Mediamatic Magazine Vol. 0#0 Jouke Kleerebezem 1 Jan 1985

More Tales from the Beauty Farm

Death of God and lost identity. De-construction of significance in media art

For a year and a day I pause there for a while. There at the top of the dark stairs that - I'm sure I know for certain - leads nowhere to. At the bottom, in the semi-darkness, in fixed formation stand two screens. As certain as we feel that we have to take our information concerning the reality from the various media, as immovable are also these screens found at the bottom of their staircase. Addicted as I am to data such as the name, title and date of manufacture - three ideas that summarize perfectly the museal concept - I pause at the top of the stairs to throw a glance at the assorted notices, giving details of what's happening down below. Even more than in the case of the collection of paintings, sculptures and other classical media in fine arts, that have been accumulated elsewhere in this complex, some further information would appear to be necessary; a continuously changing image, different scenes that succeed each other. A reliable programme guide should at least be available. Otherwise one wouldn't even know what one was watching, or even worse, when the viewing may begin or how long it's supposed to last.


Gremlins 1985 (part) - Images obtained in this manner often suffer from inflation of significance and are reproduced in a new structure form a combination of commercial insight, technical ambition, sensitiveness for the needs of the time and aesthetic delicacy.

The above described situation in the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum symbolizes for me in a striking manner my attitude towards video art, or, what for the sake of convenience I'd like to summarize under the concept media art in the continuation of this article. For to reach one's goal, more often than not one has to grope in darkness one's way down the stairs, risking to stumble over all that makes this form of art so uninviting: electrical wires and plugs, soldering-work and sellotape, along with other tools of the trade. Once arrived at this point the goal appears only to exist out of a certain stretched out span of staged reality, which in its arrogance doesn't even leave the safety of the cupboard. Meanwhile, as it should be and often is, shining from the top of the stairs is the true Light of Reality. So it would appear that the only useful point of the exercise has been, that one with this Idea can begin the Retreat. To ascend the Staircase to Reality.

You'll understand that I've never allowed myself to be Tempted by those two twinkling jewels in the semi-darkness, but at once Ascended the second Staircase to refresh myself with other Sources.

In our orientation in ourselves and reality, for which art is one of the means available, we are - one can see it everywhere increasingly more exposed to fragmentation as we move towards a complex fate.1) Even more so, the point of our orientation, at present rather appears to increase this fragmentation as much as possible and accordingly to tolerate it. We ought to adapt ourselves to complexity. To acclimatize ourselves to a state of chaos, we initially ought to make this chaos as complete as possible. At present the fragmentation controls as well as the means for the application of technologies and media, as the opening to criticism of current significances, even of the validity of the concept significance itself. Generally this last form is known as the de-construction of significance. A provisionally, mainly American activity, in which in a poignant way form is given to the uprooting of a new generation of art producers and art critics. The practice of deconstruction is made up of the dismantling of all 'significances' by the bringing about of an inflation of loaded images, preferably dealing with violence, advertising and pornography.2) For this purpose one draws upon the media and the (often contemporary) history of art. In this manner the images that are received and often suffer from significance inflation, are reproduced in a new structure. This process should not only prove but also propagate insignificance instead of criticizing it. A latent but pressing need of significance underlies this attitude; the need of fundamental emotions and of a consciousness that places itself in a framework of moral absolutism. From fear of this need, and from the notion of the dangerous consequences of it, out of impotence the other extreme is propagated. Here manifests itself an excess of consciousness orientated on the media and an art inspired by the media. By making use of striding technical possibilities in media art one spreads coordinately, combines from here and there bearers of significance, cites forms of art, takes stock, confronts and finally by doing so, deconstructs and demolishes systems of significance. The supply is very varied and the nature of a choice from this supply now appears to be of the utmost importance. However, as long as these choices only serve to increase this complexity, they remain in essence arbitrary. For complexity knows no ideological pursuit and therefore no relevant choices. It is self fulfilling. The overstressed importance of the choice serves only to keep one's own ranks closed. In this respect it doesn't otherwise distinguish itself from other current principles of selection in fine arts.

The bankruptcy

A complexity of material, form and the value of significance is the result of these endeavors. Polyvalence equals nonvalence. It is striking that within the pursuit for complexity there is an obvious preference for reproductive techniques and media. Nevertheless these are not used to realize a quantity nor to provide the work with a wider range of distribution. Reproduction only serves here as a proof of the possibility to produce an image without deriving any significance from it or to approve the original model. In this view an image is only an equivalent sign, an insiped incentive. The creating process makes room for the selecting process. It doesn’t concern itself with a significant dialogue between motive and processing, experience and participation, but rather aims at the de-construction of all models that are in essence insignificant.3) The transforming of an image (model) of one medium into another (photo - drawing, video - photo, painting - video, etc...) weakens any specific suitability of media and materials in giving form to a certain content. In essence it deprives qualities from material and media. Also the reproducing of any discipline into another (architecture as photography, painting as video, sculpture as architecture), doesn't stimulate a necessary discussion regarding identity nor does it stimulate possibilities and responsibilities concerning a specific discipline. It only serves to show the convertibility of (the bearers) of significance. The end of the discussion form/content present itself by dropping the content, whereas I'd rather have dropped the form. The affinity of the artist with certain media and disciplines is no longer rooted in an essential interest that this medium/material represents for him, but in a mixture of commercial insight, technical ambition, sensitivity for the needs of the time and aesthetic delicacy. All this integrated into an intuitive and in essence indifferent north/south, east/west and past/present orientation. This again is in its turn prompted by the conviction that truths no longer exist for the hardcore de-constructors and that in 1985 possible truths lie somewhere undefined in between.

