed TV as a reproduction of reality, as a window onto the world, now revealed the aspect of mediated production of the world. It is the same narcissistic self-referentiality in the art world that Adib Fricke caricatures by installing a random-controlled language program as an apparent dialogue between two computers. The art lover watches the linguistic and semantic acrobatics with some amusement, as if observing a digital, linguistic mobile. With neologisms such as Ontom, Smorp, Yemmels and Flogo, Fricke went so far as to stamp the trademark TWC (The Word Company) on his artistic research. If the world one wishes to produce is also to be marketable, then the product spectrum has to be diverse.<-
10. God knows if anybodys watching
The attitude might sound defeatist to the point of self-parody, but it reflects a constant factor running through television work: the audience, unlike viewers in cinemas or exhibitions, remains a virtual quantity. For art that is interested in exchange and criticism, this condition is insupportable. All the same, interactive TV projects immediately met with scepticism, especially if they were launched with state backing. In order to privatize television broadcasting via cable technology, politicians needed an education policy argument to use in re-organizing the federally structured West German broadcasting network with its defined public obligations. A media-political fig leaf presented itself in the form of the Ludwigshafen-based Programmgesellschaft für Kabel und Satellitensendungen (PKS) with its access-channel concept based on the US model of public-access TV stations. The pilot project included feedback channels reviving the dream of interactive television (in the minimal form of direct programme ratings with yes/no or multiple-choice questions), but in the year of Orwell this roused in citizens deep fear of the opportunities of public control over the private domain. Today, the more intensive participatory concept of feedback channels and two-way TV envisaged by Paik has been reduced to recording the viewing habits and consumer needs of a statistical cross-section of the populace.
All the same, anybody can obtain access to basic production means and transmission slots in the access channels in line with a fixed scheme (the only condition for equipment loans and editing time is that the producers must levy no charges). Neither the alternative scene, however, whose increasing professionalism made it unwilling to make unpaid broadcasts, nor artists have been persuaded to make sustained use of these capacities. The context appeared all too diffuse and corrupting, and noteworthy audience figures have yet, even years later, to emerge. A context that, in principle, is open for both left- and right-wing positions, also throws up the question of censorship is it permissible for Islamic fundamentalists to air their propaganda with the aid of state funding? In practice, if not in principle, the Offener Kanal has proved to be a dead-end at least from the utopian stance, for even the most tolerant of media users justifiably expects attractive or appropriate processing of information in the media. Nobody puts up with boring television for too long.[ 35 ] A medium that is failing to mediate reduces itself to absurdity.<-
11. Excursion: Good morning, Mr. Honecker
While in the West fears of an Orwellian state were growing (despite the cheerful Good Morning with which Paik had greeted 1984), the GDRs expulsion of dissident-bard Wolf Biermann in 1979 meant artists there began to experience their own country as an increasingly restrictive state in which even tentative criticism was no longer tolerated. The underground performance, painting and filmmaking scenes that grew up are described in detail in the book-and-video documentation Anti-Images.[ 36 ] The artistic reactions to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 within these groups were wide and various. Even if German-German relations were seldom addressed in pre-1989 work apart from exceptions such as Hartmut Jahns videotape German-German Fragments(1985) [MKI] the post-Wall situation was directly addressed by Rike Anders, Egon Bunne, Antal Lux, Marcel Odenbach and many other artists. However, the need to analyse more precisely the relationship between the two German states in terms of the propagandistic relationship between the mass media on either side of the border was shown by more distanced studies such as, in relation to print propaganda, that of Frieder Schnock and Renata Stih (1997) [MKI] , or Julian Rosefeldt and Piero Steinle on the subject of TV news broadcasting (1998) [MKI] [ 37 ].
