Video Art in Yugoslavia 1969–1984
Published in: RTV – teorija i praksa, No. 36, Belgrade, autumn 1984; reprinted in Videosfera, Mihailo Ristić, ed., SIC, Belgrade 1986
Yugoslavia was one of many European countries that move or less consciously accepted the need to get to rise to the challenge of the new communications technologies and to get to grips with television, in particular, as a key factor in shaping the contemporary 'civilisation of the image'. It did not take long before what René Berger termed 'macro television' created the space in its immediate proximity for the development of a specific area that Berger referred to as 'micro television' - by which he meant individual programming or television run by small groups, mostly, of artists using vide as their basic medium. In Yugoslavia, as in many other laces, the initial interest in exploiting video sprang from circles of artists who had a natural affinity for experimenting with new media, In keeping with one of the fundamental principles of the artistic avant-garde in the late 1960's and early 1970's. As is widely acknowledged, those were ears when art was going through a turbulent phase, when the status of the static aesthetic object - whether painting or sculpture - was called into question, and when any artists shared a tendency to favour working on their bodies and senses. To many of them, the media appeared to be an extension of their own senses. It is, therefore, natural to view the beginnings of video In Yugoslavia within the context of the artistic developments that have been commonly labelled the 'extended media' or 'mixed media'. The protagonists of video art and other kinds of post-object art often turned out to be one and the same thing.
In 1977, when Marijan Susovski wrote the first historiographical survey of video art in Yugoslavia, he ended, by concluding that Yugoslav artists
'have been pursuing video for a much too short time and their oeuvres are too small to enable their reception in any different way but as the ‘early works’ within a future video production.'
Almost full six years have elapsed since then, and some of those 'early works' have gained in weight as pioneering endeavours, while a long series of fresh events has rounded out the overall picture of developments in video art in Yugoslavia. Anyhow, video is one of the characteristic media of contemporary civilisation and, as such, continues to spread; accordingly, video production, whether by artists or others, has been spreading across Yugoslavia, too. Yet this perpetual growth makes it difficult for an art historian to discuss objectively, even though it is quite clear that we have already observed a number of defining events that may or may not already have been recognised as such. .Video production in Yugoslavia had not yet reached the same volume that it has in certain other, technologically and artistically more advanced countries, but this is not in any way to say that it can easily be written off. When we come to review the output of the last decade or so of expansion, we may say that the results, so far, are most certainly of a nature to assure it a more than honourable position on the larger scale of things.
It will first be necessary, to present a short summary of the general social and cultural situation in Yugoslavia, if we are to try and arrive at a better understanding of the position and circumstances, in which video art began to be practised here. The private art market does not exist in Yugoslavia [as of 1984], and this [in 1984] means that there is no network of private galleries and private collections. This, in turn, severely limits the economic base for art to the funds provided by the state (or society, at large) to institutions entitled to stage exhibitions, and for the purchase of works for the limited number of collections in pubic museums and galleries. Therefore, artists face serious difficulties, when trying to execute works that call for any modern technology. – and this Is particularly true of younger artists and all those who are interested in experimenting with novel means of expression –One may say that whatever goes beyond canvas and paper and requires substantial material investment, turns into an obstacle that can be surmounted only by stubborn and extremely adroit individuals. Such is the case with video art production! During the 1970’s, there was not a single Yugoslav artist on possession of his or her own recording or projection equipment. Worse still, none of the leading museums and galleries had any such equipment either! It needs to be emphasised that only a few exceptional institutions frequented by university student, such as the Student's Cultural Centre in Belgrade (since 1973) and the Students' Cultural Centre in Ljubljana (since 1981) have made continuous efforts to provide normal working conditions for artists. Foreign artists owning equipment would intentionally be invited, so that Yugoslav artists would be able to record their works on that equipment - as in the was the case of the Paris group, Video Heads, on whose equipment Marina Abramović made her first video installation, Oslobađanje glasa ('Liberation of the Voice', 1975) and some other artists, including Raša Todosijević, Ilija Šoškić, made video performances.
