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关于录像艺术
——录像艺术的起源、分类,展出决定的特征

前言
此文主要在于理解媒材之间的关联和界限,以及展出方式所决定的媒材特征,从这个层面来理解中国今日录像艺术发展的现实和现象。此文与之前的文本《片段、瞬间与综合的知识、展示方式》1有关联,与之前的新媒体、录像类型的文本相互依存。
麦克卢汉2指出的“媒材即讯息”3,他所认识的媒材作为一个独立存在的客体,与主体存在的艺术的图像一致,有着自己的独特贡献和美学关系,以及其意义已经超越了作为载体和传播的作用。
所以认识到媒材的特征、限制、伦理,可以有助于理解艺术在展览和传播中的特性,这一解释并非来自美学和社会学、哲学的解释系统,主要是因为希望观者和研究者能够先解释清楚所见,而所见是否即所得。

图片与电影


A frame from Roundhay Garden Scene, the world's earliest film produced using a motion picture camera, by Louis Le Prince, 1888

图片摄影的出现4导致了动态影像(摄影)5的出现,之后导致了35毫米电影的出现,35毫米电影的出现导致了16毫米、8毫米的出现,之后导致了模拟技术的出现,产生了录像、录像机和电视机的组合模式,提供给之前电影的播放需要,和电视作为传媒的需要。
图片摄影的出现,并没有因为电影的出现而灭绝,作为现实、幻觉或是超现实的截取功能,还在演进之中,连拍功能是最早的电影的雏形,但并非电影,可以媲美电影的超速拍摄功能,电影机的定格拍摄也可以被看作是图片摄影的遗留。电影每秒24格的记录方式,可以很好的表现动态影像中人物和风景的质感与动作,单独的一张胶片,就是一张图片摄影作品。

两者不同之处在于,图片和电影的观赏方式。前者需要的空间和展陈、说明、边框、灯光,来构建一个可以被联想和还原的现实场景,让观众停留在一个被截取的瞬间:思考、记忆、感情产生的巨大空间中,图片就像一个钓钩,往往是引发或是引导观众的源。

后者作为综合的视听体验,画面是配合对白、音乐、环境出现的,这就排除了观众个体内在空间的留白,体验是全方面赋予的。同样是对真实的截取,图片的叙事是由作者和观众共同完成的,电影的叙事是由导演、演员、剧本、特效、声音,尽量大的在还原真实世界本身,是一个模拟的系统(Systems simulation)6的开端。

即使只用电影中的一张胶片放大成为图片,因为展出的不同,观看和体验的不同,也就出现了不同媒材特征所呈现出的特性。材质上的转换,也为艺术家的表达赋予了不同媒材承载的语言的特殊性。

电影与录像

电影的记录和还原方式,都决定了这一经典媒材的特征,我不赞同将电影和剧场的根源追述到“洞穴比喻”7的说法,同样的说法还出现在电视上:针对反光体和自发光体之间的论争。这只能让人迷失在一个思维想像和真实之间,一个有着暗喻的理性的认知,和真实投射的知识之外的,经验上的区别。

这些知识和认知,理解在媒材没有出现之前的,某种思维的幻觉,或是对今日出现的媒材景观的,对过去的证明(猜测),假设基于这一认识出现的媒材和观念,是否对未来有所作用呢?也就是理解这些媒材的文化上的联系,还是停留在对技术和材料的认识上,哪一个更加有助于认识这个世界呢?

电影和录像本来就是一个接续的关系,如果之前的观看方法是“洞穴”(电影院),而后来变成了在家中(这也可以被看作是洞穴)独自观影。我更希望区别其观看的公共特性到私人化的转型。

当60年代电视机开始普及,这就是之后电脑出现的PC概念8的开始,每个人作为终端称为接收方,而艺术家和电视传媒的方向,则导致了反向的个人对传媒(公共)的介入和改造。

Open in new window“The Wedding at Cana”- A Vision by Peter Greenaway 2009

以电影之名,录像艺术逐渐的从艺术领域,拓展到电影领域,除了受到其影响的法国导演让-吕克·戈达尔(Jean Luc Godard,1930-),还有彼得格林纳维(Peter Greenaway, 1942-)和DOGMA95小组9。当然还有MV、广告领域。

