A long time has passed since video was labelled a new media. Nevertheless, at least one generation must pass from the invention of a new (reproductive) technology, such as printmaking, photography and film, before it is accepted as a cultural tool and established as a means of artistic expression in its own right. This time lapse is even longer when it comes to interpretation, which should detect media-specific elements and place the new medium in the social and production framework. Video (magnetic tape), like all new image carriers, preserves certain features of previous technologies (e.g. film, photography) and at the same time introduces new ones through technological innovation and different (content) encoding capabilities. Video technology changed film in the same way as the new digital technology is changing video and film today. The term video is used nowadays for almost every moving image, with the sole exception of film.
In Slovenia, video is almost thirty years old. In the seventies it dwelt within the conceptual movement, in the eighties it held a constituting part and provided an aesthetic effect of the alternative scene - in multimedia and club events, as well as in international video biennials in Ljubljana (1983-1989). In the nineties, video could be found in individual presentations, exhibitions and projections at the Information Centre of the Modern Gallery, KUC and DSLU galleries, MKC in Maribor, TV Slovenia, as well as at the commercial TV station Kanal A. It could also be seen at the Festival of Slovene Video in Idrija (1992, 1998) and at the Video/Film Dance Festival in Ljubljana (1991-1996). This sporadic attention to video created the impression of a very lively scene and high public interest in video, yet it never created an adequate theoretical and critical reflection. Reasons for this can be sought in the mistrust of experts, especially art historians, as concerns any new technology or different (conceptual) practice, or of unconventional artistic and cultural strategies and procedures, as well as their poor interest in and knowledge about video.
A determining factor for the situation of (art) video in Slovenia was also the fact that production conditions dictated the reception of video - limited to a narrow circle of creators, producers and supporters. Ever since the mid-seventies (with rare exceptions), it was the artists themselves who wrote about video and presented it at home and abroad, thus trying to establish the aesthetic value and social relevance of their own work.
Research on media events, TV shows and texts on video supports this claim.(1) There never was a publication dedicated exclusively to video. Ekran, a magazine for film and TV, and Sinteza, a magazine for visual culture, have occasionally written about video ever since 1973, sometimes in special supplements and features.(2) At this point, contributions by artists like Nua and Srečo Dragan, Miha Vipotnik or Duan Mandić were also of great importance.
Video was pioneered within conceptual art practice. Nua and Srečo Dragan, the first video artists in Slovenia, initially operated as a part of OHO, a group of Slovene conceptual artists. For them, video constituted an element of artistic action and at the same time it was used as a documentation tool. It was mainly understood as a means of immediate interactive communication with the audience.
It was not until the end of the seventies that Miha Vipotnik explored the structure and aesthetic effects of the electronic image. With professional TV equipment and a synthesiser, he created a different, more formalistic kind of video art which focused on the manipulation and transformation of image and editing.
It is not surprising that these early video works, created in relation to the practice of visual arts and television(3), were accepted and interpreted within the context of visual arts, which at the same time was also the context of their authors. As they started appearing, they gained the attention of (visual art) critics such as Stane Bernik, Toma Brejc and Brane Kovič.
On the other hand, the abundant video production and practice of the eighties, functioning within the 'Ljubljana subculture', was not easily placed in an art context. In 1984, Brane Kovič wrote about the changed role of video and its new tendencies(4). He realised that video art, which was the only reference at the time, was no longer sufficient. Events within the society, state rituals, violence, sexuality, myths and taboos of the socialist system became important references for the creators of art and art-documentary videos(5). They preferred to refer to themselves within the context of the alternative (punk and rock) culture with Disko FV and the KUC Gallery as their main venues, rather than within the context of (modernist) art, even though several of them came from the Ljubljana Academy of Fine Arts.
Such was the case with Duan Mandić, at the time a member of the Meje kontrole t. 4 (video) art group. In 1983 and 1984 he was the only one to write about the KUC-Forum Video Production(6). Besides identifying the distinctive features of this, at that point in time, mass production, where he paid special attention to introducing 'new codes of meaning', he also defined the distinction between the 'formalistic approach to the medium' of video as seen in the seventies and the 'socially active audio-visual research' of the eighties.