At present a degree of contemporary art(ists) takes its (their) identity from a cultural inheritance, from better times and places in which existence made it worthwhile to make choices of principle, from a time in which the discourse between different options was still fueling the development of civilization and in that respect wasn't only determining the price of the churned out art. A contemporary artistic identity is the sum total of a great number of voluntary chosen and accordingly reproduced identities and significances with no further outcome or even intention, than to prove that identity and significance no longer exist. God is dead and man loses his identity. And with that the bankruptcy of an independent human endeavor has begun.

Talking back

One of the appropriate and inevitable themes of media art is the analyzing of the conveyance of information, of the medium itself, the mouthpiece. This can result in a formal and structural analysis of the concept mouthpiece, or can result in a game with the delusion of the media into madness. A pleasure loving pastime with the insignificant media image of: commerce, politics, industry and the power of society. The image that impresses upon us that the photographic reality is objective that journalism is the conscience of the system and that an elected representative of the people represents the people. How should an individual responsibility within these given facts take shape? In what manner do we now regain all that the media has taken from us over the last decades. The media that took possession of selection and legitimation of a cultural and political choice primarily for commercial reasons. The programmed reality in the media discourages - putting it mildly - the individual in his motivations and possibilities in his making a responsible choice, whilst regarding quantity, there is an overwhelming offer of choice suggested that in reality doesn't exist.

The only relevant choice that remains for the individual is that of solitary and concentrated opposition, in order to obtain from it once again, on its own merits, a cultural choice and its selection and legitimation. So - based upon a reflective relationship with essential affinities and with regards to his fellow man - he regains an individual place in the reality. An intellectual and emotional (ethic) reorientation, to which neither the media nor other forms of organized information can contribute anything. In this respect all media ought to keep a low profile. Why use up all one's energy on this swindle which is maintained by political, cultural and commercial authorities? Why direct one's thoughts towards these backward and contemptuous mouthpieces which are only aimed at instilling mass hysteria?

Only in the light of the individual opposition is any choice actually interesting. The arms for this purpose are not to be found in the media. The opponent can not be fought with his own means, because these represent pre-eminently those that we have to direct our aggression towards: the unilateral character, a shortage of tangibility, the temporariness, the isolation, the power, essential insignificance and the darkness inherent in the media. We don't descend that staircase. We should trust our own strength. Down with the Beauty Farm.

The Media as a new authority

The investigation and pursuit for the refinement in our relationship with ourselves, our fellow man and a reality should be separated from all examples. Conscious attempts in that direction should also be regarded and respected as a form of authentic engagement. There are no examples. Our individual complex fate implies that we ought to loose ourselves completely in our own complexity, not in that of others, of authorities or of the media. The accepting of one's own complexity as a means to the development of essential affinities is opposed to the exploitation of the media-complexity. Why give in to the essential insignificance of the Media? Who shouldn't look for examples or any further form of legitimation, than those that we ourselves give validity to. The media and those that maintain them, only force us to produce. To produce and reproduce. To the practicing of an occupation, to the fulfilling of functions. And so even an occupation with a 25 hour working week is too long, too productive. Within that framework production only means inflation.

Science, art and religion are the true mediums, which should pursue the discussion. A condition of the usefulness in holding this discussion in public, is that those who choose for these media, in the first place know how to give essentially form to their individual qualities and cultivate a sufficiently critical attitude. Therefore we should engage ourselves not only in the day to day life but also in the pursuit of an ideology. Not to practice this occupation or to fulfill this function, but to refine ourselves and our visions. Or, as Leon Krier put it in a lecture: Above all, the ideas of a person for that critical ability for observation should unite that moral and creative power, that for the artist and those who work with publicity, are inevitable, and, Not before in the broadest sense and at the highest level this really heroic work (in this case the construction of an urban architectural culture, JK) is taken in hand is every effort to bring about a link between art and publicity, useless and illusionary.4) And Gerhard Merz: ... So is it, radically seen, that nowadays all that counts is the absolute refinement of content, color and form ...5)

Volume, Contrast, Clarity, Tuning

Media-art is a form of art which preeminently directs itself to the public. It derives its means and motives from a popular culture. By doing so it also directs itself to its source, the Media. It employs the same means and the same electronical and psychological techniques. It stimulates a group consciousness: the media and us. We never get a private screening, we're all watching the same contest. Through the reactions it evokes, it stimulates our unity or it splits the opinions. It gives us no rest. It brings the day to day life and higher forms of reality on the same screen in a layered whole of simultaneousness, brevity, literally one-sidedness and topographical indeterminacy. It's to a high degree especially congruous with daily life. In form it doesn't refer to a wider context of sociopolitical and cultural nature, but in the first instance to the ordinary, monotonous humdrum. Our sensitiveness for its message is deadened by that same humdrum in such a manner that it has to supply the same powerful means as the Media. Especially in this respect it opposes the heightening of the individual sensitiveness and the opportunity for refining our relationships. Whilst in this lies the only option for man to gain essentially in volume, contrast, clarity and tuning.

1) Pier Luigi Tazzi en Jean-Francois Lyotard In een systeem van Labyrinten, in: Museumjournaal 3 1985
2) Mariëtte Haveman Le grand cadavre, in: Zien Magazine 8 1985
3) Michael Gibbs Geschikte strategieën, in: Perspektief 20 1985
4) Leon Krier Architektur, Bildhauerei, Malerei, in: Kunstforum 65 1983
5) Cristoph Blase Eleganz mit hartem in Konzept, in: Wolkenkratzer 8 1985

If you'd like to quote something: Kleerebezem, Jouke. "More Tales from the BeautyFarm." Mediamatic Magazine vol.0 # 0 (1985).

Translation: 'Grand Prix' Groningen