艺术语言开始从视觉语言,逐渐转化到叙事方法,继而其记录、现场方式的融合,都构建了今天电影的语言。MV、广告领域更是在视觉特效和文化寓意的方面,强调了艺术性和突然性。

电影化的处理,介于电影和录像之间,录像装置和电影装置的转变,或是互相转换。都有着媒材的前题,那就是数字电影的兴起和来自早期录像记录的媒材(8毫米、16毫米、35毫米胶片)的双重线索。到视觉语言的交互影响,展示空间的变化。

Open in new window“陌生天堂”35毫米胶片电影/黑白/76分钟/1997-2002/杨福东 作品 截帧

杨福东的胶片作品的胶转磁,和大量数字电影的磁转胶。都不断的在模糊电影和录像的界限,但这只局限于单屏幕作品。到录像、电影装置的领域,其展示和观看的方式,决定了展厅化或是影院化的倾向。

行为记录、表演与录像

行为记录、表演和录像艺术,一直是录像艺术出现以来最普遍的现象。它们往都是录像艺术。这里需要了解的是主、客体之间的关联,如在录像记录的现场,表演和行为的是否是作为主要的传达,通过录像的记录称为这一传达的延伸。

行为、表演的另外一个重要的记录方式是图片摄影,摄影可以阶段性的反映动作之间的关联,并赋予这一关联关键帧的作用,通过观看图片,可以了解动作进程之间的联系,但是无法理解环境、声音和可以被观看的完整的细节。

图片和录像,并非孰优孰劣,都是对主体发生事件的再现,图片摄影和录像记录成为脱离行为、表演的独立作品,也在于此。而两者都有着记录的作用,都是对现实事件的真实抓取。

图片摄影和录像又可以作为完全独立的艺术形态,原因是如果主体不是行为、表演,而是观念的延伸时,图片就是对观念的总结。这一问题出现在中国早期的行为、表演艺术上。

90年代东村的张洹和马六明的作品,摄影者为荣荣和刑丹文。之后作为行为、表演的艺术家和作为摄影的艺术家,都可成立。这里指出的仅仅是作为艺术的体现形式的成立,而不涉及艺术家之间的对版权的认识。

Open in new window“30X30” 张培力作品 截帧/单视频录像/1988

张培力1988年作品《30X30》可以被看作是一个行为的记录,也可以是观念的延伸,张在使用这一媒材的时候,清晰的考虑到了时间的因素之于作品和媒材。这与李永斌作品的时间特征符合,李永斌经常使用录像媒材的时间作为作品的限制和条件。行为在这里是对观念和时间、媒材的表现。

Open in new window“Art Must Be Beautiful, Artist Must Be Beautiful” Marina Abramovic/video, 1975

这一问题还反映在早期行为艺术家Marina Abramovic的作品中,如“艺术必需美”Art Must Be Beautiful,录像就是主体的对于表演者行为的主观传达,而不是对一个行为的简单记录。另外她和Ulay合作的作品Imponderabilia中,很显然今天看到的录像是对当时行为的一个记录,而且艺术家可以再次还原这一现场,或是通过其他艺术家来还原这一现场,不同的是时间的原因,这一现场不可能完全的被还原,录像的价值也超越了作为艺术品,而是艺术史存在。

Open in new window“Imponderabilia” Marina Abramović and Ulay/Performance, 1977

动画、短片和录像

动画、短片应该是来自电影线索的创作方法,之后被挪用到录像艺术的领域,这一现象的出现,并不取决于动画和短片的创作手法,而是来自其展出环境和介质。

今天我们看到大量的艺术作品被称为录像艺术,其源头往往来自不同的创作线索和叙事方法。而且媒材上此类作品可以不断的转换于绘画、图片、录像、电影的领域之间。没有固定的形态,或者说其所涉及的各个领域的呈现才是其完整的艺术的形态。

