[Translated freely from the German published in springerin Nov 2017]

"All Power does not proceed from the end of a gun." (*)

ZKM as a digital ark

By Gislind Nabakowski

Michael Shamberg "Portable Video. A Radical Software-State-of-the-Art Report"
From: Radical Software, Vol.1, Nr. 3, Detail
© Raindance, ZKM 2017

The first text about video art was written in 1969 for the TV columns of TIME Magazine by Michael Shamberg before he co-founded the "Radical Software" journal. Nam June Paik was not the only one in 1967 who used the Sony mobile Portapak video camera. As a decentralised, multi-purpose technology, it allowed a variety of independent uses. In the New York micro-environment it percolated. Video artists, studying at universities, heard lectures by Marshall McLuhan and Buckminster Fuller. The anthropologist Gregory Bateson declared in 1974 in a video-recorded lecture: "Small geckos, moths, frogs and Humans are all part of natural history." For him sciences contain errors. His warning to the youth: "You can be wrong as culture and as individual." This new order of things was also a revolution at the same time.

As a film and TV producer Shamberg realised, later, 40 "Topvalues", including "A fish called Wanda", and received a total of 32 Oscar nominations. His book "Guerilla Television" (1971) appeared in the series of the magazine "Radical Software" (1969-74), whose publisher he was temporarily. The first issue (2,000 copies) came from, what the artists Beryl Korot and Phyllis Gershuny, originally called the "Video Newsletter". The last and eleventh issue was dedicated to the topic, "Video & Kids". More specifically, it was about video, cybernetics, social activism, counterculture and art. Through the initiative of Davidson Gigliotti and with the support of the Daniel Langlois Foundation [and the help of Ira Schneider], Radical Software was made available online in 2003, parts of which can be found in German translation on the ZKM website.

The exhibition Radical Software, Raindance Foundation, Media Ecology and Video Art as presented at the ZKM is full of hilarity, freedom, knowledge, inserts, picture distortions, fooling around and time delays. Their individual objects, which were created in "fossil software" (Otto Piene), contain 19 videos, five installations and all issues and books of the journal, as well as videos by 25 artists, which Ira Schneider and Russ Johnson curated between 1982 & 1993 for the [Raindance] Manhattan cable program "Night Light TV".
Two large US archives were mixed in the ZKM exhibition: the Raindance archive and the archive of, the since 1993 Berlin resident, Ira Schneider, (bitter enough that the archives could not find a home in the USA).
A mural in which Michael Shamberg, once in street clothes, and again naked with a Portapak on his shoulder, shows him as a relaxed producer and as the emblem for the show.
Since Dorcas Müller heads the laboratory of historic video systems at the ZKM, this wealth can be exhibited through the digital, restoration [*restoration was made by Schneider and Wick] of salvaged materials from the pioneering era. The leading idea is a complex two-stage plan: first show restored works of art to the public, in order, then, to allow research on forgotten or blind spots in history. By considering which contagious knowledge is encoded in the arts, questions are made about what knowledge is applicable today to their decipherment.

Every year, the industry replaces last year's products with new ones, making the old ones fragmented and obsolete. In order to avoid dangerous reductionism, it is time to explore the processes, contents, forms and groupings of that time and to formulate the intentions of why art emerges: What can be seen? Technologies contain experiences, problems, questions and answers. This also hides intentions. Anyone who remembers with passion knows that perceptions (Aisthesis), desired goals and utopias are often stored as small impulses.
We never hear the same thing in the arts as in politics or the media. Their contents are often pure evidences. The ZKM exhibition contains many mysteries, politics, sufferings, experiences, poetry, memories and dreams. But how and with which terms are they (still) tangible or (re-) updatable? When I saw Ira Schneider's heavily faded video "The Woodstock Festival" (1969/2013), Georges Didi-Huberman's words from Les Inrocks (12.2.2014) came to my mind: "Watching is not competence, but an experience. We do not only experience art with our eyes, but also with our forehead, our mouth, our hands."
Schneider's movie is not a music video. Recording performances was not permitted. At the camping by the lake, small scenes testify. Standing in the lake a young woman is shaving her boyfriend. A little hug, a kiss, touches, she throws her head back and laughs. A foam blob shines. The shave continues. Couples are swimming in the lake. They are all naked. Like hallucinations, the following collective images look like those of the past. Naked dancing. Last zooms on tight, heterosexual, white hugs. A nucleus. Peaceful. But an affront to America's campaigns, Puritanism and double standards. But it is remote from Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut" (1999), which was inspired by Arthur Schnitzler's Traumnovelle (1925-26) on sexualised phantasies and domination in capitalism. In the video no trace of the turmoil of a new fin de si├Ęcle (end of the century).
But more important is that the audience in several video installations are exhibited, as well in Frank Gillette's / Ira Schneider's installation Wipe Cycle (9 monitors, 1969/2017): "Mixing the audience into the art work." Time delayed. Especially in the face of live cameras monitoring us, we, as active participants, are called upon to express our attention clearly.

(*) The title-giving quote of this text is taken from the article "Cybernetic Guerrilla Warfare" by Paul Ryan, Radical Software, Vol.1, No.3.

    Well-Chosen Links



The Annotated Video Exhibition List

Net.art in the Age of Digital Reproduction


Datenraum Deutschland - United Germany - Project Description