"Video Art from Conceptualism to Postmodernism"
Artist: Barbara Borčić
Title: Video Art from Conceptualism to Postmodernism
Production: MIT Press, Massachussetts, USA
Video Art from Conceptualism to Postmodernism
The Seventies: the Analytical and Experimental Use of Video
Along with photography, video played a decisive role in the introduction of reproductive technologies into the world of art and thus partially altered the method of production, distribution and acceptance of the work of art. At the same time, the most common usage which served to determine video's direction towards the arts – the world of galleries and museums wishing to appropriate it – caused its involvement in the world of the arts. The prediction that video would become the means of social and political struggle, the most democratic form of transmitting information and exchanging messages, did not materialize and thus video lost a great deal of its social potential and political acerbity. As a creative means, in most cases due to the length of the tape, the intimacy of artistic statements and the fact that it was performed only in galleries, it remained hermetical, misunderstood and unpopular among the wider public. It was only rare amateurs and connoisseurs who found it interesting. It was similar to the announcement that video should encourage a different mode of socialization and arouse creativity in people, because the use of video equipment was in most cases limited to filming and viewing family events or recorded films.
Television, which could have changed those relations by expanding the channels of distribution, was a rather strong mass medium in Yugoslavia during the 1970's. It existed only as state television, based in the capitals of the six republics, but due to the limited broadcasting time it was not widespread and popular enough and it was not at all commercial. Therefore the claim that video, based on the same technology as television, appeared as its antithesis in the sense of non-commerciality in the Yugoslav circumstances is not sustainable. In certain aspects the video of that time was subversive in relation to the social system and explicit in its artistic (political) statements; however, our artists did not see it as a medium of communication and in dealing with the new technology they were not aware of the possibility of confronting and subverting state television. The social use of video which could have constituted a socially engaged program as a counterbalance to official reporting was not at all common. Although in literature one can find the initiative for establishing a "communal video station", addressed to the Zagreb municipality in 1974, this and similar initiatives, then as well as later – e.g. concerning the proposal to set up the first alternative television in Ljubljana in 1987 - did not find a positive echo in the Yugoslav political and media domain.
As we have already seen, video creation in Yugoslavia was above all related to the visual arts practice and artists who dealt with the technical, structural and linguistic characteristics of the new medium were rare. In most cases those were the authors who had made experimental films before, such as Zoran Popović and Goran Trbuljak. Short Super 8 and 16mm experimental (avant-garde) films produced within the framework of film clubs and student cultural centres which in terms of their number exceeded all expectations had a far reaching impact on some video artists. The aforementioned films from the 1960's and 1970's radically called into question the dominant film patterns and aesthetics by researching the possibilities of the film tape, and some of them already dealt with television as a medium or object. They often juxtaposed the grainy tape, characterized by mechanical and chemical damage, with the screen television image with its characteristic noise and flickering monitor. Bojan Jovanović, for instance, also used TV sets as elements in his events and in the spirit of the radical critique of the television medium which produces consumer needs, subsequently destroyed them. Another approach to television as an institution can be seen in Mladen Stilinović's project Cenzurišem se ("I am censoring myself") already performed in video technology. He manifestly pointed out the issue of state censorship and self-censorship: first he recorded a text that would by no means be broadcast by any official television channel, and then he erased all the potentially problematic parts and broadcast this (self)censored version, erasing the original tape.
Despite technological differences, film procedures and strategies somehow poured over into experimental video which soon, due to simpler handling and faster and cheaper production almost abolished short films and took their place of potential critical stand and resourcefulness.