这也许可以让我们更加清楚的认识到这一领域的艺术家的现实,如邱黯雄、孙迅、吴俊勇、叶凌瀚等,都是这一领域的艺术家。
动画、短片和录像之间的互为关联、作用,是经典媒材如图片摄影、动画、电影,之于录像的倾斜,伴随着技术的发展,电脑的介入。让艺术家可以轻松的呈现这些方面的工作,以录像艺术之名。

与之前电影和录像的情况相类,模糊的界限,和传播方式的多样化,让作品可以辐射到各个领域,可以是脱离艺术领域的限制,可以成为公共传媒的交点,而对公共媒材的直接挪用,也成为今日影像艺术一个重要的倾向。

电影节、动画节和展览,以及公共传媒,都让此类作品获得了远远超越了其自身的特性,并被传播的途径和展出的环境赋予类型说明,这里只有展出环境和场所的不同,没有本质的区分。

纪录片与录像

纪录片和录像有着从录像艺术开始的根源,不同之处在于纪录片所针对的对真实反应的特性,也可以被看作是录像记录行为现场的真实的一种回应。

纪录片在记录艺术现场的时候,成为对这一现场的还原。当录像记录成为纪录片或是现场记录的时候,就失去了成为独立艺术形态的特性。只能成为展示某一发生现场和时间的辅助,逐渐因为现场的缺失,成为唯一的记录信息媒体,身份才得以转变。如早期录像艺术中,纪录了行为艺术家Marina Abramovic的记录影像(多个版本),在今天都是难得的录像艺术经典。而白南准作品TV-Bra的记录影像,因为原作(作为现场的遗留物)的存在(展出),只能成为发生时间、事件的一个辅助和说明。

Open in new window“为了活动雕塑的电视胸罩”TV Bra for Living Sculpture (1969)

既存场景、事件、时间、人物,都是导致录像作为本体,还是附庸的特性。

还有艺术家通过纪录片的手法和时长,呈现与行为记录不同的方式,此类作品混淆于实验纪录片或是标准电视纪录片之中,通过展出的方式界定了它们作为不同媒材的特征。

一方面这类作品被当作艺术品展出,另一方面也可以作为公共传媒的素材,被直接使用到公共媒介(电视、网络)之中。反之那些被展示在展览系统和空间中的影像,也同样被赋予了艺术的合法身份,成为艺术品被观赏。

所以这一关系并非绝对,因为传播的特性,录像艺术在开始的时候仿佛就具备这样的多重身份。

剧场与录像

录像中的剧场,对剧场的记录,剧场中的录像。

录像中的剧场,特指带有剧场特点的录像作品,此类作品强调剧场的特效,群体的表演和即时连贯的叙事,并被镜头捕捉和记录,此类作品有单屏幕和录像装置的区别。单屏幕作品中出现的剧场,不同于戏剧作品的记录,艺术家通过一个或是多个预设的场景(装置或是虚拟环境),来完成剧场这一总体的概念,并通过录像来传达这一基于综合艺术的讯息。如汪建伟在作品《三岔口》(2007年)、《人质》(2008年)等作品中使用的方法和呈现手段,还有彼得格林纳威的《夜巡》(2007年)、拉斯冯的《黑暗中的舞者》(2000年)、《狗镇》(2004年)。除了记录媒材上的不同,这个类型的作品,主旨在于还原某个时间和事件的特征,而不完全追求真实的表象,更多的在于呈现事件背后的寓意,以及抽离了时间的生活共鸣。

Open in new window“三岔口”汪建伟 作品 截帧/彩色/2007年

Open in new window“狗镇” 拉斯冯电影 剧照

对剧场的记录,是很明确的指记录剧场现场的纪录片,这类作品主要在于记录和还原经典的作用,如我们所看到的歌剧、舞剧、戏剧的光盘,都是这一记录的载体,它准确(标准)的纪录了舞台上的动作、声音,甚至包括观众、乐团的场景,它的重点在于通过录像还原这一现场感,它不协助叙事,或是尽量少的介入其媒介的叙事性,而是完全按照媒介的传播特性被使用。

