Mediamatic Magazine 3#2 Simon Biggs 1 jan 1988

World Wide Video Festival / 3. Videonale

Recent developments in video had been marked by the fragmentation of the medium - into well defined styles and genres - the volume of production and their generally technically advanced quality. The video circuits firm establishment is further evidence of what can be regarded as a maturing process.

However, the mediums continuing immaturity is evident in its uncertain relationship with the mainstream art world as well as cinema and television, the narrow view of a number of critics, curators and festival organisers and the poor quality of content to be found in the works themselves.

In September 1988 the 3. Videonale Bonn presented an especially interesting
selection of tapes, but in an environment fundamentally hostile to their presentation,
nor likely to encourage that other important festival function - the coming together of
artists, critics and curators. The World Wide Video Festival managed to deliver that we have come to expect of them (perhaps it is time for a change in their selection procedures, or in the selectors themselves) and although the splitting of venues caused
some dilution of the festival spirit it succesfully fulfilled its other festival functions.
However, certain problems were evident at both events. A streaming process is occuring, similar to that functioning in other more established audio-visual media, without much apparent reference to the intentions or objects of the tapes themselves.

That the work of an artist such as KEN FEINGOLD (USA) comes to be regarded as
other more established audio-visual media, without much apparent reference to the
intentions or objects of the tapes themselves. That the work of an artist such as KEN
FEINGOLD (USA) comes to be regarded as the place of the author and the loss of communication during inter-cultural and inter-personal conflict - evidences a shallow reading of the work. That such streaming is occuring is not the-problem - this is to be expected of any developing medium - but that the models for this are imported from other, not necessarily related, media certainly is of concern. One could be forgiven for thinking that this process is occuring not through disinterested evolution but at the behest of certain personalities within the video world (small that it is).

The World Wide Video Festival appears to have atrophied in its selection procedures, seeking to establish a house style and star system to compliment it. At the Videonale this type of problem also came up as a specific issue, the jury losing faith in the pre-jury's ability to select works for consideration in the awards section. This resulted in the jury requesting the inclusion of tapes outside this section for such consideration. But also in the category rejected works were a lot of tapes to take special notice off.
Interesting work, which was shown neither at the World Wide or Videonale were tapes by SIMON ROBERTSHAW (UK) and HERLINDE SMET (Belgium). These
were screened at the European Media Art Festival, held in Osnabruck also in September. That the selectors at Osnabrtick are not part of the video establishment, operating across a broader definition of media arts which includes video as only a
component, allows them to view work from a fresher perspective, increasing the likelihood of tapes by younger and more exciting practitioners being included.
ROBERT SHAW, one of the -most interesting of a new generation of British video makers, has had some international exposure with One of those Things you all see all the Time (1986) and his most recent Biometrika (1987). With this latter work he meshes thecampaign tape style - generally peculiar to the UK - with his own artistic concerns.

With a sensitive use of technology he adresses the specific issue of enforced
sterilisation of the mentally ill (a recent case in London has brought this to national
prominence) exploring the moral, legal and philosophical dimensions around this.
Perhaps the campaign style is too British for the European selectors, however a major tape has not had the international exposure it deserves.

HERLINDE SMET'S La Vie terrible et Achevee de Monsieur Mercier was not the
authors first work, but the first to receive a screening outside Belgium. At the EMAF it
had the audience rolling in the aisles with laughter - a rare commodity in most video
- as we were given a close up window on the trials and tribulations, and the eventual demise of Monsieur Mercier. Perhaps humour is not on the agenda of serious
video festivals, however this tape - in the success of its tragi-comic intent and the
idiosyncratic and inventive application of minimal resources - was one of the stronger
work to be seen this vear. video festivals, however this tape - in the success of its tragi - comic intent and the idiosyncratic and inventive application of minimal resources - was one of the stronger work to be seen this year.


Rangitoto - Ko Nakajima

It is not that one can expect the festivals to always get it right - that would be asking too much - but that such problem s seem to be growing with their development, ather than diminishing, is of concern. All that aside though, there were of course some good works on show at the World Wide and the Videonale - some of which even won prizes. The general technical quality of the tapes screened was very high, with most
works produced High Band and with substantial resources - although the quality
of artistic vision only rarely rose above the banal in an handful of works, leaving most tapes seemingly of a precocious professionalism.