Two important did much to raise the level of Yugoslav video production. The first of these was Video susret ('Video Encounter'), organised by the Gallery of Contemporary Art, Zagreb and the Galleria del Cavallino, Venice, in 1976, which yielded videotapes by Sanja Iveković, Dalibor Martinis, Goran Trbuljak and others; and the other was the 'Video Workshop' (Video-radionica), organised by the Galerie Krinzinger ( Innsbruck) at Brdo, Istria, in 1977, which resulted in tapes by G. Trbuljak, Boris Demur, Mladen Stilinović, R. Todosijević, N. Paripović, and others. When opportunities arose, Yugoslav artists would take advantage of their own visits abroad, to work in the studios or homes of their colleagues. That is how they made up for the lack of specialist production companies in their home environment. Although they may not have enjoyed optimal working conditions, the results were commendable, and confirmation of this may be found in the number of invitations Yugoslav artists have received to screen their work abroad and participate in international festivals. It seems that the fact that Yugoslav artists have achieved that level of international success may be attributed, in part, to their involvement, since the early 1970s, with many of the practices associated with the so-called ‘New Art’ (The New Art Practice), such as performance, actions, film, photography, interventions in public spaces, conceptual works, and so on - even if their own efforts at video art were often secondary to their principal activities in other media.. Some artists who tried their hand in all these different areas have gradually built up extremely individual and recognisable profiles. This applies to Marina Abramović, Radomir Damnjan, Braco Dimitrijević, Sanja Iveković, Dalibor Martinis, Neša Paripović, Raša Todosijević, Goran Trbuljak and others, who all played a central role in the new Yugoslav art of the 1970’s; as a rule, the content of these artists' video works was closely tied up with their parallel activities in other media.
Writing recently about the new British video art, Stuart Marshall tellingly divided this into modernist and postmodernist stages. This fits in with present-day terminology, implying the change in paradigms from Modernism to Postmodernism In art and culture, more general, around the turn of the 1970’s and 1980's. Considering the circumstances in which video art was produced in Yugoslavia, it would be an exaggeration to suggest the everything could be viewed in the light of this dichotomy between Modernism and Postmodernism, , yet it is obvious that there have been two distinctive periods – hence, two different approaches – and that each of them possesses specific characteristics of its own.
The first period, or approach, which approximately overlapped with the 1970’s, was one in which video art was practised by artists who were not familiar with the technical aspects of the recording process, so they used the medium with the help of technicians, as a way of giving visible shape to their ideas. The second period and approach developed after 1980, when the leading role was played by artists who aspired to specialising in video art and tended to raise the bar higher, when it came to dealing with the specific technical properties and potentialities of the medium. On the basis of this distinction, Biljana Tomić divided everything into work from the ‘the primitive period' and work from 'the period of great improvements' - by which she was referring to the respective levels of technical, rather than artistic achievement. Speaking of levels of artistic achievement, it is noteworthy that a considerable number of the tapes from the first, ‘primitive’ period shall remain attractive to us, despite their modest levels of technical accomplishment and have come to be treasured, as ‘historic models’ within the context of Yugoslav art and may be regarded as being on a comparable level of achievement, on a European scale to that of Gerry Schum, with his works, such as Art/Tapes 22. Even if we are inclined to agree with Maria Gloria Bicocchi' claim that 'the heroic age of these historic models has definitely passed', three is still a case to be made for the counterclaim that the age of the historic models was truly a heroic age for pioneering video production.
What was it that happened in Yugoslavia during the heroic age of the first steps in video art? Most of the salient facts have been collected and much of the necessary information has been assembled in the thematic issue of the magazine, Spot, dedicated to video art in Yugoslavia (No. 10, Zagreb, 1977, Editor-in-Chief Radoslav Putar). We can now sketch a timeline for Yugoslav video art, by building on these facts and supplementing them with the events that have taken place in the period since the magazine’s publication. It seems indisputable that the first video piece in Yugoslavia was produced in Ljubljana in 1969, by Nuša and Srečo Dragan; it was titled 'The White Milk from the White Breasts' (Belo mleko belih grudi, black-and-white, ½ inch, 30 mins., Sony), and this is how the authors interpreted it:
'During the conversational group communication, one and the same still from Naško Križnar’s film White People is seen on the monitor throughout the conversation. The image changes in the perception of the participants in the conversation for as much as (s)he takes part in the film story.'