剧场中的录像,是通过剧场舞台或是观众席,构建的一个附属或是主体平行空间,它的作用是通过影像达成背景变化、表演互动、叙事的作用,剧场中的录像往往不被看作是独立成立的艺术作品,因为其依附于整个复杂艺术媒介,并成为支持这一复杂性的因素。此类情况可见汪建伟作品《屏风》(2000年)、《仪式》(2003年)中出现的影像。

录像作为媒材的叙事

这个类型的作品多强调录像作为叙事的载体,有着综合的特征,类似电影出现的倾向,如彼得格林纳威在《夜巡》(2007年)对绘画作品的时间和空间上的延伸,这是图片、绘画无法替代的一个特殊媒材,而作为叙事的传播方式,录像最好的把握了综合的场景、故事、环境的复杂关系。如杨福东、路春生、高世强、邱志杰等艺术家的作品,都属于这一领域,并且还跨越在纪录片、电影之间。

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“夜巡” 彼得格林纳威 电影 剧照

上述艺术家的作品可以被还原成为装置、行为、声音、环境的综合场所,但是无法被还原的是艺术家的独特视觉语言和连贯这些复杂因素的方法。从这个层面阐释综合类型的表达方式上,录像不同于剧场,就是因为录像可以摆脱现场和现实的时间关系,可以在任何时间表现之前时间所发生的事件。

艺术家作为主体叙事者,录像作为独立、唯一的叙事媒材,现场不能被再现,被再现或是延伸出来的现场,将成为另外一件作品被阅读。这是录像作为媒材的叙事和装置、展览现场叙事之间的差异性,其不能互为转换的特性,也符合之前谈及的互为作用的关系,以及独立成立的特征。

Open in new window
(卫)字3号 /1991 /单视频录像 /张培力作品 /录像装置 展览现场
Open in new window
(卫)字3号/1991/单视频录像/张培力作品/录像截帧

张培力《(卫)字三号》作品在中国和法国的不同展示效果,都是脱离录像作为媒材叙事,独立成为不同的展出和装置作品的最好说明。因为法国展出为3个屏幕,而作品在复制过程中画面和颜色的变化,构成了一个新的录像装置版本。其源头还是《(卫)字三号》,但是版本的变化,也就是媒材的变化,导致了作品的变化。

录像与新媒体艺术

必需要认清的是录像和新媒体之间的关系和区别。

录像(电视机)作为一个时代的新的媒材、介质出现在60年代时,当时是完全的新媒体。而在今天显而易见,它逐渐的在自我完善和退出历史的舞台。媒材上的变化开始和电影、网络合并,介质上也不在是单一的传播,而是转型成为互动的界面。

新媒体的出现应该是70年代一系列的关于跨领域探索的开始,源于录像艺术的开端。同时伴随着混沌科学的发展,以及非图像、肢体表演、剧场等因素介入的类型出现,当其被置入视觉展示系统和公共空间,所产生的艺术特指身份,够成了新媒体艺术。新媒体艺术的领域是一个不断扩张的有机体,其网状的联系来自生活现实和科学幻想的各个方面,如现今兴起的社会媒体,就可以被看作是一个新的媒材和介质,其本身的伦理就是艺术。当然这还包含着很多领域介入,或是被艺术家介入的艺术形式。

录像艺术作为新媒体的开端是被广泛认可的,但是当今新媒体逐渐将录像看成一个经典媒介,加以区分和研究,如同绘画、摄影一样,录像和其关联的艺术形式正在成为经典。如录像与行为、录像与身体、录像与政治、录像与剧场等等,反之这些被直接挪用到新媒体领域就不是很适用,因为新媒体延续了录像作为媒介的特性,发展出了隶属于其自身的美学形态和特点,如艺术家改造的生物,或是根据环境和环保问题出发的机器人等。

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“GFP BUNNY” Eduardo Kac

录像艺术的兴起和新媒体艺术的兴起,有着本质的不同,一个是完全的来自艺术环境和艺术家自主的需要,并且直接由艺术家或是小组直接完成。而新媒体艺术所涉及的领域则是需要具有不同知识的非艺术家的介入,才能完成所谓的新媒体艺术作品。

