Slovenian Video Program
It is perhaps ironic - or fitting - that here in the Los Angeles area (in Hollywood, in fact, at LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions), as well as at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia) we were privileged to see a program of Slovenian video art that reminded us of the potential oftelevision–a promise that, here in “the belly of the beast,” we too rarely catch sight of. Video as a medium offers the opportunity to layer, intermingle through various types of keying, to warp both temporally and graphically, the image, with great ease. It is also a means of referencing, quoting, or contradicting the histories of film and broadcast television. The programs presented by Natasa Prosenc and the Soros Center embodied a range of aesthetic strategies, from the perfect moments subtlely crystallized by Mirko Simic’s Do You Hear the Sound of Silence, recalling Dziga Vertov’s notions of implied sound, to the complexity found in the work of Neven Korda and Zemira Alajbegović.
That these programs were indeed broadcast on Slovenian national television is, I think, a crucial indication of Slovenia’s acceptance of art as integral to the cultural, social fabric. Since the Sony Corporation withdrew its support for the Los Angeles AFI National Video Festival some years ago, the visibility of international video art productions has declined severely.
With the Long Beach Museum eliminating its pioneering support for video, curating of programs there has been reduced to a volunteer basis. There remain very few American venues (all restricted to Public Broadcasting) on television or cable. As support for non-commercial work has continued to shrink radically in the past 8 years, the “media artists” now visible are those who most closely model their work after mainstream television. This is all NOT to say that independent video is unimportant; quite the opposite. Phenomenologically, art exists within two diametrically opposed and complementary conceptions of time: the historical or diachronic conception and the mythical or synchronic,; linear time versus circular time.
The American author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. has compared the artist to the canary in the coal mine, warning of imminent social disaster; I would add that the artist is also capable of critical retrospection of a type disallowed in journalistic circles. As Walter Benjamin characterized the horror of the “angel of history” [see end note for reference] contemplating the wreckage of civilization which he is powerless to stop while the storm of “progress” propels him ever forward, so many of the artists in this Slovenian program contextualize the past. Neven Korda and Zemira Alajbegovic juxtapose the commodifiable “value” of art as exemplified by a collector’s lust with the loftiest ideals of an artist’s search for “truth” and transcendence. Within each position lurks the danger of solipsism, retreat from, rather than contribution to, society. One might make the argument that it is especially through contemporary works of art that one finds a critique of history, both cultural and civic. Many other works in the program incorporate such a sense of continuity with cultural history, at the same time that a postmodern break with the historical quest for perfectibility is acknowledged. While the recurrence of ruined industrial sites might at first be compared to an apocalyptic Blade Runner set, it would be American chauvinism to draw too easy a comparison. For not only is the recent failure of socialist production evident, a long shadow is cast by the Nazi industrialization of much of Europe, dark memories of what factories can mean. None of these histories are directly summoned, but perhaps hover about the edges of certain works. No More Heroes Any More and Forth into the Past overtly address the destructive lust for power and the concomitant, irresistable pull of technology demanding to be used for its own sake. While Small Terrace might appear chipper and jubliant, filled with dancing happy faces on a seemingly celebratory tour of the town, underlying irony and cynicism become almost unbearable, most obviously in the flash of grafitti, “Europe is fuck.” A brief examination of possible directions of Hydra may further exemplify this complexity. Just as the monster has many heads, nothing is “pure” here–”nature” (which, as we all know, is finally so threatened by environmental poisoning as to be obsolete) seems more concerned with death or only a simulacra of life, as plastic “babies” grow within flowers which, when plucked, immediately float to heaven as skulls. The hounds of hell may be put to sleep, but to what effect? The elegant victors are every bit as suspect as the vanquished monsters. Paths begin and end this piece; as we watch the runner speed through the final tunnel, perhaps we would do well to recall the opening sequence in which we are offered to look into a mirror. Staircase, suggests patterns found within the psyche throughout history. The eternally-separated couple in Jasna Hribernik’s videotape seem oblivious to others striding past them-who, and what is “real?” Are they timeless lovers from past tragedies, separated by politics? Who is responsible for their pain? Can a repetition of this story be avoided?
If, in No More Heroes, Marko Kovacic seeks to fix blame in terms of politician’s egos, Natasa Prosenc gently positions each viewer in the “hot seat”. Big Brother’s Room, the installation completed during her residence at California Institute of the Arts, presented at CalArts as well as at LACE, confronted the viewer with an ideological feedback-loop. Within a black room, one stood at a spotlit podium, ostensibly a “free agent” capable of manipulating video playback via remote control. Projected video images consisted solely of crowds of people– “masses”– responding with great emotion to–what? Unseen leaders, one assumes, raising the frightening possibility that our most deeply-held desire might not be so much to participate in governing ourselves as to locate a charismatic personality whom we can follow. In the background, impervious to any frantic shuttling of the videotape controller, a woman’s voice recited calmly and plainly a list of simple instructions.
Indeed, artists can mirror, process, complicate and re-present such dilemmas, finding the courage and strength to do so within their own aesthetics, as do the strong young women in Pot/Path. One hopes we will continue to see more of their work, whether within the context of video clips, dance, or experimental presentations.
- Walter Benjamin, “Theses on History,” included in Illuminations, edited by Hannah Arendt. New York: Schocken Books 1978.
- Francesc Torres, “The Accident Placed in Its Context,” Art & Design Profile No. 31: World Wide Video, 1993.