Video art - between two stools
Astronomers would use a comparison for illustration: if sculpture was as old as the Venus from Willendorf it would be the size of an orange. In terms of video art which has only existed since 1963 its equivalent would only be the size of a grain of sand. Just grown to almost visible size it is already at its end. It can’t maintain its producer, the distribution stagnates and it has not been able to consolidate its position within the art world. Videotape and -player have turned out only to be a technical interim solution, already disappearing from the market.
But video art has survived all the technical changes, because video itself doesn’t depend on a carrier-medium like a videotape. More important, being its source, is the executing medium: video is the electronically mobilized image.
“New Media”, catchword and cover for video and computer, took up the cause of this idea and reduced it to their common denominator. Hence it’s clear that computer is just a tool, not a new carrier-medium.
Videotapes have never managed to establish an adequate position in the art market, only in combination with “established” artforms like video-sculpture or video-installation. New Media have characterized New Art Forms and with original and following edition they have managed to install a territory for videoart in the market.
Discussions about copyright and pirate copies accompany film and New Media like a shadow, no matter whether it concerns the making of a work with “found footage” or the sale of a tape. After the failed attempts to establish video art as a replicable product in the 60ies and early 70ies, the author is left empty-handed, the value of his work is zero. And the middlemen mostly turned out to not be quite so kosher about their deals. What the consequences will be in the copyrightless infinite space of internet is unpredictable. For everybody filmstills are already available in the net - thank you for your interest, we hope you have enjoyed the show.
The electronically moved image is cinematic. It is the overlap of “old” and New Media. That means New Media - Old Categories. That has always been video in relation to film: the most obvious difference between video and film is the instant image in the live-camera. Other variations are merely minimal. Perception of a moving image or a computer animation follows the very same rules. Whether the observer’s choices with an interactive nonlinear film can only be perceived successively, in a linear way, remains an open question. Results from the perceptive psychology and consciousness- and brain research will have to provide the solution whether our perception is changed and how. And by the way “conventional” film is not at all particularly linear or just one-dimensional, as regards its formal content. After all “multi-sense” is the typical sign of the art-code.1 In any case, changes can only result from reception. The new medium video at least seems well preserved in the state of everlasting youth, due to a lack of information, access and circulation. To the effect, that its technical and aesthetic knowledge is only seeping through the sections of interested public, professionals and experts very slowly.
The art of electronically mobilized images is closely connected to the developements in film as an art medium, which has developed entirely from visual art. It clearly delimits from cinema. A good film director with the right ensemble could more or less achieve a piece of work on an art level, but the film itself will never be art. It just “reproduces” a different art form.2
This has been postulated and film’s visual and acoustic presence have been constantly increased and actualized from the first few Nickelodeons at the turn of the century, to early 20ies’ cinema culture, television and Internet.
A film can only qualify to be art, if the linear narrative continuum is abolished, as well as its linear time, space, image and sound. Beyond the illusion of merely redoubled images of reality, beyond the mere translation of linear literary models, it creates “space-time” and “time-space”, in a multi-sense and open version, but with entirely film-specific means, as: “A piece of art can only emerge, if created due to its material’s demands and possibilities.”3
Along with new editing methods and electronically processed images the artist’s production has been changed drastically: New Media cause New Working Processes.
It had been possible to influence celluloid by hand, really, despite invisible chemical processes and exact mechanical frame-sequences in the projector: Before the use of live-material had become common, film had been first painted, later cooked, perforated, peppered and salted.
Video techniques liquify an image to an electronical stream. Physical manipulations of the hardware are still possible to a certain extent. Paik, for example, used colour excerpts from cameras or manipulated images beyond recognition. The TV-monitor was shot, nailed, buried and also used in a subversive way, like in the closed-circuit-installations with delay or by inserting wire into the player.
The treatment of television contrary to its determined sense, in opposition to visual habits and habits of use has been very much part of that time and its ideas, performed in the Happening and Fluxus movements. The birth of video as an artform belonged to an era of radical changes in art and society, which have been nested among the discussions about the tasks and positions of art.4
Nevertheless video has never managed to throw a spanner in the works. In its further developments video has become increasingly hermetic. One has to agree with Wolf Vostell, who pointed out, that the hiss, the electronical void had been the only original video-image. But it disappeared, it was muted. The tape which formally ran open was banned in a plastic casing. “Error 42” can be solved by turning the machine off and on again. Any other problems will make you visit a service department.