这里录像是否是新媒体艺术,这来自个人的认识,可以是来自其内部对媒材的变革和需要,这与地缘和知识结构相关。宏观上看待全球的新媒体艺术,其多样性和复杂性,以及其不断前行的态势,都已经不是录像艺术所能企及的。

一个通晓音乐的人,可能是物理学家或是数学家10,一个通晓艺术的人,也可能是科学家和机械师11,其对应的都是其时代的特征,甚至超越惯常的我们对单一领域知识的把握。理解录像艺术在中国的情况,现在看来还是要从艺术的根源和信息、社会问题介入的方面去看。

总结

认清艺术为主体的作品,要从媒材和介质的认识开始,因为这是可以被描述和认清的。这里不讨论艺术的美感和观念,因为这些领域都有着完美的解释和认知的系统,还必然的涉及地缘这一因素,找到艺术媒材演进的源头和关联。

认清录像艺术发展的根源和现状,也许可以帮助我们认清其创作上的联系,和绘画、摄影、行为、装置之间的关系。从这个角度出发,可以更好的区分,录像是作为主体的录像艺术,还是录像作为客体的记录。

当然这些分析还有很多方面值得推敲,这还涉及到展览形态,如打破美术馆空间的展览形态,是不断拓张展示空间的可能性和多样性,不断纳入来自不同领域的空间,作为艺术关联的场域。

这时艺术也应该随之发生变化,这也是有必要认清的,也就是今天传播方式上的变迁,除了为艺术带来平台的作用,有时候它就是观念上的延伸或是作品本身。

李振华
写于2011年6月4日 苏黎世家中


注释:
1、《片段、瞬间与综合的知识、展示方式》:http://bjartlab.com/read.php?253
2、Herbert Marshall McLuhan(July 21, 1911 – December 31, 1980)
3、"the medium is the message" (elaborated in his 1964 book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man)
4、摄影术是一种通过拍摄获得现实景物复制品的技术。于19世纪初诞生,公认为法国人达盖尔所发明,摄影术随着技术的进步有许多技术上的发展,所有技术均基于不同的成像光学原理,并以获得可被保存的复制品为最终目的。
5、动态影像(摄影)motion picture camera
6、洞穴比喻,在《理想国》第七卷,柏拉图作了一个著名的比喻,其直接目的是要揭示“受过教育的人与没受过教育的人的本质”的不同及相关问题,人们一般称之为“洞穴喻”。
7、模拟的系统(Systems simulation) is a set of techniques for using computers to imitate, or simulate, the operations of various kinds of real-world facilities or processes (Law 2007).
8、PC (Personal Computer) 个人计算机
9、1995年成立于哥本哈根的一个丹麦电影导演小组,成员大多为毕业于丹麦国立电影学院的年轻导演,如该组织的主要发起者拉尔斯·冯·特里尔(Lars von Trier),以及托马斯·温特伯格(Thomas Vinterberg)、克里斯丁·勒维瑞(Kristian Levring)、索伦·克拉格·雅格布森(Søren Kragh-Jacobsen)。该组织的名称来自其成员于1995年3月13日共同签署的《道格玛誓言》(THE VOW OF CHASTITY)。
10、特指爱因斯坦
11、特指达芬奇
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About Video Art
—Its origins, classification and properties determined through exhibition  

Preface

The main focus of this article is to understand the development and phenomenon of China's video art by studying the relations and boundaries of media art, as well as its properties determined by the method of exhibition. This article is related to previous articles about new media and categories of video, and it also refers to “Fragments, Instants, Knowledge and Modes of Presentation”1.

“The medium is the message"2, was an expression coined by Marshall McLuhan, and says that a medium exists as an individual object, similar to an image of art – it has its own special properties, is related to aesthetics, and it has already exceeded its original purpose as a carrier and transmitter.

Consequently, knowing the characteristics, limits and principles of media, may help us to get a better idea of the properties of art during exhibition and dissemination. This interpretation is not derived from the study of aesthetics, sociology or philosophy, but mainly from a wish that the audiences and researchers can first comprehend the perceived aspects, and question if the visible is also the obtainable.

