[spectre] Hongkong rev. of 40 Years of Video Art in Germany
abroeck at transmediale.de
Mon Dec 11 11:15:24 CET 2006
South China Morning Post
Sunday, December 3, 2006
Play for keeps
By Kevin Kwong
IN AN AGE when moving images can be recorded, downloaded, played,
transferred and stored digitally and instantaneously almost anywhere
at any time, the term "videotape" sounds anachronistic and Jurassic.
That may explain why organisers of 40 Years of Video Art in Germany
and Hong Kong are talking of "rescuing" and "preserving" an art form,
which they fear may well soon become extinct together with its medium.
Opened yesterday, the exhibition is presented by the Goethe-Institut
Hongkong and supported by Videotage and Para/Site Art Space. Curated
by Professor Wulf Herzogenrath, who initiated the project four years
ago in Germany, it features 59 pieces of work, totalling some 27
hours of footage, by the same number of artists. They include
international names such as Samuel Beckett, Rebecca Horn, Joseph
Beuys, Marina Abramovic, Nam June Paik and Christian Jankowski.
The show, which ran in five arts institutions across Germany in 2004,
aims to raise awareness among museums, archives, art historians and
the public of the need to save video art made on tapes - also known
as "single-channel works" - from fading out in this technologically
advanced era. It also poses the questions of who should preserve the
art form and how. For Herzogenrath, its heritage is as important as
the work itself. "If we do not think of a better way of handling
videotapes, all we will have left of video art soon is white noise,"
the director of the Kunsthalle Bremen art museum says.
The professor now wants to spread this message to other countries. He
says video artists in the late 1960s and early 70s worked on tapes
(such as Betamax), reels of different sizes and with different
technology. "These kinds of machines and tapes are disappearing," he
says. "An old tape may last for 20 years or longer but if you don't
take care of it, it could be destroyed immediately. We have to think
about what video art will be in 50 years. People in archives, museums
and television have to think not only about the content but also its
The programme director of Videotage, Isaac Leung Hok-bun, shares his
concerns, although he sees this exhibition more as a comprehensive
introduction to the art form and an opportunity to view video art
works from around the world. "Hong Kong people may not know the
overseas works very well, so this show gives them a chance to compare
and contrast works by locals and artists from the outside," he says.
"Through this exhibition we can also review our archive, the old
works, works that were made when Videotage first emerged 20 years
ago. At the same time, we can explore the impact they might make in
The 19 artists featured in the Hong Kong segment include Ellen Pau,
May Fung Mei-wah, Mathias Woo Yan-wai, Phoebe Man Ching-ying, Eric
Siu Chi-man and Zheng Bo.
Although video art surfaced in the local art scene around the
mid-80s, its history in the west goes back further. In 1963, Nam June
Paik and Wolf Vostell spearheaded a development in Germany and
elsewhere that nearly a decade later would come to be known as video
One of the challenges Herzogenrath faced was deciding what to include
in the show, given the vast pool of material available. He says first
and foremost the works had to be important to the German art scene.
However, the artists selected didn't have to be German nor the works
strictly video art, because the genre itself is multifaceted.
As he wrote in an essay accompanying the show: "Think of works of
Samuel Beckett and Peter Roehr in the 1960s, the cinematic works by
Rebecca Horn that came somewhat later, and the Super-8 films of
Malaria! and Jörg Herold in the 1980s.
"What these works nevertheless show is just how central
cross-pollination with television, film, and traditional media art -
including photography - is to any notion of video art that embraces
not just the technical aspects of the medium, but its specific forms
of presentation and distribution as well."
The chosen artists were then asked how they would like to present
their works. Herzogenrath says 70s video art, for instance, has a
certain quality that would be good to restore in new digital format.
"To compare with a painting, the red of the 1950s is very different
so you don't put neon red on [the restoration], which would look too
vibrant and modern-day. So we asked the artists what's the status of
their work and how they wanted us to show it.
"Some artists would say, okay, if you can change it to another
quality, fine, because it should look like something from today; but
we have to ask the artist first. Some artists would re-do the same
work they did 30 years ago because it's the idea they are interested
in. So that is like a restoration, or a transformation, of an old
work, making it new again."
For the Hong Kong part of the show, all artists selected have an
important place in the local video art history. Some have exhibited
extensively overseas. "Ellen Pau's Recycling Cinema, for instance,
was showcased at the 49th Venice Biennial in 2001," says Leung.
"Other artists taking part in this exhibition are also
well-established, such as Danny Yung Ning-tsun [founder of local
performing arts group Zuni Icosahedron]."
The submitted work had to be experimental and non-narrative-based,
Leung says. "These are not short films."
He spots similarities in the political nature of both local and
overseas works. "This medium was very cheap compared with film or
television, which are also not independent and cannot be used to
truly reflect social or political issues," Leung says. "Artists used
video art to present these issues in a radical form."
Herzogenrath sees it as a versatile medium. "It's said that video is
like a pencil. It can write an equation penned by Albert Einstein, a
policeman can use it to draw the scene of an accident, Joseph Beuys
made beautiful drawings with it. It is a tool.
"It can be very specific yet not as specific in style. It can be
socio-politically radical and it can be minimalist and conceptual.
And video is just some tool that an artist uses, just like some use
sculpture as a way of expression. Video art is an interesting art
form through which our grandchildren can learn about our times."
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