The first example of a critical confrontation of video with official television was a twenty minute black-and-white video TV-Timer (1973) produced by the Zagreb artists Sanja Iveković and Dalibor Martinis, who at the same time dealt with television graphics and visual design at Zagreb television. It was a series of author interventions in the regular TV programme by other media (the telephone, the clock) and their own appearance on the screen, thus establishing a link between reality and media reality. By analysing the ideological and aesthetic structure of the television programme and the effects of that mass medium on individuals, they showed that they were not only interested in video as a means of individual expression, but also as a critical analysis and reflection on television: "Public television is an institutionalised form of television programming which introduces subjective aspects of communication into objective ones: one person or one group acts as an information selector, attempting to introduce itself (or the information) as a TV channel (information channel). TV video is a possible means of objective presentation of contents from the viewpoint of one person (the subject)."3 Each of the authors continued the study of communication and representation codes in the mass media and their impact on the everyday life and behaviour of the individual, where in the shaping of identity the public image meets the world of privacy (e.g. Sanja Iveković in the videos Make Up-Make Down and Instructions, and Dalibor Martinis in Image is Virus).
If we attempt to briefly analyse their later video works, it can be said that Sanja Iveković's work is characterized by its performative dimension, autobiographic referentiality, structural complexity and feminist acerbity, when in her treatment of identity she introduced the female character into the political sphere. Dalibor Martinis particularly built upon analytical and conceptual approaches, as well as the technological, formal and semantic characteristics of video. He presented the relationships between reality and illusion through means of irony, absurdity, mystery and humour, even self-aggression. Their work undoubtedly places them among the most interesting and most significant video artists both in local and international contexts.
Although not openly presenting itself as a repressive ideological state apparatus, television in Yugoslavia in the 1970's remained totally uninterested in any kind of change and was therefore an institution beyond the artists' reach. Thus it came as a great surprise when TV Ljubljana broadcast Miha Vipotnik's artistic video entitled Videogram 4 during a late night programme (part of its experimental programming) in 1979, announcing it as a "very rare television event or even a new experience" and warning the viewers that "any interference or unusual features in the image or tone are part of the program, so do not try to adjust the image on your TV sets." The electronic image was indeed incredibly stratified, even amazingly transformed and edited for that time (double exposition, solarisation, recast, feedback, synthetic colour changes and generating moving shapes), and the sound was syncopated, alternately soft and screeching. He described the process in this video project as follows:
On the music score for synthesizer and script for their activities, the performers completely filled the twenty-eight-minute recording period with their movements, unarticulated expression, mimic and body speech in the electronically created field of the video screen. In two years, I repeated the shootings three times, each time using the materials from previous shootings. Under the influence of them, the performers reintegrated themselves into the events, changing their behaviour in each subsequent shooting, thus presenting a concept of social situations created by the TV information environment.4
Miha Vipotnik was thus the first video artist who succeeded in transmitting professional video technology from institutional television into individual usage. The video equipment used by Yugoslav artists was still at the initial rudimentary stage and the possibilities of processing and editing were still very limited. Although the latest television equipment was reserved only for news programs and for regular TV production, while even television professionals were not completely familiar with its technological possibilities, Vipotnik managed to work with it thanks to his enthusiasm and persuasiveness: he researched the characteristics and potentials of video technology, the structure and the aesthetic effect of the electronic image, and he came up with a more formalist and experimental kind of video. As an external collaborator in television he then began to introduce the elements of his experimentation into television programs, particularly musical ones, and he made the first video clip in Yugoslavia, for the Slovenian punk band "Pankrti". At the same time he obtained a graduate degree in Video Art and became a professional video artist, remaining dedicated to this medium to this day.
The project Videogram 4 had another important dimension: it introduced the inter-media practice onto the Yugoslav scene. The process of intensive work with a group of collaborating performers in the television studio, based on which the video was created, was also presented as multi vision, combining experiences of different media (performance art, video, cinema, photography and music). Made in a gallery space through mirrors and prisms turning simultaneously, four video tapes were screened and four films and slides made, all accompanied by original music. The emphasis on the time component and the working process, as well as the innovative use of the camera and editing in the construction of personal stories and the superimposition of images, inscriptions and discourse is intertwined in the video creation of this artist, who began studying film direction in Los Angeles in the mid-1980's.