The Leipzig-based pirate broadcaster Kanal X [MKI] profited in spring 1990 from the elementary need for information exchange between East and West (the name being a lighthearted reference to X-rated films).[ 38 ] As long as there was still uncertainty with regard to who possessed authority and the power to act in the formally still extant GDR, people had the opportunity to fill in the free spaces that were opening up. Kanal X, whose hardware was transported as an artwork over the inner-German border by the West German artist Ingo Günther, installed a TV transmitter on the roof of the House of Democracy in Leipzig, a building that had been seized by the Neues Forum citizens rights movement, and so became the first, and only, independent TV station in the history of the GDR. Pronounced an artwork and operated for more than a year by a curator from the East (Joerg Seyde), an artist from the West (Norbert Meissner) and a group of political activists, it succeeded in bringing about a transfer of artistic impetus into the mass media unique in the history of German media in East or West. Up to then, the media on either side of the border had been shaped by the effects of Cold War propaganda and the media hegemony West German television exercised over that of the GDR including its legendary Schwarzer Kanal (Black Channel), a weekly broadcast dedicated to denouncing West Germany. While institutionalized GDR television was now attempting its first steps in independent journalism and MTV-paced editing with the young peoples broadcast 1199 (named after the postcode of the production studios in Adlershof, Berlin) and contributors such as Katrin Willim with her video clip Born in the GDR, the illegal broadcaster was producing authentic citizens television that was also conceived as a model for other Eastern European countries: Ingo Günther intended to create a model for autonomous oppositional media in the reshuffling of Eastern Europe. After its transformation into a professional TV production, the Channel X station and studio were supposed to travel to Romania and up to today, theyre still stuck at the Romanian border, confiscated by customs. As Lenin already knew, the export of a utopia is seldom successful.[ 39 ]<-
From the window onto the world and the spying activities of an imaginary HQ bringing together a network of surveillance cameras, there is a development running up to the self-referential window-within-a-window. Perhaps without any awareness of the structural correlations but somewhat distrustful of liberal deregulation, those in positions of political power transferred the windows on which the Apple Macintosh operating system was based (and that were later successfully poached by Microsoft) onto the West German television system. On the fast-moving but superficial face of commercial TV they installed, per statute, small slots windows for independent quality TV producers, meaning private stations would also have to do their bit, albeit indirectly, to fulfil the statutory arts-and-education requirements to which broadcasting is subject in Germany. Abruptly, niches opened up for producers such as Kanal 4, a group of producers based around former ZDF editor Carl Ludwig Rettinger, or filmmaker Alexander Kluges DCTP (Development Company for Television Programs) company, which since then has been programming on a regular basis essay-like broadcasts with the aid of Spiegel TV and the Japanese concern Dentsu. The programmes commissioned by DCTP stretch to the utmost the contrast with the commercial surroundings of RTL or Sat 1, like submarines in the sea of rampant dumbing down,[ 40 ] to borrow the expression used by Kluge, who initially harboured hopes of developing a new kind of cinematography. The reduced design reminiscent of the intertitles of silent film was also influential in creating a new style of magazine combining image and text, but the preposterous dominance of Kluge with regard to the content of interviews and the highbrow esoteric fare presented led to despair not only on the part of RTL chief Ludwig Thoma. The launch of ARTE, the German/French arts broadcaster, finally led to the loss of significance of such windows it was the beginning of a cleansing process resulting in a diversified product range of programme channels.
Still, the march to victory of the private channels had not been without very unexpected experiments such as, in 1989, a week-long art channel on RTLplus instigated by the Bonn-based gallery owner Philomene Magers and the art journalist Regina Wyrwoll. This RTL-Kunstkanal [MKI] presented an unusual mixture of arts coverage, artists tapes and media interventions.[ 41 ] It goes without saying that this appropriation of the private channels could not function as long-term co-operative model. That RTL did however remain accessible for high-publicity TV-related art presentations is evidenced by its sponsorship of the 1997 exhibition Der Traum vom Sehen dealing with the cultural history of television.[ 42 ]<-
13. Distribution and presentation
