The videos that have been selected for the 40jahrevideokunst project cover more than four decades of Video art in Germany and represent artistic perceptions, which are not considered as the classic kind of video art. Such perceptions in the ‘60s are mostly those of Samuel Beckett and Peter Roehr, later on are expressed through the cinematic works of Rebecca Horn and in the ‘80s through the super 8 format films of Malaria! Or Jörg Herold. These creations are pointing out that the wide scope of innovations and mixes between television, cinema and traditional forms of art, including photography, reflects basic elements of a concept of video art that apart from the exploration of the work itself takes in mind the different ways of presentation and distribution. The works of Katharina Sieverding or Corinna Schnitt, for example, prove that the old, established borders of the forms of art belong to the past. Very convincing are the arguments in favor of the subtitle “Cultural Inheritance”, because none of these works is available in its initial analogical form. Also the pc editing is included since the mid ‘90s evidently in the sides of an artistic production.
Even if the term Video art seems not to have a role anymore, the artistic applications with the video as tape, as an installation, or projection are everywhere. So the here comes the question, what’s the key to such a success, success that is confirmed by the shown interest of Fine Arts Academies and Media, the Museums and the area of art presentation. The center of the presentation of the 40jahrevideokunst project is exclusively the single channel work and not it’s involvement in any other art form.
Many artists working with different means and using the forms in order to express contents. What we are coming up against is that the electronic images are everywhere and the galleries, the museums, the files and the great exhibitions use them evidently. The historic distance from the ‘60s and ‘70s provides us with an abstractive image of the most important tendencies that are no longer enriched with new material. In both Germany and internationally Nam June Paik and Wolf Vostell was exactly the same year in the beginning of a track which only in the ‘70s was to become what it’s called Video art.
When German and American artists discovered video as a new art form in the mid-1960’s, the term “video artist” applied to those who used this technology and presented it explicitly in the form of video films, and later in video sculptures as well. The early works thematicized the technology itself, and they included the attempt to playfully relate the potential of video to the artists’ own artistic concepts. The TV screen was in a sense considered to be the “new canvas”. Nam June Paik and Wolf Vostell related explicitly to models from painting.
The first confirmed date of Vostell’s work with television is his action day on September 14, 1963, with 9 Decollages or [Life as Image] or [Image as Life] organized by the Parnass Gallery in Wuppertal. We can state with certainty that this is the first ‘videotape’, long before the actual invention of general-purpose videotape recording technology, even though this work was shot on film and had to be shown with a film projector. The images that Vostell showed were the manipulated lines of a TV set. But it is not until 1968 that the chronology of institutionalized video art presentation continues.
In 1968, WDR’S Channel 3 inCologne was the first institution to appear on the scene in connection with our theme here: Gerry Schum was commissioned to report on this new development in his film report Konsumkunst-Kunstkonsum (Consumer Art – Art Consumption). However the very first TV artwork to be broadcasted – and this pre-dates the activities of WGBH in Boston – was Black Gate Cologne by Otto Piene and Aldo Tambellini, screened on August 30, 1968, by WDR III. In this first artists’ production for television, Piene and Tambellini used the special, at the time still exceedingly limited, technical/ electronic possibilities of television to produce effects such as solarization and superimposition: for the first time, a manipulation by artists on a live happening in a studio filmed by four cameras was screened on television. It was created specifically for a television audience. It represented the beginning of a development in art were artworks were expressly conceived for the television screen and their visual import could only be realized there.
Beginning in December 1968, Schum’s first independent project, Land Art, was produced in collaboration with Ursula Wevers. It was presented in classic manner – at a vernissage in the Berlin television studio on March 28, 1969 – and broadcast on April 15, 1969, as a production commissioned by Sender Freies Berlin for ARD’S Channel 1.
The artistic media interventions of the 1960’s rejected any classic concept of the artwork even more radically. The contributions of Wolf Vostell and Otto Piene and Aldo Tambellini documented here belong in the context of media-supported action art – they were live events representing a criticism of, or an alternative to, television as a mass medium, and the notion of video art does not yet play a role. The shift away from this utopian attitude of the 1960’s, which still relates to television as the master medium, to an art-inherent concept of video art can be defined very precisely, at least in Germany.
After an exciting beginning in 1968, in 1970 the cooperation of artists with television was already at an end, the only few bold, media-compatible new forms of ‘electronic television art’ developed later or were at least screened by “Big brother” TV. Schum was only able to persuade one other television broadcaster to screen a large-scale television exhibition. On November 30, 1970, the Sudwestfunk Baden-Baden screened Identifications with works by 20 different artists.
