ARTICOLO DI NORINA IEZZI
Analog, electronic and digital are three steps of an ongoing history that continues until our days and links itself inexorably to audiovisual art forms like video art and cinema. We are living a time of great expansion and contamination of languages which leads us, as we’ll see, to very discordant theories and considerations about the current video art condition. Can we still talk about video art? What is its relationship with cinema?
Despite the fact that digital technology made its entrance in the Nineties, it was only in the year 2000 that it established itself as the main device to be used in any sphere of society. Think then of the significance it has had and the consequences to which the spread of the Internet has led in those years. The web has created a real space suitable both for different experiments and unprecedented possibilities of dissemination and fruition of works. These are years that could be defined, as Bruno Di Marino hypothesizes, as «mass experimentalism […] in which the interference of/in the gaze is no longer an exception but the rule (1)». The process of democratization linked to technological developments shows its greatest fruits in this phase: if it is appropriate to say that you can enjoy, thanks to the Internet, everything that is present on the network at any time you want, it is equally true that the tools with which to create works, professional or not, are now really accessible to a wide circle of consumers. New artistic genres take shape and existing ones change in favor of a total intertextuality and contamination. The continuous interferences between different fields of knowledge and the many technical changes have forced, therefore, even video art, cinema and visual arts in general to a total rethinking; they have accompanied the artistic experimentations in a new creative dimension, made of dialogue and hybridization of languages even very distant from each other (2). Roughly speaking, from 2010 onwards, video has taken on new and different modes of existence, shedding more and more light on its composite essence (land of origin of contaminations) and, consequently, on the difficulty in perfectly delineating the boundaries of its implementation, the «irreducible [impossibility of] a unifying vision (3)». In total harmony with its present, it has succeeded in adapting to the demands of the time and in reinventing itself anew so as to be able to dialogue with the innovations, both theoretical and practical, linked to the society of the new millennium; even if this has sometimes led, and continues to lead, video to move «further and further away from the mother tongues of experimental cinema and video art (4)». However, there are many artistic forms that today escape the traditional definitions; we are faced with an impasse due to the perennial and constantly illusory attempt to «pigeonhole the pigeonholeable (5)». On the other hand, even the training of artists, which already in the past had shown itself heterogeneous – for example Pipilotti Rist, still considered one of the most influential video artists, comes from the field of graphics and audiovisual communication (6) – appears more and more versatile.
Between the end of the 1990s and the beginning of 2000, filmmakers and directors increasingly looked and practiced at a cinema hybridized with other forms of vision (7). Video, with the numerous and revolutionary changes it has brought to the art world, has upset and stimulated cinema to reflect on its identity, its role and its peculiarities; it has subsequently come to the rescue by helping cinema to find the forms and methods most suited to the present. It is evident, therefore, that cinema no longer holds the primacy in the field of moving images: it has lost its centrality (8), even though it continues at times, as we shall see, to prevail over video. This predominance is most likely due to the fact that video, with the advent of digital technology, has become part of the cinematographic world; but isn’t the opposite also true? The cinema today is in fact almost exclusively digital, although some continue to use film. At the same time, however, the strong cinema-video link was present even before the advent of new technologies: think, for example, of found footage, from its first appearances to those in digital. According to Milo Adami, while cinema strengthens and consolidates its presence in the artistic sphere, video is further fragmented: «it seems to be dispersed [in] formats (video projections, video installations, advertising videos, artists’ videos, video animations), crushed by the new emerging technologies (virtual reality, web and digital) (9)». Yet it is thanks to these technologies that video acquires its autonomy and imposes its presence more forcefully: it does not seem to disappear, but rather constantly changes form. The same goes for cinema, it is not dead «but its vitality lies elsewhere (10)». It is not necessary to deny its importance or presence in movie theatres, but rather to accept that these are now only one of its possible forms of fruition; cinema has also expanded. This does not mean, however, that video and video art have been entirely incorporated into the definition of cinema and that they have lost their status in favor of cinematographic expression alone, even though many people today declare their effective disappearance, affirming that cinema has embraced every form of moving image. But to hybridize means to cross forms and species different from each other; the hybrid has inherent in itself some components of the starting elements, but at the same time inevitably generates new ones, different from the first. Video, by its very nature, has a predisposition for mixing and contamination: so why should we obscure and deny one of the artistic forms that has most helped cinema to renew itself and to move outside of the theatre premises? How did we arrive at the negation and dissolution of video art? Why consider only a certain genre and exclude another?