It was two more years before Braco Dimitrijević recorded the tapes entitled 'Metabolism as a Corporal Sculpture and Thinking Process as a Corporal Sculpture' (Metabolizam kao telesna skulptura, Proces mišljenja kao telesna skulptura, black-and-white, 5 mins., Sony open reel). In the meantime, there was a steady flow of information into Yugoslavia about developments in the field of video art abroad. As a first-hand observer of these, Biljana Tomić invited Luciano Giaccari to Belgrade: in 1972, he responded with a screening at Student Cultural Centre of the video library of Studio 970 from Varese, featuring tapes by L. Fabro, D. Oppenheim, H. Nagasawa, F. Vaccari, U. Lütti and others. In the same year, Zagreb saw the visit of Willoughby Sharp, who made his equipment available to Goran Trbuljak for the recording of his first piece, titled 'Perimeter Test of the Artist’s Field of Vision' (Perimetarski test vidnog polja umetnika). There followed two projections of tapes by Ilija Šoškić, recorded in Italy: one took place at Student Cultural Centre in Belgrade, and the other in Zagreb, within the context of the 1973 exhibition, Tendencies 5; however, those videos were by a Yugoslav artist living abroad, not one working in Yugoslavia. The first opportunity for Yugoslav artists to launch their production internationally – and that was of historic significance to the story of Yugoslav video art – came about through an invitation to Boris Bućan, Sanja Iveković, Dalibor Martinis, Goran Trbuljak and Nuša and Srečo Dragan, to participate in Audiovisuelle Botschaften at Trigon ‘73. In response to this, they produced their first tapes to be screened within the framework of a fierce international competition. In the catalogue for this event, the critics Stane Bernik and Vera Horvat-Pintarić, contributed their first theoretical essays, as an aid to understanding video art and video culture. A short while before, Vera Horvat-Pintarić had edited a double issue of the magazine, Bit International (No. 8-9, Zagreb, 1972), dealing with the subject, ‘Television Today’ - i.e. television and culture, the language of television, and experimentation. The contributions were written by Pierre Schaeffer, Gillo Dorfles, Umberto Eco, Abraham Moles, and others; in one part of the issue, Renato Barilli surveyed the event Gennaio 70 – Video Recording, held in Bologna in 1970, in which the participants included some of the leading exponents of Arte Povera, such as Mario and Marisa Merz, Pistoletto, Kounellis, Boetti, Fabro, Zorio, Penone and Calzolari.
Over the next few years, the number of contacts with other centres of video art abroad grew quite naturally. Guest shows of foreign artists became increasingly frequent and began to take place against the backdrop of a stable and well thought-out programming policy, promoted in the main by being Student Cultural Centre, in Belgrade and the Gallery of Contemporary Art, in Zagreb. These institutions, as well as a number of other organisations, hosted many shows that can only be mentioned here briefly, in passing. Thus, tapes were seen by the artists gathered around the Galleria del Cavallino, in Venice ; Art/Tapes 22 was shown in Florence, in the programme, Europa – America); Video Heads, from Paris, came with Jack Moore; Horst Haberl brought a series of tapes, titled A New Language, Video – Video Art from 1965 to the Present Day; Wulf Herzogenrath showed German video art, Including work by Beuys, Rebecca Horn, Friederike Pezold and Jochen Gerz; Ursula Wevers arranged a posthumous presentation of Gerry Schum’s pioneering oeuvre; there were two selections of French video art (1974-80 and 1980-82); contacts were established with the CAYC in Buenos Aires, headed by H. Glusberg; screenings of selected video productions by British, Swiss and Italian artists were organized, and so forth. Yugoslavia hosted working visits by artists such as Ulrike Rosenbach, Katharina Sieverding, Klaus Mettig, Jürgen Klauke, Klaus von Bruch, Charlemagne Palestine and Aquinada, and by critics, including Vittorio Fagone, Helmuth Friedel and Alex Graham. A one-man exhibition of Antoni Muntadas took place at the Gallery of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, in 1983. In short, professionals in the field of video art, such as artists, critics and curators, provided a constant stream of information about ongoing developments in various European milieux, and the problem they had to contend with was how to manage the flow of information in the opposite direction, by trying to arrange for the inclusion of artists from Yugoslavia were included in the main international video art events.
After the first, historic appearance of Yugoslav authors at Trigon ‘73, in Graz, in the autumn of 1973, there were many screenings of their works on the international art scene. The major exhibitions and events were as follows: Sanja Iveković and Dalibor Martinis took part in Impact Art – Video Arte (Lausanne, 1974); Marina Abramović recorded and projected a number of videos at the time of her performances in Milan, Naples, Innsbruck, Copenhagen, and elsewhere (1974-5),; Marina Abramović, Boris Bućan, Iveković, Martinis and Trbuljak participated in the 1975 Rencontres internationales ouvertes de video organised by the CAYC in Paris; the Third Encounter on Video – CAYC, at Ferrara in the same year, saw the participation of N. and S. Dragan and, again, of Iveković and Martinis; in 1976, Radomir Damnjan recorded a series of video tapes in Tübingen (produced by the Dacić Gallery); I. L. Galeta took part in the event, Art, Artist and the Medium (Graz, 1978); during Works and Words (Amsterdam, 1979), the pioneer of Yugoslav alternative film, Tomislav Gotovac, made his only video, thus far; in the period from 1978 to 1980, Iveković and Martinis had a series of showings in Canada (Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto) and the United States (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco), while in 1983 they were invited to the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts), in London. A programme of works by the largest selection of Yugoslav artists, to date (Damnjan, N. and S. Dragan, Ivan Ladislav Galeta, Iveković, Martinis, Paripović, Miša Savić, Todosijević, Trbuljak), was included in the major event, Camere Incantate, at the Palazzo Reale, Milan, in 1980, with the organisational support of the Student Cultural Centre in Belgrade, and was followed up with three successive shows (1981, 1982, 1983) in the International Video Festival in Locarno-Ascona, where the Yugoslav selection won the Special Prize, in 1982 and Dalibor Martinis was awarded the MonitEUR Prize, the following year. Finally, there were contributions by Yugoslav artists to the International Video Encounter, in Salerno (Iveković, Martinis) and the festival, European Video, in Voltera, in 1983 (Iveković, Martinis, N. and S. Dragan, Damnjan, Miha Vipotnik and the group Meje kontrole Št. 4). Like any brief survey of this nature, there will inevitably have been a number of omissions, but the aim of writing this piece has been, not so much to en to present a fully accurate chronology of video-related data, but to highlight the fact that Yugoslav artists have taken part in so many video art events, worldwide.