Alongside other protagonists of the 'alternative scene', like Marina Grinić and myself, curators of the KUC Gallery, Radmila Pavlović and Irma Menarič, the organisers of the KUC-Forum Video Section, and members of the FV Group, Zemira Alajbegović and Neven Korda, Mandić created video programs and presentations in Slovenia and abroad. These presentations took place in the KUC Gallery(7) and Disko FV(8), as well as at international conferences, festivals and exhibitions abroad(9).
Video artists, active in the seventies, also organised events. Miha Vipotnik was one of the founders of the International Biennial VIDEO CD in 1983(10), which established video in the institutional sense. The three consequent biennials he directed brought international video art to Slovenia, enabled communication with guest artists and curators, and gradually affirmed Slovene video production in the international arena. In the late eighties, he also prepared several presentations of Yugoslav video in co-operation with the American curator Kathy Rae Huffman(11). These were presented in Canada and USA, accompanied with introductory notes and critical texts.
Nua and Srečo Dragan also prepared several exhibitions, programs and texts on Yugoslav and Slovene video(12). They wanted video to have the place it deserves in Slovene cultural production and present it abroad.
National television also played an important role in the development of video production in Slovenia. In the late eighties and especially in the nineties, it became one of the main producers of video in Slovenia alongside KUC-Forum (later VS Video and Forum Ljubljana) and some private video studios (especially Brut and Kregar Video Production). There were quite a few TV shows presenting art video. Miha Vipotnik as author and Marijan Osole-Max as editor produced a show called Avtovizija (Auto-vision) in 1986, which was 'the only program on art video and video art in Slovenia'. TV shows by Majda irca, Marina Grinić, Zemira Alajbegović, and others soon followed on RTV Ljubljana (later TV Slovenia) and Kanal A. Special attention was given to video production already in 1985 in the experimental program of ATV, the first Slovene alternative TV station, which unfortunately never started to truly broadcast.
After the fall of the Berlin wall, there was a surge of events around the world presenting art from Central and Eastern Europe, trying to place it into the European context. The Ostranenie international video festival (Bauhaus, Dessau 1993-1997) focused precisely on media production from former eastern European countries. In the catalogue of the first festival, among the texts on video art from participating countries, one finds a text entitled Video from Slovenia by Marina Grinić, artist and curator of video programs, who gave special attention to video also in her other texts.(13)
Let me conclude this brief history of production and reception of video in Slovenia by noting that in the late eighties and the nineties, video became increasingly tied to individual authors. It established itself as an independent medium and as a constituting element of expression in multimedia projects and installations. An overview of video production from its beginnings to the mid-nineties can also be found in the programme booklet which I prepared for the travelling video program entitled From the Alternative Scene to Art Video. Video Production in Slovenia 1992-1994.(14)
High-tech manipulation and the generation of images alone does not fascinate anymore. Videos are rendered as complex stories, approaching film and theatre, and only in rare cases as a digital experiment. At the same time, video has become an indispensable element of intermedia and visual art practices. Videos in Slovenia appear in galleries and at film festivals. First screenings are often in Slovensko mladinsko gledaliče (Slovene Youth Theatre) or at Slovenska Kinoteka (Slovene Cinematheque). Texts on video are written according to the context in which a video first appears: by critics of visual arts (e.g. Toma Brejc, Jure Miku), film critics (Nerina Kocjančič, Marcel tefančič) or in the context of culture in general (Janez Strehovec, Gorazd Trunovec, Mojca Kumerdej). Two recent exhibitions (1997) devoted significant attention to video as a means of artistic expression: Media in Media, prepared by SCCA-Ljubljana, and The Wise Hand, by the Association of Slovene Visual Artists (ZDSLU). The former was an international exhibition composed of historical and contemporary works reflecting on mass media in formally different art mediums. Among others, the early works of Peter Weibel, Dana Birnbaum and Dalibor Martinis were presented. The latter included contemporary (video) installations and a retrospective of Slovene video in the eighties.
