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The paradigmatic representational forms in the age of postmodernity 7 have been the media of electronic communications, especially video. Frederick Jameson has written that 'experimental video is rigorously coterminous with postmodernism itself as a historical period'. (1991: 73) The beginnings of video can be traced to the early 60s and Nam June Paik's and Wolf Vostell's first attempts to incorporate television sets into their artworks. [Figure 18] However, it was only in the middle of the decade, when the Sony Corporation introduced its 'Portapak' video recording system into the market, that video became more widespread as an art form. By releasing the medium from the economic, ideological and aesthetic confines of big corporate television studios, and placing it in the hands of individual artists, the medium's vast range of possibilities were unveiled.

Figure 18: Wolf Vostell. Dé-collage Performance , 1961.
(Hall 1990: 78)

The 1968 Museum of Modern Art exhibition, The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age , summed up an entire epoch and pointed towards the new electronic era ahead. The curator, Pontus Hulten, meant the exhibition to be a cultural response, to herald what he saw as the transitional movement from the machine-age culture of a manufacturing society based on machines as the 'muscle' of industry, to an electronic information society based on instant communication services. The exhibition comprised artwork that either commented on technology, used the machine itself as iconography, made use of machines as valid working parts, or showed the machine aesthetic as part of style. The exhibition included recent electronic works by Nam June Paik and Robert Breer. Although the new electronic tools used by these artists were still in their infancy, the potential of incorporating video, computers, sound and light, was enormous. Artists were attracted to this new medium because of the conceptual and visual properties it offered. Not only did it offer unique capabilities for recording and transforming imagery, but artists could also combine video with other art forms thereby creating installation pieces.

Figure 19: Nam June Paik. Magnet TV , 1965.
(Hannardt 1993: 70)

Identified as the 'father' of video, because of his long involvement with the medium and because of his strong influence on the entire field, Nam June Paik can be singled out as a key figure in the genre of multimedia, interactive works. His work contributed to the identification of video as the art form of the future. [Figure 19] Paik commented: 'As collage technique replaced oil paint, so the cathode tube will replace canvas.' (Lovejoy 1989: 220)

Paik's early Neodada video works combined the genres of performance, installation and sculpture, while in later works, his strategies for video took on an assemblage approach. Installing large numbers of monitors in elaborate contexts, he intended to subvert the viewer's normal visual relations with the familiar TV monitor by challenging the viewer's referential reading and interpretation of TV. In TV Garden (1974-78) approximately 30 television sets of all sizes were positioned in a darkened gallery space, surrounded by plants. These sets were positioned on their backs, upright, sideways and partly covered by ferns and plants. The resulting video environment transformed the sets into an 'electronic flora'. These scattered television screens and Paik's other method of stacking monitors calls upon the viewer to see all the screens at once in their random differences. These techniques symbolise postmodernism's differential 'total flow' of images. [Figure 20]

Figure 20: Nam June Paik. Video Garden , 1974 - 78.
(Hannardt 1993: 19)

Interested in broadcasting his art as a form of public art, especially in 'real time', Paik has produced a number of live performance works, bridging continents via international satellite communication. These performances expressed a Utopian and McLuhanesque vision of a 'global village' of instant communication and expression through the electronic medium of video / television. His Good Morning Mr. Orwell (1984) was seen throughout the North American continent, Europe, Japan, and Korea. The work was a collaboration of diverse aesthetics: rock-and-roll superstars, comedy, avant-garde music and art, performance artists, surrealism, dance, poetry and sculpture. Artists taking part included John Cage, Laurie Anderson and Salvador Dali. The piece was meant to refute the 'Big Brother Is Watching You' augury made famous by George Orwell's 1984 as it related to the mass media. Paik explained: 'Orwell only emphasised the negative part, the one-way communication. I foresee video not as a dictatorial medium, but as a liberating one. That's what this show is about, to be a symbol for how television can cross international borders and bridge enormous cultural gaps ... the best way to safeguard against the world of Orwell is to make this medium interactive so it can represent the spirit of democracy, not dictatorship.' (Lovejoy 1989: 237)

Figure 21: Bill Viola. Nantes Triptych , 1992.
(Peto 1993: 2)

In contrast a more personal and poetic approach in utilising video is followed by Bill Viola. [Figure 21] Despite the continual media onslaught of images that confront and skew our perceptions daily, Viola maintains a 'great faith in the inherent power of images' meaning 'the information that comes through sight, hearing, and all the sensory modalities'. (Zutter 1993: 49)

Rooted in the history of art, Eastern religion and Islamic mysticism, the strength of his work lies in the use of electronic images underlined with strong symbolic content. His interest in mysticism derived from the components in ancient culture that speak of the transformational power of images. He believes that art can have healing and transcendental qualities. Its quality of 'immediacy', and its ability to display 'live' images, attracted Viola to video as a medium.

Believing that the human body with its overall sensory abilities has been rejected as an instrument of knowledge, Viola sets out to create installation pieces where a kaleidoscope of sound and images draws viewers into sensory, meditative experiences. The American curator, Melissa Feldman, describes Viola's video installations as 'mental landscapes into which the viewer is physically and psychically thrust'. (Peto 1993: 3)

Bill Viola's approach might be best summed up by himself: 'This for me is the most exciting thing about working as an artist at this time of history ... the real raw materials are not the camera and monitor, but time and experience itself, and that the real place the work exists is not on the screen or within the walls of the room, but in the minds and heart of the person who has seen it. This is where all images live.' (Zutter 1993: 49)

Figure 22: Gary Hill. Between Cinema and a Hard Place,
3-channel video installation with 23 modified video monitors and computer-controlled video switcher.
1991. (Cooke 1994: 59)

Other important artists currently working with video are Garry Hill, Fabrizio Plessi, Marina Abramovic, Francesc Torres and Keith Piper. [Figure 22] However diverse these artists work might be, the shared vision is that postmodernism finds its most original form in video.

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