Reception of Video Production in Slovenia
Text by: Barbara Borčić
A long time has passed since video was labelled as a new media. Nevertheless, at least one generation must pass from the invention of a new (reproductive) technology, such as lithography, photography and film in their time, before it is accepted as a cultural tool and established as a means of artistic expression in its own right. This time lapse is even longer when it comes to interpretation, which should detect media specific elements and place the new medium in the social and production framework. Video (magnetic tape), like all new image carriers, preserves certain features of previous technologies (e.g. film, photography) and at the same time it introduces new ones through technological innovation and different (content) encoding capability. Video technology changed film in the same way as the new digital technology is changing video and film today. The term video is used nowadays for almost every moving image with the sole exception of film.
In Slovenia video is almost thirty years old. In the seventies it dwelt within the conceptual movement, in the eighties it held a constituting part and provided an aesthetic effect of the "alternative scene" – in multimedia and club events, as well as in international video biennials in Ljubljana (1983-1989). In the nineties one could find it in individual presentations, exhibitions and projections at the Information centre of the Modern Gallery, ŠKUC and DSLU galleries, MKC in Maribor, TV Slovenia as well as at the TV station Kanal A. It could also be seen at the Festival of Slovene Video in Idrija (1992, 1998) and at the Video Film Dance Festival in Ljubljana (1991-1996). This sporadic attention to video created the impression of a very lively scene and high public interest in video, yet it never created an adequate theoretical and critical reflection. Reasons for this can be sought in the mistrust of experts, especially art historians, as concerns any new technology or different (conceptual) practice, or of unconventional artistic and cultural strategies and procedures, and also in their poor interest in video and knowledge about it.
A determinant factor for the situation of (art) video in Slovenia was also the fact that the conditions of production dictated the reception of video – limited to a narrow circle of creators, producers and supporters. Until the mid seventies (with rare exceptions) it was the artists themselves who wrote about video and presented it at home and abroad, thus trying to establish the aesthetic value and social relevance of their own work.
Research into media events, TV shows and texts on video supports this claim. There never was a publication dedicated exclusively to video. Ekran, magazine for film and TV, and Sinteza, magazine for visual culture, have been writing occasionally about video ever since 1973, sometimes in special supplements and features. At this point, contributions by artists like Nuša and Srečo Dragan, Miha Vipotnik or Dušan Mandić were also of great importance.
Video pioneered within the conceptual art practice. Nuša and Srečo Dragan, first video artists in Slovenia, at first operated as a part of OHO, a group of Slovene conceptual artists. For them video constituted an element of artistic action and at the same time it was used as a documentation tool. Mainly it was understood as a means of immediate interactive communication with the audience.
It was not until the end of the seventies that Miha Vipotnik explored the structure and aesthetic effects of the electronic image. With professional TV equipment and a synthesiser he created a different, more formalistic kind of video art, which focused on the manipulation and transformation of image and editing.
It is not surprising that these early video works, created in relation to the practice of visual arts and television, were accepted and interpreted within the context of visual arts, which at the same time was also the context of their authors. As they started appearing they received the attention of (visual art) critics such as Stane Bernik, Tomaž Brejc and Brane Kovič.
On the other hand, abundant video production and practice of the eighties, which functioned within the "Ljubljana subculture", was not placed in an art context as easily. In 1984 Brane Kovič wrote about the changed role of video and its new tendencies. He realised that video art, which was the only reference at the time, was no longer sufficient. Events within the society, state rituals, violence, sexuality, myths and taboos of the socialist system became important references for the creators of art and art-documentary videos. They preferred to refer themselves to the context of the alternative (punk and rock) culture with Disko FV and the ŠKUC Gallery as their main venues, rather than to the context of (modernist) art, even though a number of them derived from the Ljubljana Academy of Fine Arts.
Such was the case of Dušan Mandić, at the time a member of the Meje kontrole št. 4 (video) art group. In 1983 and 1984 he was the only one to write about the ŠKUC-Forum Video Production. Besides identifying the distinctive features of this at that point in time mass production, at which he paid special attention to introducing "new codes of meaning", he also defined the distinction between the "formalistic approach to the medium" of video as seen in the seventies and the "socially active audio-visual research" of the eighties.