In 1972 Schum organized an international video exhibition in the Italian Pavilion at the Biennale in Venice. In the same year he launched a four-page brochure giving information about the new video systems that were coming on the market.
Production using film was expensive (video technology was also expensive and only slowly becoming available in a convenient format – it was mainly found in television broadcasting studios), and distribution required the availability of video recorders and monitors. More fundamentally, however, the appreciation was essential that these works were important elements of the art discourse, whereby in the early 1970′s it did not make a great difference that these ‘videotapes’ were mainly produced on 16mm film.
During the late 1960′s the director of the Museum Folkwang in Essen, Paul Vogt, had began to set up a video studio, which the industry had provided free of charge in order to demonstrate the didactic value of the new technology in a museum as a preliminary to home use. Vogt was delegated to oversee the technology’s use, and together with the museum’s educational adviser, some truly dilettantish introductory films were made.
Regrettably, in the early 1970′s there was little discussion about the possibilities available to art in the medium of video: long, continuous shots (because cutting was an expensive business), black and white, direct self-observation by the person filming, intimacy for the artist who worked alone. Amateurishness, avoidance of virtuosity, and lack of technical quality should be regarded as parallels to the works of Process Art and Concept Art: “the camera is merely the means for recording, sketching, and documenting”. This way of thinking, however, does not describe the media possibilities of the moving images medium, but rather a certain basic artistic attitude.
The style spectrum of the works ranged from electronic color plays to the black and white documentary. Early works were strongly influenced by Schum’s basic aesthetic attitude. For more than a decade, it determined what the German art scene regarded as video art. When anything actually was discussed or written about video art, then it made the point that it was minimalist, documented a single action that was often repeated, was only in black and white and long-winded, technically underdeveloped and thus somehow conceptual – indeed boring.
The rigorous divisions into “video art” (Schum’s tapes), experimental forms (films and political works), and “video as information” are immediately apparent in the formulations, the selections, and the presentation, and this had a decisive influence on 1970′s Germany.
In principle, these contrasts dominate the 1970′s: experimental filmmakers are included in the domain of film at the periphery, but artist’s videotapes are avoided, which in turn are found in galleries, art societies, and at art exhibitions. Completely outside of this “established circle”, more and more “video workshops” open their doors and propagate the alternative use of the new portable medium, for example within the scope of sociological work, political struggle, or promoting the concerns of minorities. This movement, which reached its apex around the mid -1970s, brought various locales into existence in virtually every German city.
In the 1970′s – and even more infrequently in the years afterward – it only rarely happened that this sharp dividing line between what was understood as political work and artistic work was transgressed. In 1972, the most important institution for the recognition of video art in Germany makes its appearance: the Documenta in Kassel, a large-scale exhibition whose influence on the art discourse reaches far beyond the boarders of Germany.
The first comprehensive exhibition of video art was in fact part of the larger exhibition “Projekt 74” at the Kunsthalle and the Kunstverein in Cologne. Apart from Cologne, in the early 1970s Berlin developed into an important center: the first video library was established here in 1972, at the same time as and corresponding to Electronic Arts Intermix in New York. For German video art the first person whom one may term an important supportive “institution” is the patron Ingrid Oppenheim, who opened a gallery in Cologne in 1973, where she exhibited works by members of Cologne’s young video scenes.
In the second half of the 1970′s, the journal Video-Magazin rose to become the most important organ of this alternative approach; the protagonists joined forces in the “media shops” and then quietly vanished from the scene in the 1980′s. The Documenta 6, 1977, was dedicated to the differences in artistic forms of expression in the old and new media, showed the wide spectrum of video art in its international significance for the first time. Instead of speeches by politicians and curators to open the event, three actions by Joseph Beuys, Douglas Davis and Nam June Paik were broadcasted live via satellite in thirteen countries and on German television.
As of the end of 1970, television stations ceased being institutions for promoting video art, and the private art market, galleries and museums were only gradually assuming this role. Unlike limited editions of graphic prints or photo vintage prints, the owner of a videotape had the possibility of duplicating it through copying, which the industry lauded as one of the greatest advantages of this technology, a feature that everyone who owned such equipment was familiar with.
From the 1970s to the mid-1980s using video stood for a claim to the social and political function of art. The emancipatory and democratic impact ascribed to video as a medium was intended to meet two critical targets at once: the elitist, middle-class concept of the originality of fine art and the deadening consumption of mass media.
Until the 1980′s, art videos could not yet compete within the exhibition context, as they were usually shown on television screens in a special darkened room with a sequence of several contributions on the same monitor. Video art was a cross between exhibit and cinema with its own timetable, which often did not suit individual visitors and thus only reached a limited audience. Comparable art videos in museum collections, which are not usually put on permanent display until the 1980s, were available only on request or by prior appointment and could only be viewed in a special viewing area.