Currently there are two main schools of thought, opposite to each other. Those who affirm the death of video art and those according to whom it has done nothing but expand, change form and scope of implementation. However, it is precisely these metamorphoses that have confused and changed so much the existing paradigms and visions, pushing some people to cry out the dissolution of video.
First of all, it should be considered that, initially, we talked about moving images, referring exclusively to cinema. However, for a long time now, works of art are no longer tied solely to classic artistic forms or typologies. Given the immense hybridization currently found in all sectors, cultural and otherwise, it is impossible to really «reduce the variety of moving images to the cinematographic model alone, intended as the origin of all other audiovisual forms (11)». So, in the era of the asphyxiating diffusion of images, videos, films, on any device, mobile or not, where has video art gone?
According to the French critic and director Jean-Paul Fargier, video is an inheritance that has even more strength and vital energy today (12), but not all scholars from the world of art and cinema are of the same opinion. Valentina Valentini and Andrea Lissoni, for example, think differently. Valentini, in the essay she edited together with Cosetta Saba, Medium senza Medium. Amnesia e cannibalizzazione: il video dopo gli anni Novanta, in 2015, titles her paper Il post-video (13). Already at the beginning of the text, the scholar states that there is a «striking disappearance of the term , replaced by films “of another cinema” (14)». Video, according to her, cannot preserve itself and remain alive: it has been incorporated within the larger, stronger, apparatus of cinema, as well as within that of visual arts and museums. Therefore, according to Valentini, we should no longer even attempt to talk about video, as the latter «was born dead because it excluded the uniqueness of the works and therefore the market that demanded uniqueness (15)». Andrea Lissoni also supports these statements, declaring that «Video is dead. Or rather, it no longer exists. Swept away, forgotten. […] The question is one of nature and identity. […] Video has found itself without a really well-founded statute. For this reason it has been crushed on one hand by the disciplines of cinema […] and on the other by the artistic-visual disciplines, seduced by the image, by its appeal, by its immediate meanings and afraid to push into a territory that is too undisciplined and wide open on the horizons of the imaginary (16)». Yet video, precisely because of its heterogeneous and multiform character, is naturally subject to dispersion and, consequently, ubiquity. «[…] As an art form that uses audiovisual devices integrated by software and open to the infinite linguistic hybridizations offered by the arts […], it is certainly not the discipline or identity that video art lacks, it has multiple and iridescent ones at every possible hybridization generating what we will call an area of videodiversity: a territory of everyone rather than no one (17)». It is precisely this experimentation and openness towards different, innovative and hybrid forms that confirms the existence, alive and firm, of video art.
The relationship between video and cinema is characterized by a constant coming and going of love and hate, assimilation and negation, encounter and clash (18). Each of them is and has been, in alternate moments, a model for the other, a way to go beyond themselves and give themselves according to new forms and contents. At the same time, however, none has managed to completely encompass the other. As Sandra Lischi rightly states in the essay Expanded Video (19): «Cinema, which at the threshold of the seventies according to Youngblood expanded into video and other then new practices, now seems to shrink into the small screens of computers and tablets and into the tiny ones of cell phones precisely in the act of extending itself to the net; but, at the same time, it seems to welcome and collect sound openings, narrative (and non-narrative), synaesthetic abstraction, temporality, suspensions and effects that make its usual structures implode or explode […]. Video art has a big role in this: not only and not so much as an explicit quotation, withdrawal, theft; not so much because it was the video artists who invented many effects later used by Hollywood; but as the core of a late narrative of its own intentions and indications. […] In a certain sense, we can speak today of an “expanded video”: expanded in the cinema […], in museums and exhibitions (as an exhibition material but also as a way of setting up and relating to the visitor […]), in the spectacular and collective projections of urban videomapping: it is hybridized with animation, with painting, to the point of lapping with its wave some forms of video music, and even nestling in the figuratively elaborate niches of some videogames. Video art […] has also become an iconographic reference tank […]; video art has become part of the current cultural lexicon – even if not always on purpose – and of important film festivals, or it is still at the center of some events that explicitly refer to it, with unchanged attention (20)».