Artists have lost interest in the hardware. Even if one comes across a burning camera, they seem to only squeeze the last few drops of æsthetic refinement out of the medium, rather than questioning or destroying it.
Computer has finally become technically hermetic, in the sense of a black box. Long gone are the days, when one could still clamp a blunt pencil to a printer. Manipulations are only possible via the inherent electronical way. Every working-process can be reversed, anything can be undone - nonlinear. Nothing is ever fixed.
With these new working processes, one has to be aware of the danger of just using them in their industrially conceived way. Everybody seems easily satisfied, if the tool computer works expectedly. A “bit” out of place and you had better forget about it. This is how subversive use has been eliminated. This is possibly the reason why advertisement, TV, feature film and art have be-come the spitting image of each other.
The development from a real haptical intervention to the black box had the consequence: New Media offer New Results. Nonlinearity does not only refer to the process, also the result is in a state of flux, it remains just an interim product and is never final. It follows, that interactivity can be driven further than video or simple electronical switchings ever could. It is interactivity that breaks up the encounter between art work and observer. The responsibility for the piece’s structure and drama has been handed over to the “user-observer”. But the popularity of this research is proportional to the degree of disillusionment one experiences when using interactive works. Despite the “user-observer’s” struggle with long discussions and instructions, which rather remind him of his combined fax-answer-phone, confusing him about what refers to what, where to click, kick, tip or aim and thus letting him forget which influence he could possibly have by doing so, the whole field remains very uncertain (“Wasn’t there a similar card game?”). He might even blame it on his insufficiency, if he can neither see nor hear anything reliable, incredible or even interesting. The piece he is working at changes its shape indifferently and there is only an invisible and silent reward. His actions are more like trying to hit a nail with a hammer in complete darkness. By doing so he could achieve something comparably indifferent and structurally simple.
Communication remains rudimentary or non-communicative, “assuming, that communication would simply be transmission/ reception of information, even if it could be reversed by feed-back.”5 This construction of speech and inherent response “builds a simulation-model of communication, in which reciprocal or antagonistic attitudes or the ambivalence of their exchange have been excluded from the start.”6 The only active “authority” is neither “user-observer”, nor “transmitter-receiver”, but the code7 .
The medium remains the message, until its code is also picked out as a central theme. Only if the piece approves with the user, only if the user exerts influence on the piece interactivity emerges. Until then also a taperecorder has plenty of buttons to play with; at least you can change the tape.
Up to now the world has been organized by categories. Their breaking up has become the new and frightening sign of our time. A mongrel used to still be a dog, a refined rose still a rose. But everything has become topsy-turvy: a cow recently rather yields medicine than milk, a mouse delivers a human ear, an implanted chip takes the blood pressure. Phantom or hybrid? Here we come back to the monitor, copying millionfold phantom pictures of reality into our living-rooms. But a word of honour: doesn’t the sheep Dolly look different from all the other sheep? What is appearance, what is reality? What is the difference between a mobile phone, a calculator and a remote control? Let’s make this a little harder: what if the calculator would have a trendy handy look? Who is the true and who is the real Heino? What is real, what is the copy?
Pictures used to have the authority to reproduce and thereby belonged to an organizing category. And although it has become generally accepted that pictures never refer8 or relate to anything but themselves, the observer automatically wants to recognize or discover its references. So far this search had been seemingly successful, in a way. But the trust in reality and naturalistic images had been undermined by the new working processes and conclusions, like digital editing and digital elaboration. They have provoked the observer’s inner distance.
Mass media have also started to intensely use these new techniques, like interlock-punch, motive-isolation, colour- and light- estrangement effects, fades and quick time changes and thereby lost their “naturalism”. The new visual language in media has become abstract compared to the early broadcasts in 1968. Although black and white they gave an almost haptical feel: Elastoplast fixing the microphon, immensely long sequences, unsmooth timing and a Dietmar Schönherr uncertain at which camera to look at.
Bill Viola has pointed out that one of the differences between a painted and a filmed triptychon is, (despite all manipulations) that the person visible on the screen must have existed at some point.9 That we would all believe in Dietmar Schönherr’s case, but Kyoko Date, the virtual clip-girl made in Japan, proves Viola’s idea to have been out-dated long ago.
