50 years of video arts
babelmed - 17/10/2013
Where did video art come from? Where is video art today? Where is video art going?
Video art was invented by the children of the Second World War and is the contemporary art… of Mediterranean revolutions and the Greek tragedy 1963 was chosen as the starting point of this great history which is far from its conclusion, in reference to what is considered to be its inaugural act, performed by the Korean artist Nam June Paik whose 13 prepared TV sets were exhibited in the Parnass Gallery in Wuppertal, Germany, at a Fluxus event (Music/Electronic TV). The same year, the German artist Wolf Vostell screened his famous “Sun in your head” and the French artist Jean-Christophe Averty caused a scandal on television when he put a baby in a grinder (“The green grapes”, October 63).
These three artists affirmed single-handedly the international scope of video art, its hybrid forms (video, television, computer, cinema, visual arts, music…), and its irreverent attitude towards the prevailing artistic practices of the era.
If the first generation of artists comes mainly from rich, industrialised countries, we now witness the flourishing of video art in new territories: North Africa, Middle-East, Asia, Central and South Americas. In designating Paik and Vostell our pioneers, affiliated to Fluxus and an artist pataphysician (Averty), we proudly uphold the audacity, the wish to nourish the flux between life and art, and the thirst for creation of new forms and affinities between the work of art and its viewer: much more than a simple devotion to new technologies.
The narrative of video art must be written in an open future whose routes are not yet traced; the paths will only reveal themselves under the feet of those who venture forth. These are the possibles that we must invent. Just as Lewis Carroll’s Alice discovers that she must walk backwards to reach the Red Queen, we will turn to the past to discover new ways forward. It is not a matter of making electronic poetry available for digital tools and art historians, but about making tools and know-how available to artists and to the public. Ergo, video art will never neglect its ultimate goal – Re-existence!
It is not surprising that these outbursts of poetronic re-existence have found space in countries where revolutions are happening. Video screens are the Tahrir and Taksim Squares (in Cairo and Istanbul, respectively) of artistic expression. Tahrir means ‘liberation’ and Taksim ‘distribution’. All the poelitical processes of video art are embodied in these two words, emancipating language through the dissemination of astonishing images and sounds hitherto dislocated, disrupted, agitated. All revolution is the destruction of an established order. The questioning of existing hierarchical forms creates new and unprecedented frameworks, borne out of fresh perspectives: video art is organised disorder!
It has been said before that “video art is contemporary art …” and the ellipsis carries much meaning. In isolation, ‘contemporary art’ is simply a nonsensical registered domain name. Art must be a contemporary of something else, even if one of its most appealing qualities is to resemble something untimely, that is, discordant with its era.
“The Turkish and Arab revolutions! But also the Greek tragedy” that (re)plays (like a farce) before our petrified eyes. The cradle of our much-touted western democracy, her sovereignty deposed by European bankers. For the first time since the Colonels’ coup d’état, the Greek government scrapped public broadcasting on June 11th 2013. Pluto, god of finances, makes Greece the testing-ground for new economic and social policies that will fast become standard everywhere. Meanwhile, Plato (in his role as home secretary) continues to exclude all poets from his liberal, modernized Republic. ‘To arms, brave poetizens!’
Celebrating 50 years of video art, and electing Marseille the Global Capital of Electronic Poetry for several days, is to vindicate the spirit of Fluxus from joyous mockery. The close-to-a-hundred artists present are tiny Davids facing the gigantic Goliath of acculturation which propagates itself at digital speed. The thirty video installations create stellar barricades against a sky full of drones and moralising gods. The 150 or so scheduled films are the projection of emancipated desires. The performances will signal the declaration of a state of emergency in our need for a new, multi-immediate, art. Our round tables will be green fields where ideas can frolic, a same-sex marriage for conflicting points of view.
A festival is a workbench operated by an armful of hands, which becomes by the sheer force of things (and others) a critical counter for our certainties. Doubting is permitted! We have spent much of the (light) year thus far casting doubts with our co-conspirators, in Tokyo in February, Liege in March, Alexandria in April, Yokohama in June, Ramallah in July, docking now in Marseille (both home-base and launchpad). Residence permits are available on demand!
We dedicate this 26th Instants Video to Paolo Rosa, the founder of the Studio Azzurro of Milan, who sadly passed away this summer in Corfu, Greece.