The Historical Online Video Programme

9 works from the early history of transmediale
 
transmediale was founded in 1988 as VideoFilmFest, at a time when video art was in a difficult in-between state. It was seen as a “minority culture” (Micky Kwella in the programme booklet from 1988) and was not recognised by the world of film. Video projectors – in Germany known futuristically as “beamers” – were too rare, too expensive and above all too poor quality. Even from the back row, the lines of the image structure could still be seen – the video itself becoming obscured by a technically insufficient matrix, with colours reminiscent of plastic bags with advertisements printed on them. At the same time however, the new technology contained within it the magnificent promise of independent production. Even though the equipment was nearly as expensive as in film, the material itself – video tapes – were incredibly cheap. It made most sense therefore for video artists and activists to form collectives and share the costs of expensive acquisitions in order to then be able to shoot without the pressure of TV channels or film production companies. The founding organisation of transmediale, the “Medienoperative”, was one of these numerous collectives. Around this time, many creative limitations of video technology could be overcome. Video mixers were outrageously expensive but getting hold of one meant that you were able to realise exciting new effects, such as bluescreen, picture-within-picture edits, animated fonts and rotating three-dimensional effects, which up until then had been exclusive to commercial large-scale productions. Using these effects however, required not only access to the high-end technology of the times but also demanded a great technical know-how, which led to quite a few artists losing themselves in the development of technical frippery. This might also be one of the reasons why the video art of the 1980s and 90s is now only rarely shown in the context of exhibitions. On the other hand, a new generation of “digital natives” are now discovering the curious and imperfect beauty of this analogue video material.

 

With this inevitably fragmentary online video programme we are seeking to make accessible to a broader public some of those partially forgotten treasures from the early days of VideoFilmFest. In order to do this we have emphasised three open-ended topics: first, presenting the German video art scene from which VideoFilmFest arose; then the aesthetic exploration of the video material and its possibilities (which at the time made up an essential part of video art); and finally, besides a number of classic works, we will be streaming pieces that have not been shown in a long time. Many of the works in this programme have had to either be copied from the original masters or even restored especially for transmediale 2012. Most of them address mass media – in particular television and its aggressively propagandistic visual aesthetics. What we have consciously omitted in this programme is the second strand of VideoFilmFest: the creation of politically engaged documentary videos, which throws up an entirely different field and history.

 

Flirting TV by Michaela Buescher is a very rarely shown work, which was the first video piece in the first programme of VideoFilmFest '88. Here, the perspective of spectator and protagonist is inverted and television looks back. The work embodies the ambition of video art to not only critique mass media but also to use and to change it. Fittingly, it was produced together with the state television channel ZDF. (VideoFilmFest '88)

 

Gegen Gefühls Debilität by Hanspeter Ammann seems like a counterpoint to the opinionated video art of its time. Despite the unambiguousness of the title, the context of this beautiful assemblage remains as enigmatic as the entire work. (VideoFilmFest '88)

 

Rotraut Pape, along with her video collective RASKIN, was one of the most high profile video artists of the 1990s. Mutter Vater ist tot is a cool re-enactment of the confusion around the death of a protagonist in the series Dallas. (VideoFest '89)

 

Raphael Montañez Ortiz is regarded as the inventor of the scratch video technique in which the typically found-footage material is quickly forwarded and rewound – a technique which has since found its place within the established repertoire of video art. The Kiss stretches the dramatic climax of a love scene from Hollywood to infinity. (VideoFest '92)

 

Although a small independent Super-8 scene did exist in the GDR in the 1980s, video technology belonged exclusively to the state and was therefore inaccessible to artists. It was not until the end of the 1980s that the GDR tried also to make the new technology accessible to artists (in small, regulated amounts) such as in the context of the video workshop of the FDJ. Immediately after the fall of the Wall the VideoFest made contacts within the East German video art scene and was able to present three programmes in 1990. One of the presented works was Born in the GDR by Katrin Willims, a sharp satire of the GDR with music by Sandow. (VideoFest '90)

 

The very subtle work Off by Franziska Megert addresses an electronic flaw of the television tubes of the time; the short after-glow of the image upon switching off the device becoming a meditative representation of nothingness. (VideoFest '90)

 

George Kuchar with his laconic diaries is one of the best-known video artists from the US. Going Nowhere was created on his 50th birthday and addresses the sadness of aging, which Kuchar deconstructs with his particular sense of humour over the course of the piece. (VideoFest '93)

 

Video-Theorie II stems from a series of ironically visualised pieces of media theory by the artist couple Dellbrügge & de Moll. The experimental video emphasises the dominance of the image over the text written by Dieter Daniels. It was only through a residency in Paris that the artists were able to gain access to the complex video technology that the image is based on. (VideoFest '93)

 

With its virtuoso use of bluescreen technology, Kniespiel III by Claus Blume represents a highlight of the technical possibilities of video of the time. Ironising his technical virtuosity the artist chose traditional Bavarian folk dances as his motive for a piece that even today has not lost its suggestive power. (VideoFest '94)

 

Flirting TV, Michaela Buescher, de 1987, 8 min

Gegen Gefühls Debilität, Hanspeter Ammann, br / ch 1987, 16 min

Mutter Vater ist tot – Mother Father is Dead, RASKIN (Rotraut Pape & Andreas Coerper), de 1987, 7 min

The Kiss, Raphael Montañez Ortiz, us 1985, 6 min

Born in the GDR, Katrin Willim (Sandow), gdr 1989, 4 min

Off, Franziska Megert, de 1989, 3 min

Going Nowhere, George Kuchar, us 1992, 10 min

Video-Theorie II, Dellbrügge & de Moll, de 1992, 6 min

Kniespiel III, Claus Blume, de 1990, 4 min
 
 
(Image: RASKIN – Rotraut Pape & Andreas Coerper)