Alongside other protagonists of the "alternative scene" like Marina Gržinić and me, curators of the ŠKUC Gallery, Radmila Pavlović and Irma Mežnarič, organisers of the ŠKUC-Forum Video Section, and members of the FV Group Zemira Alajbegović and Neven Korda, Mandić created programs and presentations of video in Slovenia and abroad. These presentations took place in the ŠKUC Gallery and Disko FV, as well as abroad at international conferences, festivals and exhibitions.
Video artists, active in the seventies, also organised events. Miha Vipotnik was one the founders of International biennial VIDEO CD in 1983, which established video in the institutional sense. The three consequent biennials he directed brought world video art to Slovenia, enabled communication with guest artists and curators and gradually affirmed Slovene video production in the international arena. In the late eighties, he prepared several programs of Yugoslav video also in co-operation with the American curator Kathy Rae Huffman. They were presented in Canada and USA accompanied with introductory notes and critical texts.
Nuša and Srečo Dragan also prepared several exhibitions, programs and texts on Yugoslav and Slovene video. They wanted the video to take its deserved place within the Slovene cultural production and present it abroad.
The state television also played an important role in the development of video production in Slovenia. In the late eighties and especially in the nineties it became one of the main producers of video in Slovenia alongside ŠKUC Forum (later VS Video and Forum Ljubljana) and some private video studios (especially Brut and the Video Production Kregar). There were quite a few TV shows presenting art video. Miha Vipotnik as the author and Marijan Osole – Max as the editor produced the show called Autovizija (Auto-vision) in 1986 which was ‘the only program on art video and video art in Slovenia’. TV shows by Majda Širca, Marina Gržinić, Zemira Alajbegović, and others followed later on RTV Ljubljana (later TV Slovenia) and Kanal A. Special attention was given to video production already in 1985 in the experimental program of the first Slovene alternative television ATV, which unfortunately never started truly broadcasting.
After the fall of the Berlin wall there was a surge of events around the world presenting art from Central and Eastern Europe, trying to place it into the European context. The Ostranenie international video festival (Bauhaus, Dessau 1993-1997) focused precisely on the media production from the countries of the former East. In the catalogue of the first festival, among the texts on video art from participating countries, one can find also a text entitled Video from Slovenia by Marina Gržinić, artist and curator of video programs, who gave special attention to video also in her other texts.
Let me conclude this brief history of production and reception of video in Slovenia by noting that in the late eighties and the nineties video became increasingly tied to individual authors. It established itself as an independent medium and as a constituting element of expression in multimedia projects and installations. An overview of video production from its beginnings to mid nineties can also be found in the programme booklet which I prepared for the travelling video program entitled From the Alternative Scene to Art Video. Video production in Slovenia 1992-1994.
High-tech manipulation and generation of images itself does not fascinate anymore. Videos are rendered as complex stories, approaching film and theatre and only in fewer cases as a digital experiment. At the same time, video became an indispensable element of intermedia and visual art practices. Videos in Slovenia appear in galleries and on film festivals. First screenings are often in Slovensko mladinsko gledališče (Slovene Youth Theatre) or Slovenska Kinoteka (Slovene Cinematheque). Texts on video are written according to the context in which a video first appears: by critics of visual arts (e.g. Tomaž Brejc, Jure Mikuž), by film critics (Nerina Kocijančič, Marcel Štefančič) or in the context of culture in general (Janez Strehovec, Gorazd Trušnovec, Mojca Kumerdej). Two recent exhibitions (1997) consecrated significant attention to video as a means of artistic expression: Media in Media prepared by the SCCA-Ljubljana and Wise Hand by the Association of Slovene Visual Artists. The former was an international exhibition composed of historical and contemporary works reflecting on mass media in formally different art mediums. Among others, early works of Peter Weibel, Dana Birnbaum and Dalibor Martinis were presented. The latter included contemporary (video) installations and a retrospective of Slovene video from the eighties.
