No one else pays so much attention to the achievements of mass culture and to the hybrid forms of Art and art as its director. Frans Haks. Graffiti. Miillteimer Freiheit, Fotografia Buffia and Memphis, to mention just a few examples, were first presented at museum level in Groningen, and these exhibitions gave Haks the opportunity to show how strongly he refuses to concede to pigeon-holed thinking: whenever it comes to interdisciplinary cultural manifestations. Haks takes the lead.
The music video exhibition What a Wonderful World!, held in and around the Groninger Museum, suited Haks' policies excellently, if only because it concerned a relatively young visual category, as he stated in the introduction to the splendidly produced catalogue. This consists of two volumes glued together, each of which you begin to read from a different side: Part I deals with the architecture of the five video pavilions built in Groningen's city centre. Post-modern architecture, which, in the vision of four of the five designers, mainly comes down to topsy-turvy, glass and steel. But in the history of mankind piles of volumes are already filled with tedious comments onarchitecture, in other words: architectural critique has a long history in which a sound and useful arsenal of notions has been built up, so this part of the catalogue is more or less old hat. Different, and therefore more enjoyable, is the video section, in which twenty authors from The Netherlands and abroad bend over backwards to say something sensible about the video phenomenon, which has scarcely established itself in history.
Many of the catalogue articles raise the matter of the artistic license of the medium: the freedom to edit, to use the very newest of computer-animation techniques and, in particular, the freedom of time, that is to say the freedom to abandon the linear-time character of the story. As it is, videos rarely if ever contain a story - at most, they play along with already existing stories by means of visual references (boy meets,/leaves girl, for example) or, at a more suggestive level, by means of symbolism which is accessible to everybody - so linear temporal continuity is no condition for a music video. A flood of images, either forming a unity with the music or not, often only creates an ambience with as its most important message: Buy! in order to be part of it. Remarkably enough, none of the twenty authors examined the enormous social impact of the music video: for example, the influence it has on fashion in its broadest sense, which changed more rapidly than ever in the last decade (also the decade of the music video). Every new hairdo which appears in the cardboard dream world of the music video can be seen on the streets the next day; every new piece of frilly underwear worn by Madonna will adorn the slender bodies of disco dollies with imitation vamp-allure by the next weekend. Considering the fact that it is not so very long ago that youth cultures only inspiration was the wondrous world of Lassie and Lucille Ball, it becomes more than clear how strong the influence of pop and video culture has been. In a catalogue of this kind one might expect that some attention be paid this.
More things remain undiscussed in the texts, which in most cases consist of rather masturbatory statements, written in the slapdash style of the videos. The music video is compared with the feature Elm, with the experimental film of the Twenties, with television, and of course the name of media-guru Marshall Mcluhan is mentioned regularly. But there is no article discussing the relation between music video and commercial. That is peculiar, because in their approach, duration and target, they have more incommon than meets the eye: the relation reveals itself best in the Levi series of commercials, which, apart from promoting jeans, also revive old pop songs, even to the point of bringing them back to the charts. Only Shuhei Hosokawa enters into the specific situation in Japan, where the special so-called image songs, creating an image for the product to be sold, slowly seem to be making space for commercials inspired by MTV in sound and image. However, any Western developments in the music video/commercial relationship fail to be explained in What a Wonderful World!.
In spite of the fact that this catalogue contains some amusing and provocative statements (a few examples: The mass culture context of the video has definitely become the world of modem art - Ernie Tee; ...the chronic diarrhoea of kitschy illustration... - Jean-Paul Fargier; Two networks make apparent that tv has nothing to do with watching, but, rather, with eye massage and tactile anointment, mtv and cnn have raised die pleasure of sliding to a cult... - Maurice Nio; Music videos are the perfect metaphors of the post-modem and Clip culture deals more with our present world than does the majority of high culture - Peter Weibel), most of the texts dry up in commonplaces. No wonder, because it is just as impossible to say something generally sensible about the music video as it is about, for instance, the visual arts of the past ten years. In this context, Paul Groot has been clever enough to choose the solution of analysing one single video: L’éclipse, which gave him the opportunity to concentrate more on the contents. Ironing amid a wealth of images, in which Eric de Kuyper reports that he only watches music videos while he is doing the ironing, with the sound turned off, is absolutely the most amusing article of all. Needless to say, the death of the music video also turns up, in a text by John Ellis. Because in our time, when something is introduced, its downfall has to be prophesied at the same time: after all, one has to make it clear that one is ahead of one’s time. Ellis’ argument that the videodisc will oust the music video would seem untenable: the commercial interest of the music video will undoubtedly make mtv and the rest survive.
Yet, despite the omissions, What a Wonderful World! is a collection of entertaining and at times witty texts, a must for the true buff, if only to let him avert his eyes from the screen once in a while.