Bearing in mind that video art emerged and developed during the 1970’s, side by side with the advent of The New Art (actions, performances, conceptual and analytical works), it is understandable that the content of video pieces in this period should have been closely related to that of these other disciplines. When we come to examining the numerous individual attitudes from the standpoint of a working typology, we may discern two general lines. Along one of these, the artists explored the nature and potential of video, as a medium; whilst along the other one, they turned to the surrounding else in society and interpreted them in a narrative, or metaphoric, manner. The former approach may be put down to the analytical spirit which was rather strong in the art of 1970’s, while the latter is linked to the heightened subjectivity that is to be found in much of the art of those years - in other words, a mode of behaviour that Is sometimes referred to, in criticism, as ‘speaking in the first person singular'. The former approach implies the withdrawal of the artist’s personality, leaving a spotlight on issues of language; the other deliberately emphasises the artist’s personality, in order to spotlight his individual obsessions. Additionally, one could often witness cases of artists, who otherwise mainly concentrated on performance, using video to capture and document their shows, and subsequently attaching to these tapes the status of legitimate works pf art.
The first-mentioned approach, which can be termed ‘analytical’ or ‘linguistic’, was practised in the 'seventies by Nuša and Srečo Dragan, in a sequence of their co-authored pieces: 'The Relation between the Signified and the Signifier'/Odnos između označenog i označitelja, Graz, 1973; 'Communication between Intellect and Sensitivity,/Komunikacija između intelekta i senzibilnosti, Lausanne, 1974; 'The Image Seen A Posteriori'/Slika koja je viđena kasnije, London, 1974; 'Our Inner Experience – An Experience by Way of Video'/Iskustvo unutar nas – iskustvo videom, Ljubljana, 1975, and so on. Also, there was Sanja Iveković's and Dalibor Martinis' joint work, 'Timer', Graz, 1973; and thee were their early individual works, 'Sweet Violence'/Slatko nasilje, 1974, by Sanja Iveković and 'Still Life'/Mrtva priroda, 1974, by Dalibor Martinis; then Slobodan Šijan, in his work, 'The Media’s Suicide'/Samoubistvo medija and Boris Demur, in his tape, 'Work'– both recorded at Brdo in Istria, in 1976. Goran Trbuljak implemented various outstandingly lucid, medium-related operations, in his series, 'Untitled' /Bez naziva (1973-77): these, for instance, included panoramic footage, captures on video-recorder, with the aid of two cameras used simultaneously (one, shooting an object, while the second camera shoots the first). Finally, we have to mention I. L. Galeta, the manager of the Multimedia Centre in Zagreb, who conducted a kind of debate on the relations between television and video in works such as ‘TV Ping-Pong' (1975) and 'Intervention on the Television Screen – Presentation by Television' (Intervencija na televizijskom ekranu – televizijsko predstavljanje; 1976), etc.
The other approach, referred to as 'speaking in the first person singular' which was much more subjective, , contained the component of video art, as self-examination and self-articulation of the artist’s personality. That was the case with the tapes by Neša Paripović (Video 1, Brdo 1976, Video 2, Belgrade 1976 and others), then with some later tapes by Sanja Iveković, in which the artist uncovered and displayed her own portrait, her everyday behaviour and her personal feelings about herself, as a woman: Make Up – Make Down, Instructions No. 1, Un jour violent (all from 1976), Inter nos (1978). There were also the tapes, Triptych and 'Open Circle'/Otvoreni kolut, by Dalibor Martinis and Mladen Stilinović's only video tape, so far: 'I Censor Myself'/Cenzuriram se.