In spite of changing conditions, the picture has always been a replacement for reality. Early Stone Age cave paintings have already been showing animals as a “true and direct continuation” of reality. “A real animal” for magical actions. The “idea, that art is the continuation of reality has never disappeared completely,
although today’s art sees itself in opposition to the world.”10 It remains difficult to define the “realness” about a visual impression. At least fantasy provokes the same driving force as “real” events do.11
New Media, film and electronically animated images are used in many more fields of application than just in art: clip, feature film, documentary, performance, theatre, advertisement, TV-productions and “screen-design”. Even more: today ” … æsthetical fascination is everywhere”, since “anything that redoubles, even the most banal and ordinary reality becomes a sign of art and therefore æsthetical.” “Consequently art is everywhere. Art is in the centre of reality.”12
Mass Media have increasingly been using any Stylistic Device, even those which have been originally invented for an art context like mixed editing, seemingly dilettantic camera work, fuzziness, torn panning shots. But no stylistic novelty or content characterizes a particular field of use. The borderlines between the subjects are invisible. It is impossible to distinguish art on the face of it. The inflationary use of the term “art” in any other company’s name also doesn’t help.
Luckily advertising is on the spot with its honourable services in the name of humanity: “Don’t immitate, innovate” further more “Be yourself”. But will advertisement help to make the position clearer? Or television? Soap-operas and quiz-shows seem to be more real than reality. “Neighbours”, “Coronation Street”, “Blind Date” and “E. R.”; to name just a few, visually and emotionally lull the observer with promises, others are real tear-jerkers and instead of putting up with real life we would rather accept its pastiche.
Art demands a final differentiation: stylistic devices must not be used as standardized packaging in order to simplify a hygienic transport of events, products or takes. They should be used to question, express and put things differently. It is about “Duke Spirit Supercool Kool Killer Viper Spider Eddie Kola”.13
In the early 80´s videoclips rose to compete with, even made the running for a new artistic visual language, but never met the high expectations. There had only been a short period of innovation, but very soon the new stylistic novelties had fossilized to superficial rubbish. With few exceptions - mere boredom, which the clips still multiply. The reason had been their lack of artistic desire, their close attachment to economy and their crafty framework.
The same goes for Internet projects, CD-Roms and interactive television. They simply cannot (yet?) escape from old-fashioned methods of commercial art. “At the era of New Media & Masscommunication there is no need to be all by yourself at your monitor: press 6 for right and 2 for up …” most of their instructions and mottos are simply obsolete. Their level of knowledge badly limps and lags behind the standard of Jean Baudrillard’s or Niklas Luhmann’s theoretical media-discussion and they have never come beyond their short- sighted, naive-affirmative fooling about. One has to note: relevance of art is not because of its wwwdotxyz address.
They are only used for handy communication (“give us a ring”). This narrow choice from all possible application is based on phenomena which have only slightly developed. For some time we have been bewailing “the rush of our time. We have been using telegraphs, high speed trains, stenography, photography, high speed printing machines etc., none of them valued to be cultural possessions per se, but they have brought a haste of transmitting intellectual results hitherto unexperienced. But it is this hurry that gives the individual the permanent pressure of being deluged by material, we fail to put up and deal with.”14
Meanwhile more and more are taking seat on Virilio’s “throne”, the “last vehicle”, the chair in front of their monitor, where they are ego-centered “banned from the outside world, the real space of geophysical expanse, alienated from their brutish body, their physical weight.”15 Communication has been increasingly condensed and on is present level it influences our life vehemently. This development had been looming long ago and has in fact expanded only gradually. At present it reaches its peak in the vision of an “intelligent” milk carton, which is supposed to order its own supply from the supermarket - unfortunately it doesn’t take care of the payment, just as other unrestricted information is not necessarily “free”.
Dark rumbling, roaring, whispering. Something is flickering, vibrates lightly, twitches obviously, but remains blurred. Is the picture upside down? Did I hear somebody talking? Let’s see what happens in the next room.
A camera. If I walk down here, I can see this, aha, and if … from there, then … like that, I see. Interesting, all these possibilities video has. Relieved, we can approvingly say goodbye, to some video-works, especially to those, even Simple Simon considers as art.
