Mediamatic Magazine Vol. 2#4 1 Jan 1988

Fukui Video Biennale

The second Fukui International Video Biennale entitled Discovery of Resources of Our Time was held in March of this year. Fukui is a coastal city of 280.000 inhabitants to the west of Tokyo. Monique Ruhe, Dutch art and design ambassador to the Japan - Netherland Institute in Tokyo, reports.

The artist KEIGO YAMAMOTO took the initiative for the first Biennale in 1985. He also played an important part in the organizing of the second festival. In 1985, only videotapes were submitted by the seven participating countries. This time a continuous program of international videos was once again presented in Fukui's PHOENIX PLAZA. However, I don't intend to concentrate here on these productions, most of which are well-known in Europe. The most important part of the program was an exhibition of video installations in the FUKUI ART MUSEUM. Japan, Canada and the Netherlands were invited to submit a number of works and there was also the inevitable PAIK piece. Why, exactly Canada and the Netherlands were invited is a question one can only speculate upon. But undoubtedly a certain pragmatism was involved. The Japanese Minister President TAKESHITA recently presented Canada with a million dollars for the promotion of Japanese culture there. So, presumably the festival's organizers expected some goodwill in return. Also the art-loving reputation that the Dutch government seems to be gaining internationally must have played a part. Japan's participation goes without saying and the museum has owned PAIK's installation since 1986.
The Japanese organization can hardly be blamed for this pragmatism. In this country of audio-visual superlatives, a VA GOGH is greedily snapped up - as if it were a bottle of fine burgundy. There is almost no money available for their contemporary (video) art. There is virtually no support from the government and companies such as SOY and MATSUSHITA only provide equipment. In March, a theatre impressario, a major drinks company and PANASONIC calmy coughed up a thousand million yen(14 million guilders) for a large marquee for rock concerts that was erected for a period of just six weeks with an 84 monitor floor. In contrast, the financing for this important video festival was still completely uncertain some four weeks before it was scheduled to start. Finally solace was offered by the regional government along with the museum and the companies mentioned above. Help from the Dutch and Canadian governments enabled those artists concerned to construct their installations in situ .
The financial motives for the choice of artists became still clearer by the exhibition's absence of concept. The festival's title could have provided a source of inspiration. However, curators CHRISTINE RITCHIE (C) and TOM VAN VLIET ( L) knew nothing of this in advance. The choice was completely left up to them. Indeed, the question is whether the slogan Discovery of Resources of our Time would have provided much of afoothold anyway. Due to the financial uncertainty, the catalogue only appeared in
May but its absence of text and background information did not make the whole thing any clearer to visitors.

Didactic Undertone

That there were major differences between submissions was probably due to the fact that selections were made by each country independently without any forms of joint vision. All the Canadian installations could be described in the same way: lots of text, not much installation. Whatever one's admiration for the ample and typically
anglo-saxon use of text in video, the question remains as to whether such an installation still works in a museum. 1m any case, CHRISTINE RITCHIE should have realized that not everyone in the world understands English (a well-known misconception of Anglophone origin).
Translation is certainly a necessity in Japan. Hence, most of the installations were
inaccessible to the Japanese. VERA FRENKEL's installation //Censored: the
Business of Frightened Desires (or the making of a Pornographer) was the most painful example of this. Installed in an enormous space with panels of text on the walls, a documentary tape about the sex life of the flea showed that pornography and censorship are not each other's antithesis but can be effortlessly interchanged. //In
pornography, pain is disguised as pleasure, in censorship pleasure as pain//. Both remove the right of the individual to recognize that theft (of pleasure or of images of pleasure) has occured and both assert that they are indispensable, that they are for our benefit. They are, however, nothing other than the JANUS face of fear. This long-winded presentation is no doubt valuable within the context of the endless Canadian censorship debate but is less suited for export.
The significance of J0HN WATT's Television Blong Vanatu -Nivan TV also remains in something of a vacuum. A monitor in a hut showed a program in French and English about the use and recent history of New Caledonia. Perhaps this 's something for television?
BARBARA STEINMAN 's Cenotaph was much more succesful: a memorial to the suffering of humanity, victimized by each other. A plinth was flanked by three gravestones inscribed with texts in Spanish. Flames were reflected on each side of this pyramid , an eternal flame for the victims. Slides were projected into niches on either side of the monument that showed graves and remains of humanity; the black and white graininess of the images made them look almost like fossils. The gravestones were illuminated by spotlights so that the shadows of the texts were reflected on the floor. This aesthetic installation, which was installed in an underground space of the museum, was extremely effective.
JAN PEACOCK's Stormwatch consisted of a monitor showing snow over which
individual words were projected which ultimately formed the sentence: //Because of
the poor visibility drivers are having problems seeing young children// . The words, which were shown both seperately and in combination created a strong feeling of alienation. This was emphasized by brief glimpses of children in a misty landscape. However, the subsequent projection of the complete sentence destroyed any atmosphere. Instead he favoured the didactic undertone that typified all the Canadian representatives.