In addition to the travelling video program from 1994, which I mentioned before, there were other recent video programs which are now considered curatorial work. Videospotting, a five hour program in five thematic units, which was prepared for the Metropol Club in Ljubljana by Nerina Kocijančič and myself, was presented at the international conference and exhibition Interstanding 2 in the Estonian capital Tallinn and at the European Film and Video Avant-garde’s event in Budapest (1996-1998). Eva Rohrman, the producer of Forum Ljubljana, prepared a travelling video program entitled In Search of Lost Time. 15 years of video production by Forum, which toured many Slovene towns after Ljubljana (1997-1998). Marina Gržinić prepared a feature on Avant-garde Films and Videos from Central Europe for the Festival of Central European Culture in London (1998).
The twelve essays that the Soros Centre for Contemporary Arts - Ljubljana invited for Videodokument, all talk about the situation I just described in greater detail and from different perspectives. On the one hand they describe the video production itself, often with an unavoidable personal note, from its beginnings in the seventies up to the most recent works. On the other hand they observe it in relation to the television or other art practices (film, visual arts, dance, music). They are divided into three parts: Frozen Time, Early Works and Expanded Space.
Frozen Time speaks about the video medium that defined itself from its beginnings in the context of the contemporary social and cultural activity. The text by Brane Kovič describes the early life of video as an independent medium and the pioneers of video art in Slovenia with their works – Nuša and Srečo Dragan and Miha Vipotnik. Zemira Alajbegović discusses video in the context of the youth subculture, rock and punk club scene in the light of her personal experience as one of the organisers and protagonists of that scene. She also describes the ŠKUC-Forum Video Production of the early eighties. Bogdan Lešnik looks back in order to critically re-interpret the role/position and effects of video production in the context of the alternative scene and he reflects on the alternative itself. Majda Širca, who followed video production as a writer for the Ekran magazine and later as the editor of the art program on the state television, gives her own account of the ‘golden age of video creativity’ in the early eighties, later support of the national television for video and the artism, which pushes video towards film and opens the gates of galleries. Nerina Kocijančič is interested more in the creation of various video genres, especially the video clip, video film and the video documentary. She notes the dependence of video on other art practices, especially film, and touches the future of video and the advent of new digital technologies in the nineties.
Early Works describes the pre-history, history and the (lack of ) actuality of video. Melita Zajc asserts that the early use of the magnetoscopic tape in TV production didn’t differ that much from the way it was later used in individual video production and describes how the magnetoscope was used at the Radio Television Ljubljana in the mid sixties, before the introduction of mobile video. Biljana Tomić, one of the first organisers and curators of video art in former Yugoslavia, describes the beginnings and the success of video in Yugoslavia through important contacts, cooperations and events, which connected Yugoslav artists with the international arena. In the form of an interview Miha Vipotnik tells us about his own beginnings with video within the institutional frames of the art academy and the television, about his organisational efforts and attempts to establish a permanent video studio in Ljubljana, about his USA experience and his most recent works.
In the Expanded Space we wanted to show the abundance of distinctions and links between video and other art forms, mainly visual and performing arts. Nadja Zgonik writes about that part of video production in Slovenia which is not limited to reproduction of the tape on screen – it is tightly coupled with visual arts and the physical space: video sculptures, video installations and video performances. Koen Van Daele first defines the term of videodance and the four videodance sub-genres ( stage/studio recording, camera rework, screen choreography and documentary). As the director/organiser of the Video Film Dance Festival in Ljubljana he gives an overview of collaborations between video artists, dancers and choreographers and places Slovene videodance into a broader international context. Maja Breznik explores the relation of video to performing arts and gives the example of ‘theatrical’ video films, which are usually recorded by artists themselves during their performances, installations and multimedia projects. She gives special attention to the problematic use of video in documenting and (commercially) promoting theatre pieces, rather than to the usage of video inside theatrical performances themselves. Igor Španjol concludes the series with an overview of the most important television shows on video and the specifics of the relation between video and television in our cultural space. He notes that in the electronic media scene it was almost always the artists themselves who were at the same time promoters of their own works and creators of the notable influence of the means of expression inherent to video in the broader mediascape.
