Video Vortex: opening session Friday January 18
Yesterday the workshop, this morning the start of the two-day “Video Vortex – responses to YouTube”, an international conference organized by the Institute of Network Cultures at PostCS11, Amsterdam. A good crowd fills the hall at the 11th floor of the ex- Dutch postal service building, all waiting for the first session to kick off. When everyone has found a seat, Geert Lovink opens the session and the two-day conference has started.
[all photos by Anne Helmond]
This session covers, as the program booklet states, the YouTube era we’re living now, where video content is produced bottom-up with emphasis on participation, sharing and community networking. But as companies like Flickr being consumed by Yahoo, YouTube by Google, the question rises what the future is for the production and distribution of independent online video content. How can a participatory culture achieve a certain degree of autonomy and diversity outside mass media? What is the artistic potential of video database and online filmmaking?
The first to speak is Tom Sherman. Sherman is an artist and writer and professor in the Department of Transmedia at Syracuse University in central New York. He has represented Canada at the Venice Biennale, performs and records with the group Nerve Theory, and received the Bell Canada Award for excellence in video art in 2003. His most recent book is Before and after the I-Bomb: an Artist in the Information Environment (Banff Centre Press, 2002).
In his presentation, Sherman gives a nice overview of the forty years of “video evolution”, in which video art has lived many lives. Born out of television, video decentralized this medium by allowing consumers to electronically capture, record, process, store, and reconstruct a sequence of still images. The evolution of video has been fuelled not only by this capturing and storing, but also by the development of display techniques of which the future will bring us thinner displays (as thick as paper), which makes the ubiquity of displays possible (video watches, videophone (iPhone)), etc.). Distribution and exhibition of video is transformed into file sharing and transmission.
Is video a tool or an art medium? According to Sherman it is both. Video can be an art medium, just as it is used for video conferencing, video dating, video surveillance, video gaming etc. So video art is a way in which the “tool” video is being used.
In the late 60-ies, video was a process not a product. You’d capture the moment, analyze this in the initial playback, and then re-record over it. Videotape is not television (VT = not TV), but now with the overwhelming online video that is available, and people watching tv-episodes online next to “home made” videos, television is loosing its higher ground. As in many forms of art, video art as an art based on aesthetics is now in a period when “life waltzes over it”, like a tsunami, depriving it (perhaps) of its aesthetics, its rules.
As Sherman is talking about the history of video art, he shows that video art has had a repeated near death experience, as it is difficult at times in its 40 year existence to commodify and only kept alive by the following ongoing life support systems:
– Educational institutions
– Museums and galleries
– Television network cable and the web
– Video publishing
– Governments and foundations
– Nightclubs music video and video culture hybrids
Video Art vs Vernacular Video: art becomes conservative
Video Art started the development of its aesthetics (internal logic, set of rules for making it) as a response to television. It was then avant garde. But with the rise of vernacular video (peoples video from their points of view), video art seems to attach itself firmly to traditional visual art, media and cinematic history in attempts to distinguish itself from the broader media culture. Video art becomes “rear garde”, it becomes conservative.
The characteristics of vernacular video (according to Sherman):
– Displayed recordings will continue to be shorter and shorter like tv and advertising
– Use of canned music will prevail
– Video diaries will become important, voice over will replace writing
– More road films, travelogues
– More extreme films
Where Video art “is” aesthetic, Sherman sees vernacular video as anesthetic: we don’t follow rules with recording. As said, video art was response to television, now the Internet is replacing TV, thus video art will be a response to the web.
Read Sherman’s article Vernacular Video.
The second speaker is Rosemary Comella who has been working since 2000 as a researcher, project director, interface designer and programmer at the Labyrinth Project. As part of Labyrinth, she developed the interface for Tracing the Decay of Fiction, a collaborative project between experimental filmmaker Pat O’Neill and the Labyrinth team, and she helped direct The Danube Exodus: The Rippling Current of the River, an interactive installation with filmmaker Peter Forgács. She also developed Bleeding Through: Layers of Los Angeles, an interactive installation and DVD-ROM, in collaboration with cultural historian Norman Klein and the Center for Art and Media (ZKM) in Germany. She directed and served as photographer for Cultivating Pasadena: From Roses to Redevelopment, an installation and DVD-ROM, including catalog, exhibited at the Pasadena Museum of California Art in 2005. Comella is currently creative director for ‘Jews in the Golden State: A Home-Grown History of Immigration and Identity’, a public on-line archive and museum installation that hopes to illuminate one hundred and fifty years of Jewish history in California through a visually engaging project that invites users to supplement official history with their own histories and memories using text, home movies, photographs and ephemera.