Radomir Damnjan represents the other component of subjective video art - that of a mediator in the artists' debate on the subject of politics–ideology–culture–art. This can be seen in his series of tapes, made in 1975 'Marx, Hegel and the Bible' (based on a performance carried out at Trigon ‘75 in Graz) and those he released in 1976: 'Reading the Same Text'; 'Reading Marx, Hegel and the Bible by Match-Light', 'A Speck in Space or the Position of the Individual in Society', and 'The Daily Ritual of Drinking Coffee' (Čitanje istog teksta; Čitanje Marxa, Hegela i Biblije pod svetlošću šibica; Mrlja u prostoru ili položaj jedinke u društvu; Svakodnevni ritual ispijanja kafe). The latter cycle was recorded in Tübingen and Milan.
The artists’ actions carried out outside the gallery space and those that were in the spirit of Body Art or Performance Art were sometimes video-recorded, with the initial aim of preserving in the ‘memory’ of art (that is to say, in art history). Owing to the compelling effect and the value of those actions, the tapes have meanwhile gained the character of first-rank achievements in early Yugoslav video production. Thus, in Julije Knifer's sole tape,' Working Process' (Radni proces, 1975), the artist himself documented executing and placing display a huge-sized canvas painting with his leitmotif of the meander, in a at a quarry in the vicinity of Tübingen. Two outstanding artists who staged series of performances – Marina Abramović (while she lived in Yugoslavia, working individually) and Raša Todosijević – captured most of their shows on video, and some of these were actually conceived for video recording, in the first place. As for those by Marina Abramović, they include Rhythm 4 (Milan, 1973), Art Must Be Beautiful – Artist Must Be Beautiful (Copenhagen, 1975) and the cycle,' Liberation of the Voice – Liberation of the Memory – Liberation of the Body '( Oslobađanje glasa – Oslobađanje memorije – Oslobađanje tela), Belgrade 1975, Tübingen and Berlin 1976. As for Todosijević’s tapes, they include 'Drinking Water' (Pijenje vode, 1973), 'Who Profiteers on Art and Who Makes Honest Earnings' (Ko profitira od umetnosti a ko pošteno zarađuje, 1975), 'My Last Master-Piece' (Moje poslednje remek-delo, 1975) and The Memory of Raša Todosijević’s Art' (Sećanje na umetnost Raše Todosijevića, 1976), as well as a series, collectively titled Was ist Kunst? Finally, Zoran Popović video-recorded his performance, Axioms, during the participation of a group of Yugoslav artists in the 1973 Edinburgh Festival.
The dates of most of the above-mentioned works reveal that Yugoslavia saw the first expansion of video art in the period between 1973 and 1976, which means that it took place more or less concurrently with the spread of video, at a European and global level. The adherents of video art – artists, critics, managers – thought that a new age was opening for making art and integrating it with society. Despite the difficult conditions for recording and screening, artists sowed a persistent enthusiasm for the medium which Gillo Dorfles very aptly termed a kind of ‘neophites’ obsession' with the projected image. However, it was possible to see, as early on as in the mid-1970’s that the promises of a spiritual and moral renaissance – articulated along the line inaugurated by the events of 1968 and permeating one entire complex of The New Art - failed to find take root within a wider context and remained firmly anchored in the so-called art system which had resisted the first storm of disputes, survived the crisis and resumed its managerial role in artistic life. It turned out that video art had to pay the high price of being left to choose between marginalisation, on the one hand and the challenge (as yet, a practical impossibility) of being included in the powerful television networks, on the other. At the moment when Yugoslavia’s video production began to decline, and when the magazine, Spot, published the first historical survey of the movement, the same issue of the same magazine published , a contribution by M. G. Bicocchi, Alberto Pirelli and Fulvio Salvadori under the title of 'The Use and Abuse of Video-Tape in Europe: An Issue of Misunderstanding and Improvisation' (Upotreba i zloupotreba video-vrpce u Evropi – pitanje nesporazuma i improvizacije). Without resorting circumlocutions of any kind, this essay presented the full weight of controversy in this field, in a harsh light, but with honesty and accuracy, from a self-critical standpoint - the criticism coming from within, rather than outside video art - to the effect that this whole field found itself jammed 'between the system of art history on the one side and the official television on the other.' This resulted in a dualism that could not easily be resolved:
'Art video tapes are artworks and as such they should be included in the official structures in order to circulate art, but being at the same time products of communications technology they should be part of the dominant information system, and that is television.'
