Barbara Borčić
Št. 845
"Video Art from Conceptualism to Postmodernism"
Avtor/ica: Barbara Borčić
Naslov: Video Art from Conceptualism to Postmodernism
Leto: 2003
Zvrst: Esej, teorija
Produkcija: MIT Press, Massachussetts, USA

Video Art from Conceptualism to Postmodernism

The Eighties: Narrative and Aesthetic Usage

The second half of the 1980's can be labelled as the period which saw the professionalisation of video. Video works were often produced in cooperation with television stations or in private studios. Video was included in national cultural programs under the heading 'film', and there were even state subsidies for production, albeit rarely. There was no art market for more classic art disciplines, let alone the video, which was not acquired by state museums and galleries for their collections. Nor were video studios and workshops publicly available. Therefore production conditions were still not ideal and continuous work was almost impossible. This explains why certain Yugoslav video makers, e.g. Dalibor Martinis, Sanja Iveković and the tandems Breda Beban/Hrvoje Horvatić and Marina Gržinić/Aina Šmid were driven to a nomadic life spent in video centres, galleries and festivals around the world, where it was possible for them to work.

However, those were also the years which saw numerous presentations of Yugoslav video art in European and American centres, prepared by Biljana Tomić, Bojana Pejić, Dunja Blažević, Miha Vipotnik and Kathy Rae Huffman, and also by Nuša and Srečo Dragan, Marina Gržinić and others. They included the program Deconstruction, Quotation & Subversion: Video from Yugoslavia, prepared in 1989 by Kathy Rae Huffman after her active participation in the Belgrade Video Encounters and the Ljubljana Biennial Video CD 87. It was shown at the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art) in Boston and in Artists Space in New York, where it has been kept and can be borrowed for viewing. There were still regular annual Video Encounters at the Belgrade Student Cultural Centre, at the Academy Film Centre there was the Yugoslav Alternative Film and Video Festival, there were programs showing video works at the ŠKUC in Ljubljana and the Zagreb Multimedia Centre SKUC and the International Video Biennial in Ljubljana was held for the fourth time in 1989. However, it no longer aroused such great attention as the previous ones and it was the last one to be held.

An occasional focus on video during various exhibitions, encounters and workshops created an impression of lively events and great interest in video, but it did not produce a matching theoretical and critical reflection. Reasons for this may be found in the lack of trust on the part of experts, especially art historians and critics, toward any new technology or (conceptually) different artistic practice, i.e. unconventional artistic and cultural strategies and methods, as well as in the lack of interest and knowledge of the video as a medium.

It was characteristic of the position of the video in Yugoslavia that production circumstances dictated the reception, which was limited to a rather narrow circle of creators, producers and sympathizers. It is true that they were closely linked and that they regularly cooperated in the fields of organization and production. However, with rare exceptions, until the mid-1970's it was above all the video makers who wrote about and represented the video both locally and abroad, trying to set up an aesthetic value and social relevance of their own artistic practice. It was only in 1986 that the first book dedicated to video art was published in Belgrade: Videosfera: video/društvo/umetnost ("Videosphere: video/society/art") edited by the video maker Mihailo Ristić with theoretical texts on the video and contributions by international and local video authors. However, there was no institution which systematically and continuously dealt with the video, collecting, filing, analysing, presenting or interpreting video art. For this reason until 2000 there was no comprehensive documentation on video authors and video works. It was only with the previously mentioned SCCA-Ljubljana project entitled Videodokument: Videoart in Slovenia 1969-1998 (catalogue, book of essays, CD-ROM) edited by myself, and the Belgrade Centre for Contemporary Arts entitled Video Art in Serbia that the video in these two cultural milieus acquired its history. However, there are still no effective information and distribution networks, or professional archives and publicly available video studios.

Toward the end of the 1980's a highly developed technology of generating and manipulating images was no longer fascinating in itself, and one can often recognize a certain artism in the works. Video works are made as complex stories, less often involving experimentation with digital technology. In a way they approached the film form or theatre representation, and at the same time they became an inevitable part of intermedia and visual practices, which made it possible for the video to enter galleries and theatres.

