"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 Eighties: the institutionalisation of video and its introduction into television houses
At the turn of the decade the 'poor, reductionist video' lost its significance and attraction, video technology developed further and the time of more complex video works arrived, implying, among other things, professional video equipment and increased financial means. The dilemma between marginalisation or joining the system – the gallery or television network – due to the still scarcely available equipment and the resulting lack of technical knowledge on the one hand and a reorientation of interests on the other, often resulted in a declining interest in the video. Thus Yugoslav artists at the turn of the 1980's all stopped dealing with the video with the exception of a few persistent ones, in particular Dalibor Martinis, Sanja Iveković, Srečo and Nuša Dragan and Miha Vipotnik, who recognized in the video their essential means of expression and who remain active video artists today.
Together with a group of curators, critics and organizers of art events (such as Dunja Blažević, Biljana Tomić and Ješa Denegri) they fought for the affirmation of the video and made efforts to secure its rightful status of an independent means of expression. The video slowly gained its place in the education system as a studio subject and later a department, first in 1979, at the initiative of the artist and professor Bogdanka Poznanović within the framework of the Visual Studio at the Academy of Arts in Novi Sad. The studio included the realization of author videos, video installations and documentary videos related to research, performance art, ambiences, installations and multimedia projects.
Working in close cooperation, artists, curators and organisers of art events in old and new art centres throughout Yugoslavia (in addition to those already mentioned there was also the Centre for Multimedia Research of the Student Centre in Zagreb, the Academy Film Centre of the Youth Centre “Studentski grad” in Belgrade and the ŠKUC Gallery in Ljubljana etc.) screened video productions and at least partially succeeded in broadening the circle to include the gallery public and in placing the Yugoslav video on the international scene. Video works by Yugoslav authors still aroused attention at international festivals and there were (international) shows, gatherings and workshops in the 1980's in Yugoslav centres from Ljubljana to Belgrade, Sarajevo, Skopje and Zagreb. At the same time national television houses took part in these manifestations for the first time, opening the doors of their (well equipped by that time) studios to artists.
The first international video biennial was organized in Ljubljana in 1983 by Miha Vipotnik under the name VIDEO CD, which institutionalised the video in our milieu and aroused wider interest in it. As the director of three consecutive biennials, Vipotnik brought video art into our country, facilitating the establishment of contacts with visiting artists and curators and the increasingly noticeable participation of the Yugoslav video in international circles. In those years the biennial represented international video art and television production, while 22 local and international video works were produced in its video workshop situated in a temporary video studio. This was a significant dimension of that biennial, one which distinguished it from other international video shows. It attracted artists from around the world, because even in other countries there were not many centres where they were able to realize video works. The growing interest in the Ljubljana Biennial eventually placed it among the three most important video festivals in the world. Introductory articles in the catalogue accompanying the first biennial were written by artists such as Pierre Restany, Woody Vasulka, Dalibor Martinis, Čedomir Vasić, Dunja Blažević and Biljana Tomić to name but a few, while the articles written by Wulf Herzogenrath and René Berger have been reprinted.
At the same time, the relationship with television during the 1980's slowly changed in the video's favour, although it was still widely held that author video belonged to independent production and that in terms of its technical and aesthetic features it was incompatible with television. Possibilities opened up in the scope of educational and cultural programs which were given special attention by all the television centres in the former republic capitals. The video language and the messages of artistic statements became acceptable to state television, thanks especially to certain individuals who made endeavours to find a place for video within the regular programming, whether by translating video works or by thematic programs which presented and analysed various aspects of video creation in the scope of current processes in art or (surprisingly) problematised the relationship between video and television. The first one to do so was TV Belgrade: in 1981 and 1982 Nebojša Đukelić dedicated a special program to the video within the cycle Moving Pictures. The program dealt with the role and function of video and the author's deconstruction of the television image. The guests in the studio expressed their opposing views; Ješa Denegri considered video art from an art history perspective as just another means of expression in visual arts, while Nenad Puhovski, from the aspect of technological-television, saw the possibilities for video in the scope of individual (micro)television. In the same television centre Dunja Blažević included video art (comprising contemporary production) in her series of programs entitled Other Art. In 1984 she introduced the first authentic television program on visual arts entitled TV Gallery, and by 1990 she had produced sixty particularly significant programs, dedicated to the latest processes in art, their recognition and analysis. The conception of the program was based on close cooperation with artists and critics from all over Yugoslavia and several author videos were produced within its framework, including the "Russian Artistic Experiment" by Boris Miljković and Branimir Dimitrijević and the anonymous project "Modern Art Experiments". The artists had the television studio equipment at their disposal for the realization of their works, and then the created video work would be broadcast as part of the program.
