...Advances in technology have led...to vulgarity... Process reproduction and the rotary press have made possible the indefinite multiplication of writing and pictures. Universal education and relatively high wages have created an enormous public who know how to read and can afford to buy reading and pictorial matter. A great industry has been called into existence in order to supply these commodities. Now, artistic talent is a very rare phenomenon; whence it follows... that, at every epoch and in all countries, most art has been bad. But the proportion of trash in the total artistic output is greater now than at any other period. That it must be so is a matter of simple arithmetic. The population of Western Europe has a little more than doubled during the last century. But the amount of reading- and seeing-matter has increased, I should imagine, at least twenty and possibly fifty or even a hundred times. If there were n men of talent in a population of x millions, there will presumably be 2n men of talent among 2x millions. The situation may be summed up thus. For every page of print and pictures published a century ago, twenty or perhaps even a hundred pages are published today. But for every man of talent then living, there are now only two men of talent. It may be of course that, thanks to universal education, many potential talents which in the past would have been stillborn are now enabled to realize themselves. Let us assume, then, that there are now three or even four men of talent to everyone of earlier times. It still remains true to say that the consumption of reading- and seeing-matter has far outstripped the natural production of gifted writers and draughtsmen. It's the same with hearing-matter. Prosperity, the gramophone and the radio have created an audience of hearers who consume an amount of hearing-matter that has increased out of all proportion to the increase of population and the consequent natural increase of talented musicians. It follows from all this that in all the arts the output of trash is both absolutely and relatively greater than it was in the past; and that it must remain greater for just so long as the world continues to consume the present inordinate quantities of reading-matter, seeing-matter and hearing-matter.
Aldous Huxley, Beyond the Mexique Bay. A Traveller's Journal London, 1949, p.274 ff, as cited in Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of mechanical Reproduction. in: Illuminations//, New York 1968.
With its accent on the aspect of distribution as a prominent issue in the forming of thoughts about media art, Raul Marroquin touches upon an important point. Where other persons concerned with this art direction often don't get further than to realize that the video-technique (re-)introduced movement, sound, time and the narrative element in contemporary art (Lydia Schouten, Rob Perree and Rene Coehlo, alternately during the forum In the land of the blind, De Fabriek, Eindhoven), Marroquin testifies to a directedness towards possibilities inherent in the medium. As my theoretical interest in (media-)art lies also there, I'd like to make some comments on his article.
The most important question that his article evokes for me, concerns context and identity of the Prosumer. Herewith I imagine a consumer who is chained to his chair by Individeo and who in order to participate in the process of communication only has to switch the poles to finally realize the ideal of Benjamin: the consumer as producer; At any moment the reader is ready to turn into a writer. As expert, which he had to become willy-nilly in an extremely specialized work process, even If only in some minor respect, the reader gains access to authorship. This is the progress that Benjamin had in mind and that causes him to state needlessly the above quote from Huxley: This mode of observation is obviously not progressive.
Benjamin wanted to culturally emancipate the working masses, Marroquin the unemployed individual; both share a vision of the consumer as producer, of the right of 'participation' of the receiver. To me the question seems whether the product of this 'switching of poles' nowadays will be more than the comments on the work, grievances, documentary reports, or that sort of thing at the time of Benjamin. He still could, supported by revolutionary essential developments especially in Russian cinema, point to modern man's legitimate claim to being reproduced. Anno 1986 however the passtime-industry has reproduced man in every imaginable time- and energy killing form. Huxley anticipated this. The product information is the last in a long series of industrial products. The media produce and deal with this last product which is turned out by the authorities in an industrial civilization. The fact that this is finally a product which can be reproduced and distributed by every individual, makes the technical aspect of the information society attractive for artists like Marroquin: a multiple and pluriform production and also distribution of information with its final aim being total communication for which we don't have to leave our television chair and resulting in the fact that our reproductions finally will replace ourselves.
It is this framework that is offered to art by the media, as an alternative for the nineteenth century museum. These are the channels through which art as information can be realized. Naturally Benjamin was right when he demanded the right of reproduction of the (ordinary) man opposite to the illusion promoting spectacles and dubious speculations of a capitalistic film industry. However the communication of man about himself can not be realized through the media. This communication necessarily takes place outdoors in an 'unsafe' field, where the individual vulnerability is as great as possible. He who's vulnerable becomes receptive for arguments, for discussion, because the fear for domination is as a matter of course out of the question. The museum belongs, when everything is right, to those locations where man knows himself 'insecure', where his observation and ideas can be opposed. Where he himself, like on all places of public resort mingles with people whose ideas are different from his. Within the scope of a good museum, art is presented which puts under discussion both itself as well as the museum and the public. Instead of taking refuge in the cable for bad musea, the artist can on his own conditions initiate 'musea'. A context in which art is a means in the discussion about identity of consumer and producer, about the identity of contemporary man and his view of the world, along with or versus the information society.
Therefore I don't believe as such in the prosumer. Nor in the condition for prosumership: art as information. And therefore not in the cable, satellite or any other information-technological channel for art. When such 'distribution' is one of the essential qualities of the medium video then we should fear for a full-grown position of video within the visual arts and therefore it will in fact direct itself towards the media. For where it doesn't do so and hides itself within installations, it becomes Marroquin's electronic wallpaper and doesn't distinguish itself from the other wallpaper which fills for 90% our musea.
The progress of any discipline in the 'field of art', therefore also of video, lies not in the learning of one new language after another nor in the developing of one new material after another, but in the selecting of a position -by the art(ist)- with regard to the present cultural and (information) social context. In the searching for new ideologies instead of new media. Especially in the present epoch the artist has to create a context in which all disciplines have an opportunity to express themselves along with and equivalent to each other. That context lies not in the uniformness to which the media oblige. The aspect of distribution to video art is therefore only interesting in the 'old.fashioned' sense: video can easily be reproduced and distributed. For being also interesting as a form of art, as well as being able to be put to the test, it is therefore not so much the manner in which that is important, but much more the locations through which it is distributed. These locations should be stationed in the field of art and should offer video a place next to the other disciplines which the art(ist) has allowed himself during the last hundred years.
If you'd like to quote something: Kleerebezem, Jouke. "Today's Audience never sleeps." Mediamatic Magazine vol. 1 # 1 (1986).
All quotes from: Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of mechanical Reproduction in: Illuminations, New York 1968
Title with thanks to Raul Marroquin
Translation: 'Grand Prix' Groningen