Organised by Alternative Space Loop, the "Move on Asia - Clash and Network" seminar was held at Yonsei University on March 17, 2006. The seminar brought together participants from diverse backgrounds, who presented views on technology, media and the arts from different localities. The rather broad, sweeping questions that the seminar proposed to raise included:
How do we conceive technology and media? Has the process of globalisation changed the way we exchange our ideas and experiences across the cultural boundaries? How do we conceive the function of art in this globalised environment? Are we truly engaged in the "free market" of ideas and thoughts with open-mindedness and constructive orientations? Do we need a set of new paradigms for the artists' role and exchanges of artistic values?
Actually, the seminar dealt more specifically with video art and its changing circumstances and roles today, with most of the participants having worked in video art or video-based archives. Coincidentally, an elaborate ceremony at Bongeunsa Temple the day after the seminar marked the arrival of Paik Nam June's ashes. The memorial involved knife-dancing shamans and a violin-smashing session that reenacted a piece by the "father of video art." The funeral ceremony seemed to attest to what many of the seminar participants saw as television and video no longer being considered "new media," with the advent of more advanced forms of technology. Yet just because video art is no longer at the forefront of technology doesn't mean that it's no longer a powerful medium. Its original purposes to document and disseminate information remain raw tools for creating dialogue on history, culture, politics and society.
The first session began with a presentation by Vanalyne Green, professor of art at University of Leeds, U.K. Green's engaging talk took the audience from her student experiments in second-wave feminism under artist Judy Chicago to "politically active depression" with the Chicago-based art group Feel Tank, all the way to Leeds, where she now teaches art.
Green presented the kinds of art practices taking place within a city she described as a great place "to see rapacious vulgar capital juxtaposed with Victorian propriety." Despite more of the city's funds going towards music rather than the fine arts, Green noted a burgeoning art scene that nonetheless remained on the periphery of British contemporary art, due to Leeds' location in Northern England. She presented such groups as Black Dogs, which aimed to "blur the boundaries between 'art exhibition' and booze fuelled social event" and "a delicate matter," seemingly a spacious gallery but which is in fact a 36"x16"x17" space that presents works online (http://www.adelicatematter.com). Despite the increasing dominance of virtual space as a site for presenting art and representing artists, a physical location - by whatever means--still proved to be a necessity. One final issue that Green raised was "gentrification" and how its spread over Leeds increasingly pushed more experimental, "outside" forms of art to temporary, dilapidated spaces, as-of-yet overlooked by developers.
The films that Jyostna Kapur, a professor at Southern Illinois University's film and photography department, discussed in her presentation could be seen as occupying a similarly marginal site, albeit in relation to official accounts of history. "Cinema is an archive, for the most part, of the victors of this history but also here and there, it has preserved the memory of its losers and opponents."
Kapur discussed two Indian documentary films, War and Peace (2002) by Anand Patwardhan, and Continuous Journey (2005) by Ali Kazimi, which dealt with aspects of a contentious Indian nationalism and events situated in India's colonial past. One of the most fascinating points of Kapur's discussion was how simple editing techniques could turn disparate events or viewpoints into a seamless, emotionally-charged whole for viewers: "their work expresses the desire and longing for an alternative, imagining it and erecting it in the imagination before it can be made concrete in life."
Archive-based organisations working in video gave presentations during the second session. Chicago's Video Databank was slated to participate but did not make it. While each organisation had different perspectives and strategies, it was interesting to note that all initiated their activities at around the same time: Video Center Tokyo in 2001, Ruangrupa in 2000, the AAA in 2001, and ACMI in 2002.
Kentaro Taki from the Videoart Center Tokyo and Ruangrupa's Ade Darmawan are both artists that work in video and their groups had an artist-run space approach. Both organisations were high on collaborations, experimental activities and dynamic workshops, and aimed to bring in less "arty" types and more ordinary and interested people. VCT organised a series of "B-session" talks that combined a relaxed, loungy atmosphere with presentation of video works. Ruangrupa in Indonesia organised a fantastic art happening at Cemeti Gallery in Yogyakarta called "Eating Well without Paying" (2003), where they offered loads of free food to anyone who came. The party remains were left out for the duration of the "exhibition." Darmawan mentioned that rats and other critters cruised the after-party grounds.
Mike Stubbs of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), originally a performance and video artist, approached his position as ACMI's exhibition programs manager from a more experimental and open-ended perspective. Originating with State Film Centre of Victoria which began in 1946, ACMI moved to its permanent facility at Melbourne's Federation Square in 2002. Instead of remaining just a depository for archival materials, ACMI began presenting interactive exhibitions, workshops and other activities. Stubbs mentioned that one of his central tasks was balancing between entertaining and critically engaging the public:
Our specialism of curation and design of audience experience is well honed, yet we are in the constant process of education. With new and general audiences we have to nurture our relationships, coaxing them to engage with duration, projection, interaction and the ephemeral. People know what to expect when they go to a painting exhibition or the cinema - we are a new hybrid.
As an interactive archive focusing on Asian contemporary art, the AAA too is a new kind of hybrid. The AAA's activities seemed welcome by the audience. The AAA newsletters and brochures placed at the entrance to the seminar disappeared before the second session began. A primary difference between the Archive's video materials and the other organisations is that we focus on documentary materials (of interviews, exhibitions, talks) instead of video art. Regardless, Stubbs mentioned that as the AAA aged, the organisation would have to start thinking about being more selective with its material. While working at London Video Access (later renamed London Electronic Arts), Stubbs said that initially the organisation accepted anything anybody would give to them; as the collection grew, LVA was faced with having to organise, prioritise and be more selective. Considering that the Archive's continually expanding collection has nearly outgrown its Hollywood Rd. space, this is something that we'll have to consider in the near future.
During the final panel discussion, issues on copyrights and the durability of materials were raised. In certain cases, some felt that the government should intervene on copyright expenses that exceeded the budgets of smaller organisations. Kentaro Taki mentioned encountering problems with screening video works because the group could not afford to pay for exorbitant copyright fees. All participants agreed that when it came to maintaining archive-quality materials, digital beta was the best format. DVDs proved to be less reliable. Yet this too might change, as technological advances make better forms of documentation available.
A question I posed to artist-run groups was how artists were able to manage recording, documenting and archiving alongside actually making works themselves. Is it possible to be both behind and in front of the camera? Vanlyne Green mentioned an interesting point about the archive of artist Helen Chadwick, located at the Henry Moore Foundation. Green said that a part of the archive showed Chadwick documenting herself in the process of documenting, and how the process of documenting, "for people who feel disenfranchised, ontologically, it is a way of saying that they exist." Green noted how the materials in the archive incorporated both abstract and autobiographical elements, and in a way that was not visible in Chadwick's artwork itself. Ade Darmawan noted that video recordings played an active role in meetings at Ruangrupa. Each meeting would be recorded. The group would look at footage of the previous meeting, reflect back and incorporate earlier ideas into the next meeting.
Video art may no longer be considered a form of "new media art," but this does not necessarily spell out its demise. It seems that more than being a fixed medium, video's role has branched out and transformed, serving to reflect on as well as create ideas. I guess there's a reason why it has multiple functions - forward, rewind, pause, play, stop --- and of course, record.
The seminar was accompanied by "Move on Asia Single Channel Video Festival", now taking place at Alternative Space Loop. For more information, please visit the World Events page.
- Sat, 1 Apr 2006