The conclusion inevitably read:
'That the showrooms in museums and galleries are too small for video art is a fact, as is also true, unfortunately, that television is not accessible at all, owing to the historical gap between art and the society.'
The consequences of the generally critical situation so openly exposed in this essay were felt in the Yugoslav situation, as well: regardless of after the early difficulties that artists had experienced with technical equipment, counterbalanced by the opportunities they artists had discovered for creating new work, many individuals lost their initial zeal, though others went on working and even managed to make some progress, in terms of both of their medium and of their artistic quality. Despite everything that has just been said, a revival took place towards the end of the 'seventies and in the early 'eighties, in the field of manual art disciplines (painting and drawing), which further coalesced with theories about the decline of the spirit of Modernism and avant-gardism, marked by an inclination to experiment with new techniques. And in the eyes of many, video again, quite unjustifiably, appeared at the opposite extreme, on the opposite side of the tracks, under the label of an ‘ex-phenomenon’. Yet one lesson to be learned in this turnaround seems to have been beneficial: it came to be understood that video was nothing more or less than a vehicle for the artists' intentions. As there is no hierarchy of the media in contemporary art, the mere use of video cannot guarantee an avant-garde result, and artists do not require anything different from video than from other, more classic media - simply, an individual, and a distinctive, means of expression. However, the battle for the recognition of video, which lasted throughout the 1980’s, was by no means least. On the contrary, it began to yield the first fruits in spheres that went beyond the narrow confines of the artists themselves and their most loyal audiences. Owing to the efforts of a number of ground-breaking individuals, video began to occupy corners of the art school curriculum: Bogdanka Poznanović introduced video courses at the Academy of Arts in Novi Sad, and her students’ output was shown at the Biennale des jeunes in Paris, in 1982; Čedomir Vasić fought for video to be introduced into the Academy in Belgrade, and so on. Previously active alternative exhibition spaces had survived, and some new ones also provided support to the new media. These included the Multimedia Centre in Zagreb and the Students’ Cultural Centre in Ljubljana, in addition to the Students’ Cultural Centre in Belgrade. The powerful TV network was finally compelled to give way and offered some air time to the programmes dealing with video art; then, in 1982, Nebojša Đukelić broadcast 'Moving Pictures'/Pokretne slike, while Dunja Blažević produced a programme about the relations between television and video, in 1983 (both at Belgrade TV). The climax of this incursion of video into the stronghold of television came with Ljubljana TV's broadcast, uncut, of Miha Vopotnik's graduation piece for his B.A. degree at the Academy of Art, in Ljubljana. A short while previously, this would have been unthinkable; symbolically, it marked an about-turn in attitudes towards the mass media, in comparison to the situation that had prevailed in the 1970s.
On second thoughts, this about-turn did not take place by chance. Like the whole of The New Art during the 'seventies, video art contained a subversive element that could be perceived as a threat to the existing hierarchies. In its overall approach to the mass media, video often proved to be too hermetic; also, some of its ideological aspects were too explicit, and it was an illusion to think that they might be accepted by television, and the forces behind that. During the 1970’s, video art was kept inside galleries and museums, for those were isolated places, yet protected artistic freedom of expression. An artist using video in those years presented his problems in a purely personal way (often with technical imperfections and a deliberate paucity of visual effects). That is how artists defended their personal dignity, as practitioners, yet then had to reckon with the resistance of the powerful television network, which adhered to its own technical requirements for quality of the Image, at the cost of a certain depersonalisation of its narrative aims.
At the beginning of the 1980’s, a different social and spiritual climate prevailed, and art became different, too, with inevitable implications for the different language and status of video art. Those speaking or writing about a new age in video aesthetics have been right, although we might wish to questions the balance between gain and loss in the current situation . Several events in Yugoslavia were clear pointers to the changes, which were underway. First, there was 'Video Encounter' (Video-susret) in Belgrade, organised by the Student Cultural Centre in April 1983, when Ursula Wevers showed Gerry Schum’s tapes, Land Art and Identifications (dating from 1969-70). This was a symbolic homage to the historic period of artists' video; current video makers had drawn fresh Inspiration from a selection of new British video art, with its alluring symbiosis with rock music and an image deriving from cinematographic effects and electronic iconography. The next big event was the festival, Video C.D. ‘83, at the Cankarjev dom, the main arts centre in Ljubljana, in the first half of October 1983. Organized by Miha Vipotnik and Marie Claude Vogrič, this offered a truly panoramic view of current video developments, as well as providing production, professional seminars and other opportunities for exchanging experience. The participants included representatives of numerous TV- and video-centres, companies, specialists (directors, technicians), critics and editors of magazines, and – of course – artists from a number of European and non-European countries. It was not by chance that artists (in the sense of the 1970’s artists) came last on the list, for it seems that they had fallen into a minority within the context of the present revival of interest in video art, under the wing, and with the strong support, of institutions (both official TV and the TV/video equipment market). The adherents of the new wave of video art could not object to it - especially, since, in the 1980's, the moralistic overtones of much of the output of the previous decade had largely evaporated. We only have to remind ourselves that the historic examples of the heroic age, such as Gerry Schum and Art/Tapes 22, haves definitely been consigned to the past and start growing accustomed to all aspects of the new situation, both positive and negative. .