Didactic and moralizing prattle is also not unknown amongst the Dutch and here SERVAAS must surely take the cake . His Court of Justice which was presented here is certainly the most unambiguous example of the media-criticism-bigotry that he specializes in. Generally, he shrouds his message in the effective abstractism of pneumatic video. Sometimes he creates extremely beautiful images through his struggle with the medium's fascination on the one hand and the critical on the other. This ambivalence hardly survives in Court of Justice. The installation consisted of a tape that was shown on a monitor placed on a wide table. A viewer would be seated on a chair opposite the monitor. A judge, played by HELMERT WOUDENBERG, then condemned the spectator for passive viewing. His speech was adapted and subtitled for Japanese consumption. The court denounced excessive viewing of Miami Vice and Hill Street Blues and the viewer was well chastised: verbally by the judge and physically by the chair on which he was seated . There seemed to be some hidden device that jolted the chair with each bang of the judicial hammer. A surprizing effect. Each jolt made one feel caught out: the uneasy position of being in public created fright and embarassment. An embarassment which was not evoked by the content of the indictment. Yet the installation is always a success with the public.
NAN HOOVER’s splendid atmospheric installation Travel in Light contrasted strongly with SERVAAS' racket. For an detailed account of Travel in Light I refer you to MARIE ADÈLE RAJANDREAM's article in Mediamatic vol. 1 no.3. In Mediamatic vol. I no.4 RAJANDREAM describes Paracas Chimu, a large-scale installation in which FRITS MAATS experiments with the combination of painting and video. His Die Universelen installation, which was presented in Fukui and previously in Amsterdam's GALERIE RENÉ COELHO, is a continuation of this research.

Well-organized Factory

The central installation was PAIK's Made in Eiheiji. This work was realized during
fortnight's stay in the Zazen EIHEI temple which is not far from Fukui. Around 200 monks live in this temple most of whom are trained for the priesthood. A small number remain monks in this temple or others that belong to the sect. This complex provides
room for guests who choose to share the monks' extremely ascetic existence. In my
opinion, PAIK's installation expresses the wordly rather than the sacred aspect of their lives. The image of a monk was placed opposite a column of four monitors which showed the same monk in full lenghts, either on each screen or divided over all four. Tongues of fire flickered in the foreground. The images were accompanied by monks singing sutras and by the chirping of crickets. On further inspection, the sculpture appeared to come from one of the many souvenir shops you come across at the EIHEI temple. The flames on the screen did not damage the image, as if PAIK wanted to say that commercialism is now an integral part of these sacred institutions. The cleansing function that used to be attributed to the symbol of fire is no linger applicable; every image of a monk that is destroyed is replaced by an identical sculpture. Visiting the temple emphasizes this impression. There were English speaking monks as tour guides who admitted that they were hardly able to continue their normal work because of the sheer number of tourists. The large complex had something of the atmosphere of a well-organized factory with well-versed monks as exemplary workers and the objects in the all-too-blatant souvenir shops as the tangible end products. The sniggers of the people of Fukui with their stories of the monks' eagerness to alternate their rigid way of life with visits to local bars deepened my understanding of other fine installations by PAIK such as Zazen with a Wink.

Superfluous Additions

HIROYASAKURAI's TV Terrorist was the most impressive of the Japanese installations . On entering the darkened hall , you were immediately confronted with a more than life-sized head shown on a large screen which was covered with a cloth and which shrouded the monitor's form. The head's assertive presence made me think of a newspaper article I had read. It told of an American lawyer who has patented a machine to keep a severed head alive . In theory, this is already possible by combining existing, available technology such as a lung maschine, an artificial heart and kidneys and other vital equipment necessary to keep an organism alive. The aim of requesting this patent was to attract an ethical discussion because the lawyer firmly believes that this kind of machine will be built in the not-toodistant future. In view of the formal parallels, SAKURAI's installation also raises the question of to what extent it is ethically responsible to allow our lives to be governed by technology, in this case by TV that intrudes into our lives so mercilessly. His answer is simple and effective: the gallows in front of the head make it clear that to him that boundary has already been exceeded. Unfortunately, in my opinion the installation's effect is somewhat diminished by superfluous additions.
OSAMA AGATA's Sun Dial also suffered from this deficiency. A twig grew out of a monitor which was set into a low, round table . Its shadow was cast over the screen which showed a bed of sand and corresponded to the movement of the sun (sometimes covered with clouds) on a second monitor opposite. The actual time was meticulously indicated. This would have been surprising and effective were it not for the fact that then metres later you suddenly encountered a smaller version of the monitor with a twig around which 24 numbered stones had been arranged (twice one to twelve ). A superfluous clarification that added nothing to the work . MARl OYAMA showed a nice example of technology with her Twinkle Passed A way . But it was hardly enthralling.

Visual Muzak

The range of work shown in this festival was extremely wide and qualitively somewhat variable. All contemporary applications of video were represented. Japan is not yet read y for an exhibition or discussion that focuses on any specialised area such as the much-argued question of whether video can or should be shown on TV. There is no video art on Japanese television apart from videoclips; the number of museums that dare show video art (tapes and /or installations) can be counted on the fingers of one hand. So far as I know , Fukui is the only first festival in Japan to show video installations on such a large scale and in a museum. Interest in the festival was relatively large . Hopefully this means a step towards recognition by Japanese sponsors, museums and government who will then go beyond simply keep ing an eye on the functional and commercial advantages of hardware. Because what is remarkable here is the increasing integration of video (installations) into public spaces (something that still creates problems in the West).
Large department stores are increasingly using images of peaceful landscapes, romantic swans and forget-me-nots as a kind of visual muzak . More and more trendy boutiques and coffee shops are using built-in monitors to tile their walls and floors to attract consumerist high school and college students hungry for spectacular effects. As long video combines with 1commerce there has never been a lack of interest.

translation ANNE WRIGHT