 An overview of the most important TV shows on video is given in the text by Igor Španjol in this book. Bibliography of selected texts on video can be found at the end of the book (VIDEODOKUMENT - Essays). An expanded bibliography of individual artists and media coverage can also be found in the catalogue (VIDEODOKUMENT - Documentation).
 At this point I refer to the early texts that introduced the video medium to Slovenia. Stane Bernik defined 'video art' in Sinteza (1973) as an experiment and a creative experience of the contemporary visual expression. Nuša and Srečo Dragan talked about video communication and the synthesis of theatre and video in view of their own experience in Ekran (1976). A short history and an overview of tendencies in contemporary video was published in Ekran (1977) with a selected bibliography. Bogdan Lešnik wrote about video as technology, working method and medium, determined in the art sense by specific conditions and thus losing the political edge, same magazine (1979). Brane Kovič edited a collection of texts on video concentrated almost entirely (with the exception of D. Mandić’s text) to Nam June Paik for Ekran in 1984. The largest collection of texts on video by Slovenian and foreign authors appeared in the joint issue of Ekran/Sinteza in 1986. Some tried to answer the question of what is video art and explored its history, others focused on its relation to television and graphic design. N. and S. Dragan described their view of the situation of video in the art of the eighties. In an interview, Miha Vipotnik described his personal experience as the first Slovenian video artist who succeeded in transferring professional video technology, especially the synthesizer and editing table, to personal use.
 Two terms were common at the time: VT (video tape) as opposed to TV (television) and video art as opposed to video-taped art.
 ‘Re-vision of video’, Ekran, No. 1/2, Ljubljana 1984.
 There was a mix of documentary and original materials and procedures, similar to the music videos of the period.
 Texts were published in the student newspaper Tribuna, ŠKUC-Forum newsletter Viks, catalogue of the first video biennial VIDEO CD 83 and the Ekran magazine, where the quotations were taken from.
 Besides presentations of video works by the artists from Slovenia, also the exhibition and video projection of the works by two famous Australians, Robert Randall and Frenk Bendinelli , took place. Between 1984 and 1985 there was a Video-box-bar every Saturday, where visitors could select the videos to be viewed.
 Music video clips were part of the regular disco program. The ŠKUC-Forum Video Production was presented at the symposium Kaj je alternativa? (What is The Alternative?) in Disco FV in 1983. From 1981 onwards, the regular programme of Disko FV included the Video klub (Video Club) on Sunday.
 Especially at festivals of youth culture like the ones in Rome, Mestre, Barcelona, Thessaloniki and Turin and presentations in Yugoslav cities, such as Belgrade, Skopje and Niš (1983-1987) as well as exhibitions in Sarajevo: Nova slovenska vizualna scena (1984), Umjetnost – kritika usred osamdesetih (1986) and Jugoslovenska dokumenta (1987).
 The catalogue of the first biennial included texts by Pierre Restany, Woody Vasulka, Dalibor Martinis, Čedomir Vasić, Dunja Blažević and Biljana Tomić. Reprints of texts by Wulf Herzogenrath and René Berger were also included.
 For example in Boston, Los Angeles and San Fransisco (1988). Kathy Rae Huffman is also the author of two travelling programs: Deconstruction, Quotation & Subversion: Video from Yugoslavia (1989/90) and Video from Slovenia: a past memorized - a future conceived (1994-1996).
 Exhibition Provocation of the Medium ’80 in the ZDSLU Gallery, Ljubljana (1982) and the program Recent Yugoslav Video Production shown in Koper, and Paris and Recent Slovene Video Production in London (1986-1987).
 Among others in books Ljubljana, Ljubljana. Slovenian art in the eighties, Ljubljana 1991 and Reconstructed Fiction. New media, (video) art, postsocialism and retroavant-garde: theory, politics and aestethics (1997-1985), Ljubljana 1997.
 This program was prepared by the SCCA - Ljubljana and the ŠKUC Gallery. It was shown mainly in the cities of the former East: Rijeka, Ljubljana, Skopje, Moscow, St. Petersburg as well as in Udine and Los Angeles (1984-1986). The text was published also in the Annual Catalogue of the Škuc Gallery 1994 and in Reader, V2_East Meeting, Rotterdam 1996.