The current situation with Yugoslav video art is rather complex not only because of the prolix character of the output, but also owing to the recent, inevitable, demand for art critics to adopt a different approach to it. During the 'seventies, artists were almost the only people working with video, and that kind of art could be tackled by art critics (though whether or not they were capable of it was another Issue). In the eighties, when the focus has shifted from artists’ video onto videos made by specialists (i.e. artists concentrating on this particular medium), new medium-specific issues, of duration, montage, or, more generally, editing, and so on keep cropping up. They relate to new linguistic and technical issues and actually call for different criteria for analysis and evaluation. The following dilemmas have arisen, for example: Can you view a video made outside the television studio (and often deliberately remaining outside it) to in the same light as work produced by those who are privileged enough to use the technical equipment of a television studio, yet who are often exposed to the danger of having their talents exploited by that selfsame studio? Can you view works that reasonably defend the specificities of TV and video in the same light as those which, perfectly reasonably, show a propensity for merging with other media (music, in particular, but also cartoons, posters, and pulp fiction)? Whichever the case, it is evident that a new notion of video has been creeping up on us in most recent years, and its protagonists are young artists, who use, and experience, this medium in a way which appreciably differs from that of their predecessors. The way they use, and feel, video has an almost physical impact on them, in much the same way as the kind of music with which they are familiar, and this fusion with other forms of mass media means that their work is often, understandably enough, outside the traditional art critic's area of professional competence, or calls for a redefinition of that competence.
The artists who had shouldered the burden of the initial historic development of video are now decreasing in number; some have become discouraged, and most of them are bereft of adequate technical facilities. However, they soldier on and take advantage of the invitations that come their way, to attend festivals abroad and record new tapes. Cases in point are N. Paripović (Work, Locarno, 1982), R. Damnjan ('Metaphysical Duchamp – Still Life'/Metafizički Duchamp – Mrtva priroda), N. and S. Dragan ('The Grand Finale'/Veliko finale, Rover/Blodnik), and one of the second-generation artists, Čedomir Vasić ('My Dearest...'/Predragi, predraga.., Ljubljana), at Video C.D. ‘83, in Ljubljana). These artists have still created their own 'ideas', and recorded them on video tapes, as had been the case in the ‘seventies; however, the character of their ideas has undergone a change: they have become ever more blatantly negative and metaphorical, in keeping with the general artistic atmosphere of the early 'eighties.
The switch from the 1970’s to the 1980’s was not only surmounted with ease by Sanja Iveković and Dalibor Martinis, but these artists found a way of developing their work in the altered climate - whether in the individual tapes they have produced on their own, as in the case of Iveković’s 'Conditioned Movements'/Uvjetovani pokreti or Martinis' 'Image Is Virus', or their joint creations, such as 'No End' / Chanoyu, of 983. Using their well worked-out, medium-related culture as a basis, they have built in a symbolic dimension, in which they have intermingled their subjective moods with a critical take on the existential situation of contemporary civilisation. Today , Iveković and Martinis, are the Yugoslav video artists with the highest international reputation: they receive invitations to many festivals and are constantly taken up with a range of professional obligations in the world of video art. Their attitude to video has a double connotation: on the one hand, they have felt a compulsive attraction to the properties of the medium, believing in the inexhaustible fascination of the electronic image; whilst, but on the other hand, they show their awareness of its dark side, expendability and transitoriness, as well as its aggressivity towards the viewer; that is why they endow their pieces with a touch of irony and provocation. Speaking about her attitude to video, Sanja Iveković emphasises that it is not video per se (its electronic aspect) that is of interest to her, but, first and foremost, the content she generates from the contrapuntal play between real time and media-specific time.