The actuality of video and video art could not be expressed in a clearer and more limpid way. So if cinema is changing, it is equally true that video is also changing. Just as cinema cannot be traced back exclusively to the traditional movie theater, so too video art cannot be reduced solely to the experimental phase of the 1970s and 1980s. It has entered a new experimental season, which, thanks also to digital technology, is to be considered neither less significant than the previous ones, nor even less concluded; abroad as much as in Italy. «[…] Video, oh no, video art is not dead. Instead, it is once again in advance, more alive than ever, omnipresent (21)». So where is video art going? Where is the video today? Everywhere (22)!
(1) Bruno Di Marino (a cura di), Doppio Schermo. Film e video d’artista in Italia dagli anni ‘60 a oggi, MAXXI Arte Collection Focus Series, Imola, Manfredi Edizioni, 2017, pp. 21-22.
(2) Cfr. Piero Deggiovanni, Per una estetica dell’ibridazione, conference, 2015, p.1.
(3) Alfonso Amendola, Videoculture. Storia, teoria ed esperienze artistiche dell’audiovisivo sperimentale, Latina, Tunué, 2012, p. 82.
(4) Piero Deggiovanni, Apocalittico e ibridato. Le avventure del corpo nell’epoca del meta-cinema, nel catalogo Le regole del corpo. Norma e arbitrio, Accademia di Belle Arti, Bologna, 2016, p. 4.
(5) Ivi, p. 9.
(6) Cfr. Valentina Valentini e Cosetta Saba (a cura di), Medium senza Medium. Amnesia e cannibalizzazione: il video dopo gli anni Novanta, Roma, Bulzoni Editore, 2015, p. 27.
(7) Cfr. Adriano Aprà (a cura di), Fuori norma. La via sperimentale del cinema italiano, Padova, Marsilio Editori, 2013, p. 47.
(8) Cfr. V. Valentini e C. Saba (a cura di), op. cit. p. 73.
(9) Ivi, p. 71.
(10) A. Aprà (a cura di), op. cit. p. 13.
(11) V. Valentini e C. Saba (a cura di), op. cit. p. 159.
(12) Cfr. Ivi, p. 157.
(13) Ivi, pp. 17-46.
(14) Ivi, p. 17.
(15) Ivi, p. 21.
(16) Ivi, p. 48.
(17) Piero Deggiovanni, Antologia critica della videoarte italiana 2010-2020, Torino, Edizioni Kaplan, 2019, pp. 16-17.
(18) Cfr. V. Valentini e C. Saba (a cura di), op. cit. p. 65.
(19) Ivi, pp. 251-265.
(20) Ivi, pp. 261-262.
(21) Ivi, p.171.
(22) Cfr. Ivi, p.160.
Amendola Alfonso, Videoculture. Storia, teoria ed esperienze artistiche dell’audiovisivo sperimentale, Latina, Tunué, 2012.
Aprà Adriano (a cura di), Fuori norma. La via sperimentale del cinema italiano, Padova, Marsilio Editori, 2013.
Deggiovanni Piero, Antologia critica della videoarte italiana 2010-2020, Torino, Edizioni Kaplan, 2019.
Deggiovanni Piero, Apocalittico e ibridato. Le avventure del corpo nell’epoca del meta-cinema, nel catalogo Le regole del corpo. Norma e arbitrio, Accademia di Belle Arti, Bologna, 2016.
Deggiovanni Piero, Per una estetica dell’ibridazione, conferenza, 2015., Per una estetica dell’ibridazione, conferenza, 2015.
ON THE COVER
Marcantonio Lunardi, Anthropometry 154855, 03’30”, 2015
DEHORS/AUDELA, Olmè, 5’2”, 2020