The developments gone through by television echoed those of video art which had chosen a somewhat involuntary exile in the festivals booming around Germany at that time, beginning in 1984 with the Videonale Bonn and the Marl Award for Video Art.[ 43 ] These festivals were recognition of the fact that video as an artistic medium had not succeeded in integrating/infiltrating television or the galleries and museums, and regular presentation and promotion was therefore urgently required.[ 44 ] On the one hand, the still dominant form of the videotape appeared to generate nothing less than a boom (due partially to the improved and cheaper video standards that were, for their own part, largely due to MTV), on the other hand the tapes remained condemned to nothing short of invisibility. The flourishing artistic production had still to find an opportunity of attracting public attention. The need for a specific site dedicated to the contemporary, to exchange and to debate, was roused by the combination of factors such as the popular success of the New Wild Men of Painting, the increasing commercial orientation of the MTV model, the vehement debates being conducted about basic principles among filmmakers[ 45 ] and television professionals, the scepticism on the part of gallery owners and the tendency of museum curators to view art from a historical perspective. It was a deliberate dissociation from contexts with extremely negative connotations that brought into being a media art scene that has retained its close networking up to the present and also tried out new distribution modes that moved beyond the traditional art market.[ 46 ] New cross-connections were being sought, both in terms of location and of form. Fusion, now, was ubiquitous in music and in moving images alike. Film, video, video games and computer-animated films created a new, multi-perspectival visual language outside the traditional canon of art.<-
The heterogeneous, process-based and collective currents in the media sector are among the factors that counter hegemonial ambitions. A major driving force behind these dynamic group processes was the network-like project Infermental by Gábor and Vera Bódy [MKI] . From the initial idea in 1980 up to the disbanding of the project in 1991, the project was defined as an information store that compiled, annually in a different worldwide location, a periodical made up of four to six hours of visual footage with no concern for pigeonholing of any kind. The videocassette proved to be an ideal circulatory medium. One deficiency, even if only with the benefit of hindsight, was the failure to deploy the little-used and expensive laser disks that would have facilitated more targeted access and improved the implementation of the magazine concept.[ 47 ] This unique archive of the trends, theories, images and movements of the 1980s also conveys an insight into the topos of the media artists. The genres of New Narrative or the subjective views of heroes and eccentrics were represented throughout the annual issues; 1985 saw global phenomena being investigated under the rubrics Ethno-Mondiale and Ethno-Occidentale; post-modern theories seemed to rouse interest in Ritual Mechanics, Media Mysticism, and Simulacre, while The Image of Fiction, the title of an entire edition in 1986, would lend itself to most of the artists videotapes produced in the 1980s. Even an analysis of state surveillance such as The Giant [MKI] , composed purely of footage recorded by surveillance cameras, follows a narrative film logic in its montage and soundtrack. Particularly on the eve of Orwellian 1984, the mediatization of the world was celebrated as a comprehensive fictionalization of society We need more fiction (Jean-Paul Fargier) or condemned from a critical perspective. The transitional process from window onto the world to global production of the world was first made visible by the Crosscultural Television project of Antoni Muntadas and Hank Bull in 1986. A one-hour compilation tape distributed as part of the international video magazine Infermental visualized the forms of global television hegemony by bringing together and analysing the structural aspects common to television formats throughout the world.[ 48 ] The notion of crossculture, derived from US cultural sociology, is applied to the television medium and art context in this illustration of the way our perception is being fictionalized and formatted through the media.
For cross-genre and networked projects whose production was generated primarily in different areas of life and work, festivals offered an ideal presentation and communication forum. As early as 1985, Wolfgang Max Faust applied the term crossculture to the phenomenon of a counter-strategy that opposed the on-going isolation of forms of subculture and was linked with the group phenomenon with no regard to questions of artistic format: [ ] instead of isolation the chaining, permanent fusion, of ones own and the foreign.[ 49 ] In contrast to the fusion of jazz, rock and pop influences presented by, for instance, the musicians and performers of the Notorische Reflexe, the Berlin-based group Die Tödliche Doris baffled audiences with their notion of intersecting styles, expectations and traditions. The groups attitude to media consisted not so much in blending music and image, play and replay, than in creating its own kind of private public sphere with a parodistic and deliberately dilettantish stringing together of media, art-actions, and concepts. Certainly, the group did not negate the notion of the artwork or concept of autonomous art, but presented these ideas merely on a trial basis alongside the other compound states of Die Tödliche Doris: assemblage without following a script or overall structure, zestful crossover and contradiction, amateurish improvisation cocking a snout at commercial production values, celebration of outsider status with a fondness for cheerful off-the-wallness and parasitic citation. Art and life continued to be interwoven, even in times of post-modern discourse, but as a multifaceted media practice voicing no utopian claims.