Marina Abramović achieves a comparable level of mastery in her latest tapes, since she started to work with the German artist, Ulay, and their joint piece, City of Angels, won the First Prize at the International Video Festival in Locarno, in 1983. Yet, for all the significance of this highly important artist's early work In Belgrade, from 1970 to 1975, her ties with the Yugoslav milieu have been relegated to the background ever since taking up permanent residence in The Netherlands. At quite the opposite extreme, a number of talented directors have emerged, in response to the stimulus provided by television, and it need to improve programmes. These young directors exploit a new visual sense, deriving from their own experience of video, but also owe something to the pioneering energy of those who grew up and matured at the same time as the medium, while it was still young and fresh. First and foremost, we should mention here the Belgrade video makers, Boris Miljković and Branimir Dimitrijević ('Rock’n’roller'/Rokenroler, 1980; 'The Russian Art Experiment'/Ruski umetnički eksperiment) and Stanko Crnobrnja ('Belgrade by Night'/Beograd noću, 1981), although they are not the only representatives of the current trend. This may be a question of attitude and opinion, but the contributions made by these well-trained professionals should, I believe, be seen within the context of the innovations in language and repertory of the regular television network, rather than of the context of video, which had originally been launched as a kind of ‘personal television’ and is close to the status of art, by virtue of its subjective nature and enjoys an essentially different status from that enjoyed by the powerful institution of television in contemporary society.
Without the kind of advanced electronic technology that is only available in professional television studios or specialist video centres, one cannot now venture into experimenting with the restructuring and decomposition of the image, or with developing its fresh and authentic electronic visual quality, based on the dynamics of forms and active role of colours. In Yugoslavia, the most thoroughgoing experimentation in this area is being carried out by the country's sole video artist with a professional training, Miha Vipotnik, though Vipotnik's total dedication to this single medium is not necessarily a guarantee of success, in practical terms.
The next example of video’s expansion in the period 1981-83 comes from the ŠKUC-Forum in Ljubljana, headed by Dušan Mandić, where it forms a part of the young people’s subculture 'scene', along with rock and punk music, a student press, graffiti, alternative fashion and, generally, a pattern of expression and behaviour that is practised by a generation conscious of its own affinities and needs, and strongly opposed to the prevailing climate of opinion. The video output of the groups, Meje kontrole Št. 4, FV-video, Laibachkunst, Borghesia and the artist, Marjan Osole Maks, conforms to this general tendency to withdraw into the setting and mentality of the underground: the poor quality of the images and deficiencies in the recording technique mean that this work does not seek comparison with the visual affluence of the professional network, with high production values, yet it picks its subjects with great care and great awareness, with an eye for whatever seems provocative. First, there are scenes of 'unnatural sex', bordering on, or even venturing into, pornography, in response to outside pressures to conform to a kind of 'exemplary normality'. This kind of video tends to play a role that had not been seen before in a Yugoslav context, but which, for all its aesthetic shortcomings provided an alternative outlet for certain feelings and views.
Within the latest wave of video artists, there have been a number of individuals and groups who insist on placing their own stamp on the videos they make. Tomislav Mikulić and Ivo Deković (the latter, having studied with Nam June Paik, in Düsseldorf) represent the experimental line which has focused on producing and elaborating images created with the aid of computer animation. The Belgrade group, Opus 4 (Miša Savić, Miodrag Lazarov Pashu, Vladimir Tošić, Milimir Drašković) mostly deals with new minimalist music and musical performances, using video as a part of their exploration of the reciprocal impact of image and sound. Nebojša Ružić and Mihailo Ristić have come to notice after their experience with 'Video, Film, Audio and the Ego Making Love with One Another'/Video, film, audio i ego vode ljubav jedni s drugima, 1983. Those currently beginning to work with video include Mihajlo Alić, Viktorija Vesna Bulajić, De Stil Marković, Lina Busov, and the artists' duo, V. Cvetkov & B. Štukelj. Many others, who are attracted to the new electronic visuality of video, make intermittent appearances, and together they form the broad base of enthusiasts which is indispensable indispensable to developing a contemporary culture of the medium.
We have thus arrived at the end of one possible survey of developments in the field of video art in Yugoslavia. It has to be said at this point it is too soon to reach any firm conclusions, from a preliminary survey of this medium. For it is well known that the technology behind this new medium is certain to make further advance, so we may anticipate fresh developments in both the medium itself and in the related technology - in Yugoslavia, like everywhere else. Everything that has been discussed above already belongs to a past which reaches back no farther than ten years, or so. And yet, this brief history has featured many events, a great number of people, and a quantity of mutually incompatible concepts and Ideas. One thing may be taken as certain, though: this story is to be continued, and it may well end up taking on a very different perspective, even from the vantage point of today. Yet, however the story comes to be told, we should not overlook one essential feature, which deserves to be underlined - namely, that the destiny of video is proof, in itself, that the different media invariably change, extend and improve, but are intrinsically incapable, on their own, of replacing the power of the spirit and the capacity of imagination.