Mediamatic Magazine Vol. 2#2 Simon Biggs 1 Jan 1987


Speculations on Video as Dream

During the recent The Arts for Television symposium at the STEDELIJK MUSEUM, Amsterdam, the Chicago based artist ED RANKUS compared the artist's vision, and his use of the video medium, as akin to the dream. RANKUS' own work has drawn to some degree upon FREUD'S Interpretation of Dreams, notably his video She heard Voices (1985). His comments, which were brief and rather general, open up space for speculation upon video as dream relative to a televisual reality.

It is understood that the dream occurs in a short space of time, perhaps only seconds, with the various elements existing in simultaneity. It is only in the waking that a narrative is fixed and the information rationalized as fit for conscious consumption. This process renders the dream legible to the conscious self and that of the Other and, in this sense, depersonalizes it in some degree, for the most fundamental Self exists in that inaccessible space that is the dream.

In waking we follow, in our thoughts, the diachronic flow of time - a time we share with others and whose form is derived as much from the Other as the Self. In dreaming we enter synchronic tim. e as events and impressions occur simultaneously, their relative positions fluid and unfixed. This is a state that is wholly personalized and essentially non-transmittable, even to ourselves in the waking state.

Much of the value of art is in its affirmation of the personal, the particularity of the individual, especially in a culture dominated by notions of consensus and democracy. Art is as to the dream. For the Australian Aboriginal the dream is the self and it is upon this concept of Self that they construct, through the means of art and ritual, their social structures. Art is possibly the least corrupting means of attempting to externalize something founded only of the Self.

Differentiation of the Self
DONALD KUSPIT, in a recent unpublished paper (abstracted in High Performance1986), suggests that the artistic process is predicated upon the dynamic of the differentiation of the Self, both the artist's and the viewer's. For KUSPIT, who is drawing on the post-Freudian work of MELANIE KLEIN (Object Relations Theory ) and the Lacanian idea of the scopic Self, all other aspects of the artist's intent are either part of this process or secondary to it.

Artists would seem to have adopted those media most suitable to realizing this process of differentiation, which is to say that some media are undoubtedly more suited to being manipulated from this perspective than others. Perhaps the medium that best captures this simultaneity of the dream and also presents an icon around which differentiation can occur is painting, which may explain why such a technologically redundant medium is still going strong.

In the painting there is no temporal hierarchy and the reading is open to a plurality of possible temporal or narrative interpretations. In this sense it could be said that all art aspires to the state of the picture. JEAN PAUL FARGIER, during the STEDELIJK symposium, noted that a picture is worth a thousand words and proceeded to speculate as to the value of video as a sequence of pictures relative to this equation. When it comes to the word it is the compacted nature and multiple vector associative potential of the poetic that approximates the dream state. ED RANKUS related his own work to the textuality of the poem, rather than the literary, as he wished to realize such simultaneity.

Given its characteristics video seems well suited to this poetic or dream oriented approach to art. Unlike film and television it is a compacted medium that is read rather than watched. A medium in which the voices of the author and reader are both foregrounded. In video the reader is given to appropriate the work, being able to stop it rewind or fast forward it; to read it rather than watch it, to break up its temporal structure and thus render it to the self's synchronic time.


2#2 - Dreamtime

Impossible Combination
Video artists work for the medium of video, a medium that allows the viewer an access that engenders the role of reader and appropriator. In contrast, television is composed of events that unfold in diachronic time, a non-reversible narrative that is as to waking. It is a medium predicated upon consensus and agreed codes and over which the viewer has little control. The advent of the home video recorder does not so much confuse this state of affairs as create a limbo where the original status of broadcast material is suspended. As such, television neither affirms the author/reader relationship nor the particularity of the self.

I am not attempting to establish here an order of precedence, nor to insert any value, but rather to reflect on the central thesis of the The Arts for Television symposium - the possibility of art for television. Given all the above it would seem unlikely that the two could ever be brought together without disappointing results, although this is not to say that there cannot be good television, for there is. It is to address whether the primary dynamic of art, as outlined above, can exist within or utilize the structure of television.

Usually it is considered that art is possible on television as long as suitable space is made for it, although this may be another way of saying that art can be appropriated unto television as film has been. Television certainly offers the opportunity to see a certain film, however so much is lost in translation, where there is no direct isomorph, that the exercise becomes questionable. Television, film and video each depend.upon distinct and particular psychological dynamics in their production and reception and, whilst it is technically possible to place one medium within another, in this process the original is lost and thus rendered as a record or document of an artifact. In the case of video art this will tend to mean the loss of its personalizing characteristics and thus its nature as art.

When the artist makes the decision to move into television it is likely that he will have to confront this issue in one way or another. The Dutch artist WIM T. SCHIPPERS has recognized this and in his televisual activities states that he is no longer interested in artistic issues but rather in good television. ECKHARDT STEIN's comments during The Arts for Television placed the artist's use of television not as a cultural issue but one of more political dimensions. He related the artist to the dissenter, a force for rupture or change within the institution that television has become, drawing on and placing himself within the gaps that cannot be rationalized. Whilst I sympathize with this call to arms it is difficult to argue that the artistic value is to be found in dissent. It is more a case that in the process of affirmation of the self that a secondary product is the possibility of rupture within television through the conflict between its dedifferentiating dynamic and the differentiating processes of art. The point here is that if the artist wishes to work in television then he must address whether he want to make art, or something else?

For most artists the value of television, as for everyone else using or wishing to use it, is the scale of the audience it (in the words of RICHARD SERRA) delivers. This question should however be pursued a little further so as to address the artistic value such an audience represents. Whilst it can be argued that art on television may be educational, subversive or uplifting, the real issue for the artist is the role of the reader in the artistic process and the particularity of this equation in relation to KUSPITs notion of reader/writer transference.

In the process of experiencing art - and in a sense, in the viewer's creation of the artwork from the artist's raw materials - there are involved numerous subtle dynamics that have developed over centuries and are particular to some media and not to others. Some new media foster this psychology whilst others are predicted upon different dynamics. Yugoslav artist PEDJA SINDJELIC, during his brief presentation at the STEDELIJK, put it as follows - the voice of God; to give that voice a body and for the voice to be the viewer's voice; thus the viewer hears/sees his own thoughts and thus is God, the creator. Given this approach and the idea of temporality relative to differentiation of self it is difficult to see how this dynamic process may be instituted within the television medium and as to whether the attempt holds any potential value for art, television or audience.

If you'd like to quote something: Biggs, Simon. "Dreamtime." Mediamatic Magazine vol. 2 # 2 (1987).