Usually it is much easier to notice if something isn’t art. In “Citizen Kane” it is said: “It is a piece of cake to make money - if you have no other aim in life than making money.” Turning this argument on its head, it means that it is difficult not to make money or that it has to be a matter of art if one can’t make money. This obvious conclusion seems to have sunk deeply into the producer’s brains.
Since the 18th century art has been kicked off its traditional purposes in religion and church, in monarchy and court. It is left to the art-market’s discretion, floating, like a “stranger in country and society”16 - sometimes independent or conformist, sometimes successful or unnoticed. It is left to the artist’s choice whether to play the part of a propagandist, “avantgardist”, Messiah, or “l’artist pour l’art”. The definition is up to him and he will need prophetic qualities and an uncompromising nature in order to find a conclusion. Anyhow, facing one’s complete isolation is not funny. This courage doesn’t quite make a genius, but he will surely be obliged to pay tribute to life, and at least the artist can leave his life’s work to the honourable critiques, distributors and consultants. Who would claim that it was no art to make money with art?
“For me art is not produced in order to promote nice things to look at, or to add another new step in the discussion about contemporary art and art theory. For me art is a means to achieve another level of cognition.”17 Quoting Bill Viola further he says: “The individual is the self, the root of all political, social and historical changes. Transforming the self is my highest ideal. Only then it gains relevance for other people’s feelings, only then it becomes part of the masses, logically connected.”18
Viola’s frankness has repeatedly been held against him, but he continues. His tape “Truth through Mass Individuation”, from 1976 refers to C. G. Jung’s term. Individuation is “an idea of the best one can possible do”, since there is “no cure and no revolution …, which hasn’t been set by an individual in the first place.”19
According to Jung’s subjective approach, a personal access is the deciding factor for the artistic quality of a piece of art. Just here and like that condensation can happen. The prophetic, revolutionary or simply the changed potency of art remains questionable, but sheltering with other related disciplines, the mimicry, has to be refused. Art has to make up its mind. Art has to remain different.
1 Niklas Luhmann, “Die Realität der Massenmedien”, Opladen 1996
2 Adolf Behne, “Der Film als Kunstwerk”, 1921, in: Birgit Hein/
WulfHerzogenrath (ed.), “Film als Film - 1910 bis heute”, Köln 1977
3 Walther Ruttmann, “Kunst und Kino”, 1917, in: Walter Schobert,
“Der deutsche Avant-Garde Film der 20er Jahre”, München 1989
4 Gerda Lampalzer, “Videokunst - historischer Überblick und
theoretische Zugänge”, Wien 1992
5 Jean Baudrillard, “Requiem für die Medien”, 1972, in: Jean Baudrillard:
“Kool Killer oder der Aufstand der Zeichen”, Berlin 1978
7 ibid., and Luhmann, ibid.
8 Luhmann, ibid., and Norbert Bolz, “Am Ende der Gutenberg Galaxis”,
München 1993, and Jean Baudrillard, “Der symbolische Tausch und der Tod”,
9 “Das Ganze wieder zusammenfügen”, Bill Viola im Gespräch mit
Otto Neumaier und Alexander Pühringer, in: “Bill Viola”,
Ausstellungskatalog Salzburger Kunstverein, 1994
10 Arnold Hauser, “Sozialgeschichte der Kunst und Literatur”, München 1953
11 Alexander Mitscherlich, “Krankheit als Konflikt”, Frankfurt 1966, Part 1
12 Baudrillard, “Der symbolische Tausch”, ibid.
13 ein Zitat New Yorker Graffiti aus: Jean Baudrillard, “Kool Killer oder der
Aufstand der Zeichen”, in: Baudrillard, “Kool Killer”, ibid.
14 Walther Ruttmann, “Malerei mit Zeit”, um 1919, in: Hein/Herzogenrath, ibid.
15 Paul Virilio, “Rasender Stillstand”, München 1992
16 Oskar Bätschmann, “Ausstellungskünstler - Kult und Karriere im modernen
Kunstsystem”, Köln 1997
17 Neumaier/Pühringer, ibid.
18 Nicoletta Torcelli: “Bill Viola, ein Interview”,
in: Kunstbulletin (ohne Nummer), 1993
19 C. G. Jung, “Die Beziehungen zwischen dem Ich und dem Unbewußten”,