In her presentation Comella put emphasis on the relation between narrativity and the database. As content on YouTube seems rather chaotic, a role for artists is to create order out of this chaos in picking and choosing, editing and shaping an anti-thesis of YouTube with discipline spaces that are coherent. Many of Comella’s projects have been participatory but in a more disciplined way. Participation of specialists and non-specialists.
Comella shows some of her work, of which two I will mention here. The first is a project she made in collaboration with Pat O’Neil, known for his participatory-style work, called “Tracing the Decay of Fiction”. The interface of the interactive DVD let’s you navigate through the rooms of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. It contains the now locked ballroom where Sirhan Bishara Sirhan assassinated Bobby Kennedy. J. Edgar Hoover, Marilyn Monroe, Howard Hughes, Jean Harlow, John Barrymore and Gloria Swanson once lived there, and with this DVD you can see footage that was shot over the last 30 years (numerous movies and scenes have been shot there). For generations of moviegoers and television consumers, these names and events have seeped into our consciousness, have become our memories.
Another project is called Home-Grown History. It is a software tool that is being developed at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, in collaboration with a number of partners. The Home-Grown History, software concept stems from earlier projects that combine personal and public archives to visually and aurally represent cultural histories of a particular place over time. In this latest incarnation, the software will be applied to the project Jews in the Golden State: a Home-grown History of Immigration and Identity that will work both as an on-line archive and traveling museum installation. The tool and concept can easily be applied to other communities. The concept is to facilitate the creation of a profound social space and structure for encouraging a productive dialogue between personal stories and public histories, in a way that will be useful and pleasurable to both the academic historian and the general public.
This session ended with a presentation by Florian Schneider, a filmmaker who has been involved in a wide range of projects that deal with the implications of postmodern border regimes on both a theoretical and practical level, over the past ten years. He is one of the initiators of the campaign Kein Mensch ist Illegal at documenta X in 1997 and subsequent projects such as the Noborder Network and the online platform kein.org. He developed and co-organized several events, including Makeworld (2001) and Borderline Academy (2005). Currently Schneider is working on Imaginary Property, a series of texts, films and video installations researching the question: “What does it mean to own an image?” He has lectured at museums, galleries, art academies and conferences worldwide. Since 2006 he has taught art theory at the art academy KIT in Trondheim and he is a member of the PhD program “research architecture” at Goldsmiths College, London.
Schneider gave a very good, yet very long presentation of which I will try to give a summary here. After the talk, Schneider promised me to put the transcript of his lecture on nettime somewhere next week, so make sure to read it (and check my summary for mistakes;)
The summary: Digitization of our ‘lives’ has irrevocably changed our image of ownership, and property. Self and ownership have a whole new arithmetic. Was the old, bourgeois conception of property characterized by anonymity and objectivity, (the relation between you and the object you may or may not own), today’s immaterial production, digital reproduction, and networked distribution create the need for property relations to be made visible in order to be enforced (now the relationship between you and property has changed to you and other users who can play with these images). We need to believe that property is still around in order for capitalism to work.
Property exists first of all as imagery (logo’s, branding, images as someone else’s property) and rapidly becomes a matter of imagination. A contrary way of reading “imaginary property” could also be understood as the expression of a certain form of possession or ownership of imaginaries: It opens up to the question: “What does it mean to own an image”?
Schneider sees a problem in the massive expropriation of images that is presented to us as web2.0: as soon as you upload, you sign the agreement to give the rights to a corporation. This massive expropriation is a response to p2p networks (they basically do the same) But what is at stake here? Ownership. The new imaginary ownership: replace ‘intellectual property’ with ‘imaginary property’, and see what happens then…