In post-Punk Berlin of the mid-1980s, the emphatic refusal of Die Tödliche Doris to be claimed for any particular direction made the group an emblem of a crossculture scene that saw itself as a guest participant in various contexts, as everything other than a movement. This practice of matter-of-course adoption of different roles gives rise, particularly from a 90s viewpoint, to diverse links to early performance artists who saw themselves as art-service providers such as M. Raskin Stichting Ens. or the group based around Minus Delta t that later turned into the Ponton European Media Lab[ 50 ]. The producers act in variable contexts. Musician-artist Carsten Nicolai, for example, owns his own record labels and also plays the piano. Yet, the inability to keep up with the pace is a problem of general audiences and their speed of perception, keeping up with the contemporary currents primarily a question of perceiving from inside closed circles of visual artists or musicians.<-
15. Intermezzo: video sculpture
Wholly regardless of these criss-crossing, anti-institutional developments, a financial and technological handicap of video art became clear in the late 1980s: the dependency on industrial sponsors, without whom it was impossible to fund a major exhibition. Video-Skulptur aktuell und retrospektiv 19631989, presented (with the aid of sponsors including RTL) in Berlin, Cologne and Zurich by Wulf Herzogenrath and Edith Decker in 1989, staged a superlative show which, in conjunction with mediums comeback at the documenta 8 in 1987, can take the credit for the fact that the video medium finally gained access to the art-market after a quarter-century of de facto outsider status. Such a popularization, however, could scarcely have taken place earlier, since the ground had first been prepared by the complete transformation of television in the 80s. Oversized installations by Nam June Paik or Marie-Jo Lafontaine deployed all their powers of visual seduction. More critical stances such as those of Marcel Odenbach, Klaus vom Bruch or Dara Birnbaum profited from the wave of popularity, but were no longer able to set specifically new accents. Video had changed from conceptual to sensual medium, deftly citing elements of television and of art history alike. With their insistence on the material aspect, the video sculptures refuted accusations of post-modern arbitrariness. The dominance of the sculptural notion in connection with media art, now prevalent for several years, was a populist step backward, whether or not it was due to marketing considerations or, as Vito Acconci was quick to presume, to the bad conscience[ 51 ] that in the 1990s forced video artists to bow to an altered understanding of art almost as rapidly as the Neo-Expressionist painters, their novelty-value fast diminished, had done before them. Artists began to remove from installations references to any real object character of a work, ushering in an era of purely visual installation, linear or interactive. The poetic fusion of parallel, overlapping, competing, commentating narratives in the electronic image reflects, in its core, the principle of the video installation, namely the spatial division into several channels of a story or a purely visual concept.<-
16. Copy-and-paste, or the productive chains of the 1990s
The closed nature of the sculptural work, the arbitrariness of the rampant production of artefacts (to which Paik was no minor contributor), and the growing disinterest of young artists in presenting their work in white cube museum settings, make video sculpture look like an intermezzo on the road to the open work of media art. Viewed retrospectively, the relations and affinities of the heterogeneous and multimedia producers groups of the 1980s to the current positions of the networked 90s are the more pointed. (Emotional) participation, which is the basis of many interactive installations, and the fascination exercised by potentially open structures point to a phenomenon that can be placed in relation to the public staging of work processes, workshops and sites of communication.[ 52 ] In the 90s, as in the preceding decade, the chaining into processes of disparate elements and low-tech production forms is put on public show as a work-in-progress soliciting the emotional participation of the audience. Precisely this coherent chaining of progressively mediated forms from Internet to theatre to video to exhibition is undertaken by Christian Jankowski [MKI] when he exhibits the intimacy and absurdity of the conversations of a couple, showing their Internet communications with all the inevitable contradictions, misunderstandings and redundancies. There is nothing that copy-and-paste cannot transpose to a different context. At the documenta X in 1997, by contrast, Felix Stefan Huber and Philip Pocock made a statement against being subsumed into an over-narrow, pre-defined Net art niche composed of computer and workplace environment. They prefer to temporarily convert museums into places of residence and work for their travel-as-art projects. Although the media play the dominant role in constructing narratives, they still remain subordinate to the often material-rich form of presentation.[ 53 ]