The period of relative collectivism, when it was sometimes impossible to name all the co-authors and collaborators of one video work, was over – including the concern for the fate of the subcultural scene and new social movements. What came to the foreground was individual authorship, detailed preparations, a long term process, collaboration with professional actors and dancers, and post-production became increasingly complex and decisive. Amateur equipment was almost left behind and the period of VHS and U-matic gradually shifted into the Beta format period. Video makers were emancipated in the production and presentational sense, in most cases they worked in professional (private) video studios, they collaborated with national television channels and regularly personally participated in international video festivals around the world. At the same time video artists themselves took care of the mass presentation of their work (on television), and thus a more noticeable presence of the expressive approach of the video in a wider media space evolved.

However, exclusive specialization in video was still rare. Video authors came from various backgrounds, they were visual artists, film workers, sociologists, designers and journalists... and to them video meant just one of the possibilities of expression within the total creative practice, which is why their starting bases were broader and their forms of presentation more diverse. Video was often one of the elements in multimedia projects, performances, installations and (dance) spectacles and it broadened the boundaries of visual culture. It was less and less frequently an independent medium which combined specific topics and content or technical and aesthetic solutions. Video projects were a product of created scenarios and film directors' books, numerous collaborators and high technology. The application of 'chroma key' methods for combining shots became almost the rule, as well as the retro principle of referring to visual history, and combined ready-made (documentary) shots and images directly from television or from film was still frequent, particularly the narrative and dance components (performance art, dance, theatre). Various video genres were formed through mutual dependence with other art practices, e.g. video dance, video film, video documentary, video clip, video sculpture, video installation, video ambience and video performance and they approached the performance, theatre, television or film language. It turned out that the video was generally usable, while the term 'intertextuality' replaced the term 'autonomy'.

It may be concluded that the development of the video medium within Yugoslavia from the beginning to the end of the 1980's presents an outstanding leap from the aspects of technology, content and expression: from the virtually bare, unprocessed and immediate images (gestures, actions) which followed suit in a slow rhythm, to fast changing shots, special effects and invented stories. Video approached film or theatre, while the post-production process became increasingly complex and decisive.

For this reason certain video works can also be understood as the desire for a great cinema artistic form which is expensive and requires professional knowledge. The video – the electronic image – in that sense loses the battle with film, because it has no depth, it is only a surface which facilitates countless holes which do not include stories and sentiments. At the same time a new generation emerged, one which saw the usage of video technology as an integral segment of artistic methods which led to the realization of a contemporary work of art. The earlier, rebellious attitude toward the mass media, their institutions (state television) and other ideological state apparatus slowly faded away.

However, video technology, as announced by the early 1980's, did not become accessible to a wider circle of people. It was rather the contrary, as is confirmed by the relatively narrow circle of video authors until the beginning of the 1990's, a period marked by the disintegration of Yugoslavia as a federal political creation. The classification of video based on certain art schools and visual art was also a kind of paradox. A developed technology, without which it seemed video could no longer be made, was still linked to national television stations or rare video studios. In any case, numerous video works by Yugoslav authors at international (video) festivals and exhibitions were successfully presented and granted awards, and some video makers became and remained recognizable by their poetics on the international arena.

1.Marijan Susovski, »Video u Jugoslaviji«, Spot, no. 10, Zagreb 1977.
2.Raša Todosijević, Video, Videosfera: video/društvo/umetnost ("The Video: Videosphere: video/society/art"), Studentski izdavački centar, ed. Mihailo Ristić, Belgrade 1986.
3.Marijan Susovski, “Video u Jugoslaviji”, Spot, no.10, Zagreb 1977.
4.Zemira Alajbegović and Igor Španjol, »In the tehnological grip of a television station: an interview with Miha Vipotnik«, in: Videodokument: Video Art  in Slovenia  1969-1998, ed. Barbara Borčić, SCC – Ljubljana, Ljubljana, 1999.
5.Igor Španjol, »An artistic evening: television presentation and production of art video«, in: Videodokument: Video Art in Slovenia 1969-1998, ed. Barbara Borčić, SCCA-Ljubljana, Ljubljana, 1999.
6.Dušan Mandić, »ŠKUC-Forumova video produkcija«, Ekran, no. 1-2, Ljubljana, 1984


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