There's nothing as cosy as a video festival. The social hullabaloo around video (art) and the useful business contacts one establishes. The delightful snacks, inspiring and extremely fluid discussions at the bar, flirtations with male or female colleagues. Crowded appointment and address books, seeing old friends and acquaintances again - I wouldn't miss it for the world!
It's just that the looking at the videos is a bit of an ordeal. Not that there's anything wrong with video art, at least not more than with any other form of art or video. The problem is really its presentation form at festivals.
All video festivals are built around the same nucleus: the screening of tapes. A different program takes place around this in each festival: the social rituals, forum discussions, live performances, installations, TV transmissions and workshops. Once again: my life and pleasure. But the tapes are a disaster.
For instance, the World Wide Video Festival (organized annually by the KIJKHUIS in The Hague since 1980 and perhaps the best in Europe) showed around a hundred tapes this year with an average lenght of 25 minutes. Therefore, that's more than a full working week of continuous video art.
By means of repetitions and parallel screenings in the three halls, it's possible for the viewer to compose and follow an individual program. The festival lasts six days, twelve hours a day, so along with the tapes there is still time for the sideprogram. The whole design works perfectly and I have a deep respect for the people who prepare this and other festivals.
However, there's a problem: the problem of time. The problem of time is naturally mentioned in connection with video art but at festivals one is confronted with it in all its, awfulness. Not if you attend the whole festival but certainly if you only have a few days. This year, it wasn't possible to follow the whole program even if you stayed four days in The Hague.
Of course that doesn't have to be a problem. But despite the fact of a rigorous selection process by the festival's organizers (less than 10% of the tapes submitted are actually chosen), fewer than half the tapes - to me personally at least - are worth the trouble. The festival's over before I've been able to work out which part I ought to go to see. I go home with the feeling of having missed the most beautiful and important tapes and of having wasted too much time on what for me was unimportant material.
But I worked so hard! Much to the annoyance of my fellow festival visitors, I would get up and leave the hall as soon as I lost interest in a tape. Then I'd hurry to another floor to check out if something was happening there. After a quick inspection, I'd often decide to take a look at the third program. Only to realize that perhaps I should have stayed in the first hall after all. Where meanwhile a new tape had already started. So I waste an important part of my time at the festival by nervously running up and down stairs and flicking through the catalogue in a panic. Even when I do see something brilliant which I stay to watch, there's always the nagging doubt that perhaps that tape being shown in hall 3 is even better?
There is a simple solution for the problems outlined above which is the logical result of the medium's technical characteristics and even offers the festival arranger new possibilities.
The New Festival
The process of looking at video art must be individualized. Every visitor to the festival (or perhaps every two or three) should be provided with a monitor with a remote control unit and headphones. Using the remote control, the visitor chooses from the festival program which is simultaneously available on a large number of channels.
Probably, this situation seems familiar. The possibility of making a free choice from a wide range of programs already exists in the living room. But please note, this isn't an argument for transmitting video art on TV. I'm only borrowing the distribution techniques developed for (cable) television. By these means, installations are also easy to realize, they can be completely arranged from component parts for cable television. Along with the 'individual monitor', a regular colour TV with a 99 channel stereo tuner. And, of course, teletext: perhaps for subtitling, background information about each tape and clear information about the whole program.
In its purest and most neutral form, every tape from the festival would have its own channel. Arranged in the alphabetical order of the authors. The tapes would be shown all day. They would begin every ten minutes so that it's easy for the viewer to start at the right moment if that's appreciated.
One can find one's way through the festival with the help of the teletext, check everything out for the first hour in order afterwards to view particular tapes, some in part, some many times over.
Of course, it's possible to use one TV with other visitors, the continuous process of choice stimulating discussion. If a particular tape is recommended by an acquaintance, it's easy to view it at once, perhaps together and to discuss the tape's peculiarities with each other.
A still more important benefit is the regained intimacy of the new festival. My feeling is that video art is best seen in the privacy of one's living room. During the first video festival in The Hague, there was a small hall with eight chairs and a monitor. That was the best hall in the KIJKHUIS: you could touch the image.
There was a space like that at this year's Videonale in Bonn. But next time, that festival will probably attract too large a public and switch over to projectors. A compensation deemed necessary for the horrors of looking at art in herds. Along with individualizing the process of looking at video art, this technique also offers possibilities for the exhibition organizer.
The New Video Exhibition
The presentation techniques described above have an interesting resemblance to the way in which museums present visual art. It concerns simultaneousness. The simultaneous presence of all the work shown at an ordinary exhibition gives its organizer specific possibilities for expression and a related responsibility that goes further than the choice the festival organizer makes.
Along with the selection, the exhibition arranger's power also exists in the combinations and successions within that show. In the new video art exhibition, one is aware of the obvious equivalents to these possibilities. Everyone knows that interesting confrontations occur on television when the same news item is covered in different ways on four channels simultaneously. Or when the President of the United States appears on the news program while elsewhere holding an innocent family hostage in an old B film. These sort of more or less trivial and coincidental meetings can be arranged and exploited within the total program available in the video art exhibition.
In addition, it's of course still possible to play a number of tapes one after another on one channel so that the visitor switches between clusters. Within the total number of channels, one can also imagine groupings: 1 to 9, 20 to 35 and so forth. Or, less artificially, the program combinations are distributed amongst a number of monitors which then function in a way which resembles a room in a museum.
These monitors can in turn be confronted with stationary installations within the exhibition space. It is also possible to . form combinations with tapes which are permanently being screened and with other forms of visual art.
This individualization of screenings will restore significant contact between the public and video art and stimulate its easy integration amongst other forms of visual art.
If you'd like to quote something: Velthoven, Willem. "Touch Screen Video." Mediamatic Magazine vol. 1 # 3 (1987).
Translation: Annie Wright