An entire artistic spectrum is arrayed between these extremes of appropriating the museum or articulating criticism of the institutions. The white cube of the 1980s has meanwhile made way for a publicly exhibited private space that views subjectivity in art as the cross-section and archive of very diverse private and public factors. Contemporary models of dislocated contexts include the actions by Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija, the video lounges of Johan Grimonprez, the combination of video presentation with a mobile club system by the art club berlin, or the crossover between the club world and the centres of contemporary art in the work of Carsten Nicolai [MKI] or Daniel Pflumm [MKI] . A fusion of night-club and museum is neither possible nor desirable. All the same, these commuters testify to the multimedia, multilocal presence of the artist. Techno brings together subculture, art and business to become a broad movement that deliberately plays with the framework conditions of capitalist society. The looping of Corporate ID logos and the generation and parodying of the best-known trademarks reflect a consistent, wholly internal view of the society we live in. Fusion in the sense of ironing out differences in order to create a new style might have been a cause of the one-world generation, but the players and combatants of the 90s have replaced an all-embracing vision with hybrid practice. The HybridWorkSpace installed at the documenta X, therefore, is an etymological pointer both to its hermaphroditic ambivalence and to the always visible hubris of not being able, even within the art context, to resolutely adhere to non-aestheticizing practices.<-
All the artists working in the clubs, galleries and festivals concerned with the many-sided linkage of art and electronic networks are in conflict with the attempts to give up precisely this individualist creation of art in favour of an open, democratic community discourse that will have effects on society. Wolfgang Staehle, founder of The Thing [MKI] network in New York in 1992, repeated the vehement plea, first heard in the 60s, for the artist to be a social actor: The art context is impotent, and we all know why. Reality is constructed elsewhere, and if we, artists, writers or whatever, want to have a say in its representation, we have to infiltrate those infinitely more potent media and make sure our voices are heard.[ 54 ] Among the first to respond to this challenge was the Ponton European Media Lab with its Van Gogh TV along with what became, during the documenta 9 in 1992, probably the most famous attempt at establishing an interactive TV platform. This Piazza virtuale [MKI] was mockingly classified as hi-there-TV by critics, but at the same time met with an euphoric response from media activists on account of the potential it revealed. Ingo Günther was among the enthusiasts, and likewise Jan Hoet, at that time director of the documenta. The public satellite channel 3sat also participated, hoping to get an advance taste of its own future.
The success or otherwise of access channels, which today the Net community somewhat over-simplistically tends to ascribe to the clandestine or overt censorship to which left-wing and innovative production forms are subjected,[ 55 ] have in the 1990s again become an important precursor to the discussions new participatory technologies have roused in view of electronic cafés, virtual forums, Webcams and so forth. Traces of the early, more anarchic, ideology have made an abrupt reappearance thanks to the new Internet medium. The Webcasting philosophy of the Berlin-based Net activists convex tv. here serves to highlight the issues: In the traditions of do-it-yourself, pirate radio, audio art, improvisation, fine-tune journalism, etc., temporary collectives and individuals transmit from their computers mostly irregular programmes that if needs be intend to manage without an audience or content. [ ] The senseless demand for a mass medium of ones own for everyone here invents its own cultural practice of decentral Webcasting. If everybody goes on the air at different times, then additional channels will be created automatically.[ 56 ] The crucial message in terms of media politics lies in decentral and of ones own. What, however, does this actually mean? That in the end, everyone will be producing parallel broadcasts and again no audience will be out there? That all Web narcissists only follow their own broadcasts, obsessed with permanent production? Web-TV or Web anti-TV for a circle of insiders and in groups? It appears to be the case that only special events rouse the publics interest in such networked broadcasting, as was proven by the Piazza virtuale during the 1992 documenta and it had a real, physical location, too.
The potential of Webcasting is beginning to dawn on us now that video-streaming software is being improved, but it cannot be expected to solve the problems of linking technology with media, even artistic, influence, in the future. Low-tech and D.I.Y. are appreciated as subversive strategies with no claim to range. Between ATV (alternative TV) and UTV (our TV) [MKI] there is a recurrent discussion of utopian TV concepts that foresee in principle the swapping of roles between producers and recipients. While in the protected context of art it is possible to re-define the functions of public areas, this does not make UTV or convex tv. a functioning model for television. The activists remain a small, radical minority and will stay that way in the 21st century.
