Video Art, New Media, Digital Arts : Thinking and exhibiting the moving image

Maud Pollien Lausanne University

Video, as an inherently heterogeneous medium and as per its supports and its technical evolution is part of the intermedia field (Dick Higgins, 1966). In that sense, it escapes the compartmentalisation into rigid medium-related categories. Furthermore, its temporal dimension makes its exhibition mode problematic, while positioning it closer to the performative logic. The difficulty to give a consistent definition of video art is even stronger when one takes into consideration the multiplicity of “art and technology” and media categories – which cross, exceed or embrace the video medium. Video art is in that sense at the same time technologically over-defined during its first two decades (one inch, two inch, half-inch, three-quarter inch, U-Matic, VHS, Pal, Secam, NTSC…) and more loosely defined after its institutionalisation and homogenisation through the digital (“moving image”, “artist films”). Halfway between the art world, the expanded cinema and communication, video, despite its ambiguous and ever-changing nature, can be approached by considering the different contexts in which it is displayed and distributed.

My implication as a PhD researcher in the project “From video art to new media : the case of the VideoArt Festival Locarno (1980-2001)”, directed by François Bovier, gives me the opportunity to work on the VAF archives, which have never been taken into consideration as a whole before (video works / performances / workshops programs, as well as symposia and conferences reports).

In line with this project, my PhD thesis « Video Art, New Media, Digital Arts : Thinking and exhibiting the moving image » intends to contribute to a renewed history of video art, from its emergence, to its institutionalisation, and to the shift brought about by digitalisation. It will systematically take into consideration modes of circulation, discursive networks, critical reception and ways of exhibiting video artworks, on the line of the “Minor History” (Joseph, 2008 ; Bovier, 2017) which aims to shed new light on a corpus of artistic practices by considering neglected archives and events that haven’t been retained by “dominant” history.

Therefore, I wish to focus on four different modes of exhibiting video art : the exhibition, the festival, the performance and the television.

In this perspective I intend to proceed through three steps. Firstly, a systematic redefinition and a delimitation of terms, categories, discourses and concepts such as Video Art, Electronic Art, Computer Art, Audiovisual Art, Media and Performance Art, Artist films. Secondly, a periodisation of the different video technologies. Thirdly, a mapping of events (festivals, exhibitions, performances) as an evolving network determined by its actors (curators, art dealers, artists) and its institutions (museums, galleries, artists’ spaces, festivals, television channels).

On that basis, I will focus on different case studies with distinct specificities on the level of their production mode, their distribution network or their specific exhibition display.

The video section of the exhibition Projekt 74 conceived by Wulf Herzogenrath at the Kölnischer Kunstverein and the Kunsthalle offers a rich example of one of the first ambitious and extended initiative that questioned and contextualised time-based media, including video tapes and video installations, through a vast selection of European and American artists, such as Nam June Paik, Peter Campus, Dan Graham, Michael Hayden, Frank Gillette and Douglas Davis. Furthermore, this case allows us to explore the sources of inspiration before and after the event and how the works were respectively presented in other contexts.

Gerry Schum, on another hand, pioneered the potential of television as a production and exhibition space on its own. With the Fernsehgalerie (1969-1972, Germany), he curated an authentic exhibition of contemporary artworks, consisting in an audiovisual broadcast at given schedules on the German TV channels Deutschen Fernsehen and Südwestfunk Baden-Baden, contributing in establishing the “Land Art” (term pinned by one of the broadcast) in the contemporary art scene.

The experimental collective art space The Kitchen was inaugurated on June 15 1971 on the initiative of the artists Steina and Woody Vasulka, who initially intended to create a place to present video works by artists, which quickly extended to include performance art, dance and music as well. This space represented an important place in the avant-garde scene by offering many artists, now internationally-recognised by cultural institutions, a rich framework for experimenting with the moving image, through its curated programmes and exhibitions.

Finally, the VideoArt Festival Locarno, founded in 1980 by the art dealer Rinaldo Bianda (1931-2000), which ended one year after his death, presents an exemplary case of a festival dedicated to video, both through its longevity and the diversity of its different approaches to the field. The program consisted, on the one hand, in the diffusion and exhibition of video and electronic works (on monitors or as installations), and on the other hand, in the organisation of symposiums and round tables in Monte Verita (Ascona), curated by René Berger (president of the AICA – International Association of Art Critics), where researchers coming from a wide diversity of disciplines addressed such topics as video art, cybernetics, or new technologies.

Engaging with these case studies will allow us to address the following issues : what are the historical boundaries of video art ? When does it start and when does it end ? How could we articulate different moving image and art and technology typologies across the shift from analogue to digital ? To which extent do new media break apart from video art, or simply reshape its main features ?

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