Until the early 1980s, a dogmatic distinction was made between film and video – experimental films were not accepted at video festivals, and videos were not shown at film festivals. Media specificity and different pictorial aesthetics were marshaled as arguments.
One can say that it was typical of the situation that in the 1980s the ZDF cultural magazine program Aspekte did not award a prize for visual art, but only for literature. Even people working on cultural programs for television did not regard the electronic medium as an independent, artistically self-sufficient medium that needed to be promoted.
During the 1980s Ingrid Oppenheim gave her video collection on permanent loan to the Kunstmuseum Bonn and committed herself to expanding the collection by purchasing further videos. The Videonale in Bonn, which has been held since 1984, is certainly indebted to her activities. Particularly in a period like the first half of the 1980s, when a ‘craving for pictures’ flooded the art market and photography and video art appeared to be a passe, Ingrid Oppenheim continued to be an aggressively committed collector of media diversity and to give preference to artists in the Rhineland region.
There have never been so many and such complex forms of ‘moving images’ produced as in the last twenty years. Even in the 1980′s and the 1990′s, video art developed into an art form of the ‘moving image’. Where the definition of video art bore the stamp of a technoid understanding, it was rapidly overtaken by a development of this same technology. The computer monitor took over from the television screen, and computer programs and hard discs from the videocassette. The changing influence of the genres also showed us that each medium has its own unique characteristics, which are inherent in it and give it an identity of its own, but that the media are also open to changes brought about by historical conditions; in other words, they are not based on technology alone. The influence of external factors (in terms of both concepts and content) can also have a media-specific effect.
It is never possible to explain the kind of qualitative leap in market value in purely technical terms. It is much more about a completely changed concept of video as a work of art. This concept was beginning to establish itself slowly in the early 1980s, partly because video installations and the video sculpture, which was quickly forgotten again, but has really had far-reaching effects over the course of about the last ten years. In fact, many well-established video artists stopped making videotapes in the late 1980s, instead producing only installations.
The practice of video art had just devoted itself to work on the disappearance of the object – and thus despite Gerry Schum’s early gallery initiatives, it was successful until way into the 1980s. The meaning of ‘video art’ has changed completely. Until the late 1980s, in precisely the same way as the term ‘video artist’, it defined a socially anchored identity and an aesthetic and social program that made a clear and critical distinction between itself and mainstream art and the mass media.
In the 1990′s easy technical access to digital image production had increased the creative output of the so-called media scene exponentially. In the early years of that decade in particular, the classic spaces and presentation forms of video art shifted out of museums into galleries, bars, clubs and mammoth parties. A new figure appeared the video jockey or VJ, mixing film on laptop in real time. Even when this phase again resulted in yet another art form or a form that was “viewable on the art market”, there was no “artistic volition” in the foreground here. These forms increasingly involved the Internet, which is becoming an ever more important meeting place for a whole new Internet video art scene as bandwidths and data transmission systems constantly expand. For the artists, access to material – similarly to photography – has become easier and easier, so that they do not have to fall back on their own cameras, but can reassemble existing material. Even now, in the field of video art in particular, there is a whole range of artists who could aptly be called “found-footage artists”. In a sense, the Internet becomes a kind of transgeographical exhibition space.
Digital technology has to an enormous extent blurred the distinctions between the classic media such as video, television, photography and film. Since the mid 1990′s, the relationship to depictable reality has been central to many works and discourses. An immerse field of tension between artistic forms of expression has started to make its presence felt in the last two decades, in particular in the area of the cross-over of different genres.
Video as a medium more than any other has addressed historical, national, civilization-related, urban and social conflicts. Since the 1990′s numerous new narrative strategies have emerged, often demonstrating fluent transitions to theater, performance, sculpture and literature. Interestingly enough, many of today’s video works go beyond the format that was for a long time typical of the short film. Video films lasting over half an hour are by no means rare.
The cultural and commercial pictorial status of video art is now somewhere between the classic, materially defined, singular pictorial objects created by painting and photography and digital image displays whose visual components are more a control surface for complex data processes that are, however, in essence entirely detached from any iconic visual quality.
The renaissance of cinema within the context of art exhibitions since the late 1990′s and the simultaneous disappearance of film material from cinematography shows that culturally and economically defined display formats and presentation contexts are now more important than material and technical carrier media. A target audience beyond the art context should ideally be reached via broadcast television, or otherwise alternative distribution channels like festivals and media initiatives. Similar motives last stimulated the brief period of euphoria over Net art in the 1990′s.
But video art is alive, indeed it is only just arriving in the art world, as is evident by the way its presence is taken for granted in museums and exhibitions.