In addition to the travelling video program of 1994, which I mentioned before, there were other recent video programs which are now considered curatorial work. Videospotting, a five-hour program in five thematic units, prepared for the Metropol Club in Ljubljana by Nerina Kocijančič and myself, was presented at the international conference and exhibition Interstanding 2 held in the Estonian capital Tallinn and at the European Film and Video Avant-garde event in Budapest (1996-1998). Eva Rohrman, the producer of Forum Ljubljana, prepared a travelling video program entitled In Search of Lost Time. 15 Years of Video Production by Forum, which toured many Slovene towns after Ljubljana (1997-1998). Marina Grinić prepared a feature entitled Avant-garde Films and Videos from Central Europe for the Festival of Central European Culture in London (1998).
The twelve essays that the Soros Centre for Contemporary Arts-Ljubljana invited for Videodokument, all talk about the situation I just described in greater detail and from different perspectives. On the one hand, they describe video production itself, often with an unavoidable personal note, from its beginnings in the seventies up to the most recent works. On the other hand they observe it in relation to television or other art practices (film, visual arts, dance, music). They are divided into three parts: Frozen Time, Early Works and Expanded Space.
Frozen Time speaks about the video medium that defined itself from its beginnings in the context of the contemporary social and cultural activity. The text by Brane Kovič describes the early life of video as an independent medium and the pioneers of video art in Slovenia and their works - Nua and Srečo Dragan and Miha Vipotnik. Zemira Alajbegović discusses video in the context of the youth subculture, rock and punk club scene in the light of her personal experience as one of the organisers and protagonists of that scene. She also describes the KUC-Forum Video Production of the early eighties. Bogdan Lenik looks back in order to critically re-interpret the role/position and effects of video production in the context of the alternative scene, and reflects on the alternative itself. Majda irca, who followed video production as a writer for the Ekran magazine and later as editor of the art program on national television, gives her own account of the 'golden age of video creativity' in the early eighties, the later support of national television for video and artism, which pushes video towards film and opens the gates of galleries. Nerina Kocjančič is interested more in the creation of various video genres, especially the video clip, video film and the video documentary. She notes the dependence of video on other art practices, especially film, and touches on the future of video and the advent of new digital technologies in the nineties.
Early Works describes the pre-history, history and the (lack of) actuality of video. Melita Zajc asserts that the early use of the magnetoscopic tape in TV production didn't differ much from the way it was used later in individual video productions and describes how the magnetoscope was used at RTV Ljubljana in the mid sixties, before the introduction of mobile video. Biljana Tomić, one of the first organisers and curators of video art in former Yugoslavia, describes the beginnings and the success of video in Yugoslavia through important contacts, cooperations and events which connected Yugoslav artists with the international arena. In the form of an interview, Miha Vipotnik tells us about his own beginnings in video within the institutional frames of the art academy and national television, about his organisational efforts and attempts to establish a permanent video studio in Ljubljana, about his USA experience and his most recent works.
In Expanded Space, we wished to show the abundance of distinctions and links between video and other art forms, mainly the visual and performing arts. Nadja Zgonik writes about that part of video production in Slovenia which is not limited to the reproduction of a tape on the screen - it is tightly coupled with visual arts and physical space: video sculptures, video installations and video performances. Koen Van Daele first defines the term videodance and the four videodance sub-genres (stage/studio recording, camera rework, screen choreography and documentary). As the director/organiser of the Video/Film Dance Festival in Ljubljana, he gives an overview of collaborations between video artists, dancers and choreographers, and places Slovene videodance into a broader international context. Maja Breznik explores the relation of video with the performing arts and gives the example of 'theatrical' video films, which are usually recorded by artists themselves during their performances, installations and multimedia projects. She gives special attention to the problematic use of video in documenting and (commercially) promoting theatre pieces, rather than to the usage of video inside theatrical performances themselves. Igor panjol concludes the series with an overview of the most important television shows on video and the specifics of the relation between video and television in our cultural space. He notes that, in the electronic media scene, it was almost always the artists themselves who were simultaneously the promoters of their own works and the creators of the notable influence of the means of expression inherent to video in the broader mediascape.
