Without Windows

On Using Live Video for Art

by Ben  Davis

from Magnetic Image 7, Catalog Introduction, Atlanta College of Art, Fall, 1982

Copyright 1982

It may be, then, that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work, and, that when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey. the mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Wendall Berry, Poetry and Marriage: The Use of Older Forms, Coevolution Quarterly, Winter, 1982.

This is the particular crown and triumph of the artist - not to be true merely, but to be lovable; not simply to convince, but to enchant.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Naming the joining of forms does not necessarily create a new form unless there is a conspiracy to do so. These conspiracies are of interest.

While watching television I often eat. I am comfortable watching because I know nothing will happen to me while I'm eating. No other animal is going to come out of that screen and test me. Convinced but not enchanted.

The mass media is an enormous unknown in terms of it being alive. Its loyalty to reproduction is deeply rooted in a complex dependence on reason. Art communication is art defined; art with fixed parameters, a "reasonable" art, a dead a art. The nature of misunderstanding, of not matching expectations in a language, creates new forms. It is also chaos, but its every gesture demands creative attention.

The world of media is much more powerful than the art world. Using media as an artist's tool of "communication" is misleading. The image is conceived and then placed in media. The media is always the bottle for the message. The use of video and publishing as direct artist tools ia a confused scheme to wrestle power away from the traditional art patrons, the rich. But the wealthy own the media. They use it to sell things and whatever the artist does with it had better make sense less the consumer feel confused and cheated. No experimentation, no direct experience of the "baffled mind" can appear in the mass media.

Corporations do no support artists, they support products. Much "cross over" art is supported by big corporations as a way of advertising. "New art activity" is a catch phrase for what used to be called "capture the media."

These are strange days. All of my attempts so far to make use of "mass media" as an artist resource have been wonderful failures. Not that anything went wrong structurally. I've used the postal system, television, cable, radio, music, video, corporations, public funding, retail stores, galleries, educational systems, publishing, and the telephone system. My disillusionment with this "expanded arena" is this: it's indirect.

Each project I have been involved with over the past 10 years involved delightful conspiracies. These have always been conversational in structure. I value these conspiracies much more than the art works they produced. One of the characteristics of mass media manipulation is that it is difficult to do it alone. Very often your audience are the participants. These were the direct primary experiences. The products (tapes, books, photographs) are more like curios than the "delays" which Duchamp made as process tranparencies.

Any manifestation process that is generative is indirect. What is produced is an "announcement" that something has or will transpire. Its pay-off is always a "new possibility" not a reality. Its fun thinking up things and playing them on mass media. Nothing ever happens. Its like going out for a ride in a car that never gets anywhere. The rush is exhilarating, then you step out and your time is gone.

Electronically visualizing your future can be dangerous. If the content of your vision is not live then you are just watching old news and pretending its the future. The future is always embarrassing.

Belgian physical chemist Illya Prigogine in his investigation of dissipative structures has found that form is maintained by continuous dissipation of energy - highly organized but always in process. Complex structure is braided, connected at many points. The more complex it is the more energy it requires. It is very vulnerable to internal fluctuations. Paradoxically, the more "coherent" or intricately braided the structure is the more unstable it is. Dissipation of energy creates the potential for sudden reordering. When internal fluctuations occur they reach a critical size and they "perturb" the structure. This increases the number of novel reactions which forces the structure to reorganize in part. The structure begins to escape into a higher order. At high levels of complexity the nature of the laws of nature change. Life eats entropy. Live TV eats media.

The most powerful mass media today are the telephone and the television. The telephone is a live medium and the television is a playback medium. Its live use is a considered a dangerous mass farrago of confusion. The telephone is a truncated version of the audio spectrum. It is monochromatic. The telephone has difficulty transmitting emotional content. Its more of an edge database, delineating position of forms but not their content.

Television displays reproduced emotional content, emotional content that has gone through two generations. Information has been "prepared" for reproduction by staging and then mechanically reproduced. Even "news" footage has been edited and this second generation is telecast. So called "live" telecasting is on a fifteen second delay so that it can be altered or terminated before something "too live" can be seen like Ruby shooting Oswald.

It was Walter Benjamin who pointed out some fifty years ago that the reproduction of a work of art took away its 'aura". When an apparatus is forced into the production of ritual values, Benjamin noted, it has its counterpart in a violation of the masses. Fascism he said, seeks the introduction of aesthetics into politics in order to give the masses an avenue of expression while preserving the property system that keeps them believing they will get rich and escape the system. All efforts to render politics aesthetic culminate in one thing, says Benjamin: war.

To elevate the use of mass media to an art form while not allowing it to be "live is a self-alienating destructive act on a grand scale. By claiming the reproduction as the authentic moment, the life energy, the interactive mystery is denied. The aura may be defined as a "unique phenomena of distance however close it may be." This may serve as the working definition of the present, our real journey.