In particular, at the Videonale, there was a special presentation of Japanese video, all
of which were of high technical standard, however even the most highly regarded of the Japanese (KO NAKAJIMA) seems incapable of producing anything of artistic worth. NAKAJIMA himself appears to be off in some cloud cuckoo land inhabited with
mystical mountains and the like. The Australian video artist PETERCALLAS, who
lived in Japan for some years, suggests the Japanese problem lies in their attitude to
technology, which they do not see as divisable from their landscape (an attitude
towards it) but as arising from it. This disallows them any critical access to their
medium, leaving, for instance, NAKAJIMA'S work appearing as little more than electronic post-cards.

Amongst those works that were of special interest the American again had a virtual
monopoly - although not entirely. GARY HILL'S Incidence of Catastrophe (USA), based on MAURICE BLANCHOT'S Thomas the Obscure, saw him furthering his concerns regarding the entropy of the text and the paradoxes of reading and writing.
HILL has always produced challenging work, but it has often fallen foul of a dependence on structural theory, resulting in closed texts disallowing the possibility of he associative potential necessary in really good works. However, with this new piece he realises a new sensibility, introducing a sensuality and personalisation of the material that is especially evident in the use of sound and lighting. HILL introduces the artist into the work, who seeks to be subsumed in the text but is ultimately repelled by it, thus loosing his hope of selfidentification.

Perhaps HILL is still overly reliant upon the juxtaposition of binary elements - the text/the reader, the intimate interior/the alienating exterior - which leads to a narrowing of interpretation in the insistency of its syncopation. At 44 minutes this problem is not unique to HILL, who to some extent is employing the simplifying strategies of cinema as an aid to the viewers memory over a longer time period. Only one or two video makers have managed to produce work of this scale without resorting to the scenario structure. Nevertheless, Incidence of Catastrophe is undoubtedly a major work.


Free Society -

Shorter video's seem far more successful in avoiding the problems that threaten
works such as HILL'S. Three tapes seen at the Videonale (but not at the World Wide) exemplified this quality, although in quite different ways - AXEL KLEPSCH'S Das Wasser ist viel zu Tief (West Germany), PAUL GARRIN's Free Society (USA) and BILL SEAMAN'S Shear (USA).

PAUL GARRIN'S Free Society is partly the result of the artist's own accidental involvement in a New York riot, during which he was attacked and beaten up by police. Mixing this VIDEO 8 material with archive footage of other riots, GARRIN processes the lot through the most amazing array of digital editing and effects techniques, resulting in one of the most sensitive and masterly of hi-tech tapes GARRIN shows that technology is a natural and forceful instrument in the hands of the right artist, being able to enhance our experience of the latent emotion he must have experienced due to the riot situation.
That the piece seeks to critique America's free society is not its strong point, relying as
it does upon simplistic and well known signs of division and marginalization.
GARRIN is not an especially political, or politically thinking, artist, but when he
turns his attention to issues of acute personal interest, as with GARY HILL, he

AXEL KLEPSCH'S new work also depended upon the technological manipulation of the
image for its structure, although his intent was primarily poetic. By opening up a
number of simultaneous windows onto the components of his subject, KLEPSCH juggles
the possible readings around various metaphors for human relations - as between two lovers, or the author and reader. Ultimately his view is a trifle pessimistic, as the image of a sinking ship comes to dominate his cataloque of signs. It is here that the work comes dangerously close to sinking in a sea of sentimentality, which detracts somewhat from its otherwise sharp edge.


Free Society -

These tapes were part of the evidence of Bonn's superior selection. Perhaps that it is a biannual event helps a little here, giving twice the works to consider, but most of the tapes were new and previously unscreened at major events. Maybe it is because the selection procedures at Bonn are more open and diversified than at the Hague that this is the case.
If Bonn can get it together in regard to a suitable venue, a budget for publicity - as well as for visiting artists, critics and curators (something the World Wide has always done well) - and discontinue the idea of a selection divided between works deemed suitable or not suitable for prize consideration, then it would seem well placed to become a very interesting event on what is becoming an extremely crowded video circuit.