1 An overview of the most important TV shows on video is given in the text by Igor Španjol in this book. Bibliography of selected texts on video can be found at the end of the book. An expanded bibliography of individual artists and media coverage can also be found in the catalogue Documentation.
2 At this point I refer to the early texts that introduced the video medium to Slovenia. Stane Bernik defined `video art' in Sinteza (1973) as an experiment and a creative experience of contemporary visual expression. Nuša and Srečo Dragan spoke about video communication and the synthesis of theatre and video in view of their own experience in Ekran (1976). A short history and an overview of tendencies in contemporary video was published in Ekran (1977) with a selected bibliography. Bogdan Lešnik wrote about video as a technology, working method and a medium, determined in the art sense by specific conditions and thus losing the political edge, same magazine (1979). Brane Kovič edited a collection of texts on video, concentrated almost entirely (with the exception of D. Mandić's text) on Nam June Paik for Ekran in 1984. The largest collection of texts on video by Slovenian and foreign authors appeared in the joint issue of Ekran/Sinteza in 1986. Some tried to answer the question what video art is and explored its history, others focused on its relation to television and graphic design. N. and S. Dragan described their view of the situation of video in the art of the eighties. In an interview, Miha Vipotnik described his personal experience as the first Slovene video artist who succeeded in transferring professional video technology, especially the synthesizer and editing table, to personal use.
7 Besides presentations of video works by artists from Slovenia, exhibitions and video projections of works by two famous Australians, Robert Randall and Frenk Bendinelli , took place. Between 1984 and 1985 there was a Video-box-bar every Saturday, where visitors could select the videos to be viewed.
8 Music video clips were part of the regular disco program. The ŠKUC-Forum Video Production was presented at the symposium Kaj je alternativa? (What is Alternative?) in Disco FV in 1983. From 1981 onwards, the regular programme of Disko FV included the Video klub (Video Club) on Sunday.
9 Especially at festivals of youth culture, like the ones in Rome, Mestre, Barcelona, Thessaloniki and Turin, and presentations in Yugoslav cities, such as Belgrade, Skopje and Niš (1983-1987), as well as exhibitions in Sarajevo: Nova slovenska vizualna scena (1984), Umjetnost-kritika usred osamdesetih (1986) and Jugoslovenska dokumenta (1987).
10 The catalogue of the first biennial included texts by Pierre Restany, Woody Vasulka, Dalibor Martinis, Čedomir Vasić, Dunja Blažević and Biljana Tomić. Reprints of texts by Wulf Herzogenrath and René Berger were also included.
11 For example, in Boston, Los Angeles and San Fransisco (1988). Kathy Rae Huffman is also the author of two travelling programs: Deconstruction, Quotation & Subversion: Video from Yugoslavia (1989/90) and Video from Slovenia: a past memorized - a future conceived (1994-1996).
12 Exhibition Provocation of the Medium `80 in the ZDSLU Gallery, Ljubljana (1982) and the program Recent Yugoslav Video Production shown in Koper, and Paris and Recent Slovene Video Production in London (1986-1987).
13 Among others in the books: Ljubljana, Ljubljana. Slovenian Art in the Eighties, Ljubljana 1991 and Reconstructed Fiction. New media, (video) Art, Postsocialism and Retroavant-garde: Theory, Politics and Aestethics (1997-1985), Ljubljana 1997.
14 This program was prepared by SCCA-Ljubljana and the Škuc Gallery. It was shown mainly in the cities of the former East: Rijeka, Ljubljana, Skopje, Moscow, St. Petersburg, as well as in Udine and Los Angeles (1984-1986). The text was also published in the Annual Catalogue of the Škuc Gallery 1994 and in Reader, V2_East Meeting, Rotterdam 1996.