The difference between time-based information and random-access information lies in the retrieval process. The book is the oldest form of random-access information. The only reason videotapes are so boring and TV so bad is that they are time-based information.[ 57 ] Nam June Paik, probably the earliest visionary of multimedia interaction, could not know in 1980 that the linear videotape in the form of video installations and spatial projections would undergo a surprising revival towards the end of the century, as is evidenced by the success of Pipilotti Rist [MKI] as well as young British artists like Douglas Gordon or Tracey Emin. Traditional museum terrain now appears, as if after a long process of fermentation, to be at last ready for media art. On the threshold of institutionalization, of establishment, an incipient process of historicizing and archaeology is discernible for precisely these areas of work. It is a process associated not with advanced technologies but with the videotape, although it will soon be obsolete even in technical terms.[ 58 ] That is why, for instance, in 1999 the ZKM Museum of Contemporary Art could dedicate a major exhibition entitled video cult/ures exclusively to that medium and still be in harmony with the art market. The niches and genre-specific derivations of artists video that arose in the 80s boom era have merged into a video culture encompassing a range from Klaus vom Bruch to Daniel Pflumm, Nam June Paik to Pipilotti Rist. The matter-of-fact attitude towards the medium which was missed in the 80s can now, in fact, be said to exist. Whether in clubs, museums, or television as demonstrated by the seven-year record of collaboration between the ZKM and broadcaster SWR in organizing the International Award for Video Art[ 59 ] video has become just one unspectacular medium among many others. The electronic images available for public consumption on TV, in advertisements or in clubs are disarmingly experimental in form. It took people a while before they started to learn from Paik, but then they learnt their lesson well. One is justified, however, in doubting that these electronic icons still manage to penetrate the grey matter behind the retina. Video art has changed into a media practice that is co-producing its own demise.
The technological front would seem to have re-aligned rather than disappeared. Net art is waiting at the gates of the art temples, and these doors are likely only to open once this art form, too, is technologically outdated and the media-art hype has moved to new, fresh pastures. The structurally pre-determined propensity of museums to keep a distance from current developments is likely to remain intact. The centres of contemporary art are no less perplexed today by the phenomenon of the Internet than they were by the video medium in the 70s. Solely the digital museums of the present decade do justice to the fact that contemporary multimedia practice would largely not be conceivable without the technical infrastructure and staff of institutions such as the ZKM, the Ars Electronica Center in Linz, or the ICC in Tokyo. Is it not just a question of time, however, before everyone will be able to afford a Silicon Graphics real-time computer, just as already everyone can afford a computer capable of digital video-editing? Net art, in particular, is no longer reliant on technical support from institutions. To start up artistic processes from the computer at home is economical, practical, and fast in terms of distribution. By tendency, the institutions will be left with the task merely of bundling these manifold activities and presenting them for public discussion.[ 60 ]
The digital society (Richard Kriesche) generates hybrid forms that suggest the electronic cinema of the future. Almost every media practitioners crossover between production formats, between analog and digital, between film, video, photography, text and computer reduces to absurdity even the most determined art-historical efforts to fix the original status of a work of media art. The market value of a media work is now based solely on a contract with the museum or dealer.[ 61 ] From the draughtsmans contract to the media artists agreement in either case, there may be a direct correlation between fraud and market value in the copyright. It is, by contrast, an outstanding attribute of the 90s generation of artists that they are pushing the use value, real or simulated, of media art. Georg Winters Telegrooming [MKI] delivers an exemplary, practice-oriented model for reinforcing heedful social interrelations and providing general advice for dealing with large volumes of audio-visual stimulation of the kind that often arises in working at a monitor or watching television. Exercises performed with the fingers, hands and eyes can promote the relaxation of a mediatoxic field through trust-enhancing measures (social fur grooming).[ 62 ]
Georg Winters conceptual approach dryly points to the fact that both an overdose of media and an overdose of art or logically an overdose of media art can, by definition, be toxic in effect. Depending on the individual disposition, then, it is advisable to pursue simple strategies against being fixated in any way on institutional, formal or interpretational hegemonies. Artists of the 90s therefore insist on parallel, complementary or even competing activities that can be rapidly and efficiently linked to one context or another. They temporarily pass through and occupy open fields of action (Peter Weibel) without having to make the obligatory passage through the institutions such as museum or television. Yet narration, too, the recourse for the purposes of citation or analysis to a narrative visual language is among the successful models, as demonstrated by the installations of Pipilotti Rist, Christoph Girardet, Douglas Gordon, and others.[ 63 ] They neither have to provocatively demand the recognition that their predecessor generations lacked in the art world, nor do they have to be rebelliously dilettantish in order to protest against the over-mighty technological developments. From the outset, they have been part of this development and operate with their intimate knowledge of public images, of the information economy and its media tools. Hi-tech and low-tech are equally valid options, and both have always been available. They can always count on private and public attention when their subjective models and content make possible an authentic argument that cannot be slotted into a discourse purely on art. However justified a sceptical attitude in regard to the present-day notion of authenticity, it seems to me that the way ahead lies not in the infinitely repeated, educational exposure of how our experience is dominated by the media, but rather in the attempt to enter into intensive dialogue, or polylogue, with a site, a context and, above all, a conversational partner.<-
Translation by Tom Morrison