More direct and constant contacts between television professionals and video artists were genuinely set up only with the international video biennials in Ljubljana. During the first Biennial (1983) TV Ljubljana broadcast live events and excerpts from video works, and there were also contributions (TV chronicles) from the artists themselves – participants in the festival and various television crews. This late night program could be watched by viewers of all the Yugoslav TV channels based in the capitals of the federal republics.
The authors who dealt with video had a twofold attitude toward television, depending on whether they rejected the influence of television patterns and programs and wished to act autonomously or, conversely, tried to change its rigid forms of production and program making. The former strategy led them toward marginalisation, while the latter led toward consumer usage. In any case, this clearly demonstrated the contradiction between the democratic conception and the elitist practice of production and distribution of video. By that time television was able to broaden those limits, although the classification of video in the world of television still depended on the convictions of the editorial board and management. In any event, until the mid-1980's the majority of video works were realized within the framework of television centres while national television houses acted as producers or co-producers, making such a symbiosis between video and television specific of the Yugoslav milieu for a long time to come, which in turn secured the institutional production conditions for video art in the future. Toni Tršar, who as editor of TV Ljubljana should be given the most credit for the introduction of video into television, recognized the role of television at the time as follows: "Through video art the opportunity suddenly arose to cultivate authorship within the electronic image form, a certain type of author-centred television and at the same time research into the medium"5. He was quick to recognize that video art had a stimulating influence on abandoning the model of television as a picture radio and the current TV production. Of course, the issue raised here is as to whether aesthetic practice, being potentially transformative, can change the dominant – television – usage of technology. In other words, whether an individualized usage of video technology (artistic video) changes the television usage or endangers its ideological foundations. And, on the other hand, whether video has succeeded in developing a specific language distinguished from television standards.
The frequent cooperation between artists and television experts inevitably led to a certain degree of mutual influence: the artists became dependent on professional equipment and television crews; their experimental work on television brought their products closer to the television language. Television cinematographers, sound engineers and editors transmitted their experience with the artistic usage of video technology into the regular television programming. On national televisions at that time one could see several works whose form and messages were socially and politically critical, e.g. the first author program concerning author video entitled Autovizija realized in 1986 for TV Ljubljana by Miha Vipotnik and Marjan Osole-Max, inviting video artists to participate with one minute works on a topic of their choice.
Miha Vipotnik attempted for years to set up a permanent international centre for video based on the Western model, one which would at the same time be a polygon for new technology research, encouraging large companies to use it free of charge. His attempts failed however, since there was neither enough understanding nor enough money for this kind of incentive. Such a public production studio was never established in Yugoslavia. Nevertheless, during the mid-1980's several private and partly commercially oriented video studios appeared. Particularly prominent among them, as producers of author, non-commercial, independent videos, were Studio Brut and Video produkcija Kregar in Ljubljana. A specific Yugoslav feature at this time were non-profit centres which made independent video production possible, among them the Academy Film Centre in Belgrade and the ŠKUC-Forum in Ljubljana. In order to be able to reach a fuller understanding of video in the 1980's it is essential to consider the so-called ŠKUC-Forum video in more detail. In discussing significant changes in form and content of video as a medium, it is also worthwhile taking a look at the Slovenian alternative scene (or, more precisely, that of Ljubljana) since video was its important constitutive part. From then on we can no longer speak about video art, but rather video practice and production, intense happenings and what was materially created and what has remained.