In the Blue Light of the Pre-Computer Era



The first part of the DVD-R compilation »Nomaden der Zeit« by



Christa Benzer




In the autumn of 2006, under the title »Echo der Vergangenheit« (Echo of the Past), the artist duo Graf+Zyx launched the first part of a DVD-R compilation that they envisage as an important part of a larger project: the Web space, which they founded in 2004, and which is to establish an Internet platform that aims to provide the necessary structures for the archival, documentation and discussion of forms of art that, owing to their interdisciplinary nature, often fall into the gaps between categories. The Web site is interactively programmed so that the items posted by the operators can be corrected, brought up to date and built upon by the participating artists themselves. is also intended to function as a »producing mediator« and to facilitate a forum discussion of both technical and strategic questions of production and the appropriate marketing of interdisciplinary forms of art.

As a kind of teaser for the real space, the first part of a two-part DVD-R edition devoted to Austria media art of the eighties has now been issued. For the most part, this around two-hour-long compilation is based on the considerable collection of material gathered by Graf+Zyx, who ran their own music and video production studio in addition to their own artistic activities.
The central role played by this studio in the eighties is demonstrated not only by the list of artists in this edition, but also that of the musicians it features, whose productions of the same era provide the 59 works of »interdisciplinary art in Austria, 1979-1990« with a musical background. In addition to artists like Konrad Becker, Breindl/Sodomka/Mathes, Michael Langoth, Muki Pakesch, Station Rose and Karl Kowanz, who are featured on the DVD with their own music videos, groups that have long fallen into oblivion, such as Pas Paravent, Noa-Noa and Sternenstaub, also put in an appearance. Their musical productions accompany the items that document the multi-media works in the then still rare media-art exhibitions.
On the DVD, the featured works are presented according to the alphabetical list of artists that can also be found on the Web site. Robert Adrian thus opens proceedings with his work »Surveillance U-Bahn Station Karlsplatz« (1979), which is also the oldest work in the compilation: it shows footage from four surveillance cameras shown simultaneously on a monitor. The movements of a person crossing the Karlsplatz underground station are thus recorded continuously by one of the four cameras. Interestingly, media art from the eighties then completely ignored this theme: footage from surveillance cameras is only to be seen again in the music video »The Curse of the Pharaoh« (1990), in which Konrad Becker experiments with images of a bank robbery.

But the years in between were neither unproductive nor conformative, even if the main thing the works seem to have in common at first is a blue, flickering light. In most cases, the cause is a monitor that, housed in a spatial construction, bears witness to the growing interest in the aesthetic and communication-technological potential of the »new« media. But the modes of their documentation, which were obviously not least indebted to the aesthetic zeitgeist of the New Wave era, also plays a role. At any rate, despite all the efforts of Graf+Zyx, who then also documented the »Junge Szene ´87« that they curated, the flickering images on the monitors in the video documentations can only be deciphered with great difficulty. The Web site, which the DVD is basically intended to advertise, is often more informative.
As well as short excerpts from the videos, each item contains a description and, in several cases, further accompanying texts. Here, one can read that porn videos were shown on Gudrun Bielz’s and Ruth Schnell’s »Traumliege«, that Matta Wagnest and Nicolas W. Eder tried to do an experimental portrait of a professor of classical archaeology, and that Raimund Kolleger was one of the few to actually steer his neon-coloured foam objects using a computer.

Because of these medium-related difficulties of transfer, however, the most exciting works on the the DVD are all those that never entered the blue monitor world of the eighties: in his »Sombrographische Rauminstallation« (1987), Felix Dorner examined the phenomenon of coloured shadows, bringing to mind, like the animated film installation of Renate Kordon, atmospheres more familiar to us from the Expanded Cinema of the seventies. Their experiments are continued in the nineties by Romana Scheffknecht, who has superimposed images taken from a moving car in a mirror and canvas installation.

Altogether, this DVD does not paint a monochrome picture. Indeed, as the first, retrospective, digitally preserved and documentary part, it arouses curiosity as to the next section of the project, which, under the title »Through the Black Whole«, will present contemporary works by the same artists.




Translation: Timothy Jones