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AVF '87 - Voice(s) and Memory

4 September 198710 September 1987

The Australian Video Festival, 1987.



[Author unknown1]

The relationship between the video maker and the video viewer is potentially quite distinct from that between readers and writers in other time based media and also separate from the modes of address prevalent in other art forms. However, although differences exist the similarities are also important in informing a still young practice. What is interesting is that the similarities may occur with what would seem to be more alien media to video than those with which it is most often associated.

Historically video is linked to film and performance, the first due to certain assumptions about time based imagery and the latter because of their concurrent development during the sixties often by the same artists. Video is also seen as often functioning primarily relative to television due to their similar delivery and technical production systems.

However, psychologically video can be seen to relate more closely to other art media, particularly in the relationship between author and reader. The dynamic of the communicative act, that which is central to any art activity, is the primary concern to be addressed in gaining access to both the artists intentions and the readers responses. It is the construction, or disintegration, of Self, both the artists and the readers, that is the process upon which art is predicated - as such, a psychological task founded upon integration. The experience of art is one incorporating a transferential dynamic, often as a conflict, within varying art forms and media.

In the instance of television this dynamic of Self/Other is constituted as the depersonalised or de-individuated voice of the broadcast and the singular Self of the viewer. The authorial voice of television is de-differentiated and unfixed, as information and a succession of ambiguous 'selves' are received into the personal space of the home. Regardless of the program being broadcast, whether a Bergman film, a game show or a soap, the pervasively ambivalent context within which it is delivered is that which is television. In such a context the manner in which the viewer views - the differentiation of Self relative to the media form - is distinct from that of other media, even when the material originated elsewhere and was transferred (eg; film onto television).

A problem here for the video artist is how to deal with the possibility of having their work broadcast on television. It may be that they will need to forget about video art and operate as producers of television. There is nothing wrong with this strategy, as has been realised in countries where video art is regularly programmed (specifically commissioned rather than bought in), however it would appear that for many artists television is primarily seen as a means of access to a larger audience and almost incidental to their central activity. Although television does deliver people (as observed by Richard Serra) the nature of that audience dictates a particular approach which may well be entirely alien to video art. Alternatively, many artists see television as a form of reward (eg; 'After all these years video/my art is finally receiving the recognition it deserves') and in this case the artists attitude is in danger of placing them in a subjugated relationship with television that would disallow them the capacity to address it with a creative and critical eye. It may be that given the current characteristics of television and video art they are not only distinct but possibly antithetical to one another.

In the case of film the authorial voice is singular, often didactic, whilst the cinema audience is experientially plural. It is, in a sense, the complete opposite of the transferential dynamic of television. However, in the case of video art the author and reader are both singular, one voice addressing one viewer. It is a personalised dynamic more akin to that existent in the mode of literature, and more particularly within poetry.

Most video ad is short when compared to film and long when seen alongside commercials (within which can be included music video). It is the commercial which sets the agenda and character of television as it is the theatrical devices of the scene and scenario that define the overwhelming balance of the cinema.

In the commercial we have a mini-scene, a singular statement designed to be assimilated immediately. The film, dealing with larger quantities of information perhaps of a more ambiguous intent, structures itself into a series of short narratives, each oriented to supply a statement or image which, as the film progresses, we compare and collate into the filmic, essentially theatrical narrative. What both media are here addressing is their shared primary characteristic - time, and the human function relative to it - memory. The T.V. commercial attempts to subvert memory by delivering the information quickly and forcibly whilst the film sets out to manipulate it by establishing a hierarchy of readable signals within a layered narrative (eg; the narrative of the individual scene becomes subsumed into the meta-narrative of the film? overall structure).

As with performance art video ad has tended to reject these forms of structured time and narrative by attempting to employ a form of simultaneity predicated upon a more de-differentiated and seemingly organic non-narrative. An example of this tendency is the performance of Pina Bausch or Station House Opera and the video of Bill Seaman and Bill Viola.

It is not that one can suggest an optimum length for video art tapes, that the time/memory relationship is a quantitative one, but rather that a particular approach is prevalent amongst those artists who have established an original voice for their medium that takes into account the different notions of scale and structure that apply to it.

In Bill Viola's Anthem, an eleven minute piece, the material is not placed in a sequential narrative, as in film, nor as a fragmented or exploded narrative, as with experimental (eg; Stan Brakhage or Warhol) film, but rather as a complex of associations. These are deployed relative to one another, in time, such that any sequentiality or hierarchisation is avoided, thus allowing the viewer to construct their own readings. In this manner Viola's work is highly poetic in the sense that poetry can function separate of prose narrative by creating a set of simultaneous associations that exist outside the memory constraints of the narrative structure.

As such, it may be that a critical reading of video (and the development of a meta-language to allow a discourse alongside it) will be enhanced by taking an essentially psycho-analytic approach, involving Kleinian Object Relations Theory, in discussing its definition and constitution. In this particular case examining the notions of the transference relative to the relationship between author and reader within the different media contexts and exploring the function of memory and the narrative in conjunction with the medium? primary quality - time. Hopefully this represents a means to exit the tautological definitions that dominate discourse on video art.



1If you are the author of this essay would you please let Stephen Jones know via a comment.