Photo and Film


A frame from “Roundhay Garden Scene,” the world's earliest film produced using a motion picture camera, by Louis Le Prince, 1888

The emergence of photography3 led to the motion picture, which subsequently led to the invention of 35mm film, followed by 16mm and 8mm films. Later, with the creation of technologies of simulation, a combination of video, VCR and TV was developed, which met the needs of the previous movie screening methods and of television as a medium.

However, the appearance of film did not lead to the end of photography; by contrast, photography with its ability to capture reality, illusion or hyper-reality, is still evolving. Continuous shooting was the first form of motion picture, but it could not compete with the high speed shooting ability of movie cameras. On the other hand, the use of frames in cinematography can be seen as a remainder of photography. The film format of 24 frames per second is perfect to give a sense of reality to landscape and people, as well as to render movement in motion pictures. A single frame is simply a photograph.

The difference between film and photography lies in their way of consumption; photography requires space for exhibition and display, captions, framing and lighting to construct a real scenario that can be related to and let the viewer dwell in a particular captured moments. This is an enormous space, created through thoughts, memories, feelings – photos are just like fishhooks, they are the source that triggers the inspiration and provides guidance for the viewer.

Film, on the other hand, as a combined audio-visual experience, has dialogue, music, and setting accompanying the images. Therefore it eliminates the inner blank space in each individual viewer and provides a comprehensive experience. It also concerns the capturing of reality. A photograph's narration is completed by its creator and the viewer, together; in the case of a movie it involves the director, actors, a script, special effects and sound. While trying to depict reality as closely as possible, it turns into the starting point of Systems Simulation4.

A still taken from a film might look like a photo, but due to its differences in display, consumption and experience, special characteristics of the different media types emerge. The change in media also lends uniqueness through the different characteristics of each medium to an artists' expression.

Film and Video

Film’s possibilities of recording and restoring define the characteristics of this classic medium. I do not agree with the notion that traces the roots of film and theater back to the “cave metaphor,”5 the same idea has also made its appearance on television in the debate about reflectors and emitters. This can only lead to people getting lost in between imagination and reality, a difference in experience between a knowledge with an implicit reason, and one projected through reality.

With all this knowledge and cognition, this understanding of some kinds of illusions of the mind that existed before the creation of media, or the appearance of today's media landscape as “proof” (speculation) of the past, media and concepts emerging from assumptions based on this understanding – will it all have any influence on the future? Comprehending the relations of media on a cultural level, or rather remaining on the technical and material level – what is going to be of more avail to understand this world?
Video is basically a continuation of film. While the first way of consumption was in a “cave” (the cinema), it later turned into an individual watching at home  (which can also be seen as a cave). Here I would like to distinguish the transformation from public to private viewing.

When television started to become popular in the 1960s, it was actually already the start of the concept of the PC, which appeared only later with the emergence of computers – each person in their role as a terminal turned into a receiver. However the orientation of artists and television media caused a reversed intervention and transformation of the media (public) by the individual.

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“The Wedding at Cana”- A Vision by Peter Greenaway 2009

In the name of “film,” video art gradually expanded from the art terrain to the realms of film. Not only was the French director Jean Luc Godard (*1930) influenced by this development, but also Peter Greenaway (*1942) and the Dogme 956 movement, as well as the music video and advertisement industries.

The language of art started to transform from a visual language to a narrative one, together with the fusion of its documentation and a live mode, as it created the film language of today. The music video and advertisement industries especially have emphasized the artistic and immediate qualities of visual effects and cultural connotations.
The categorization as “film,” which lies between film and video, and the transformation or interchange between video and film installations, these are all subjected to the preconditions of media. This is the rise of the dual development of digital film and early video (8mm, 16mm, 35mm film). It reaches out to the interactions of visual language and the changes in exhibition space.

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Still from "Estranged Paradise," Yang Fudong, 35mm film / B & W / 76 min / 1997–2002

Yang Fudong has transferred his work on film to video, while plenty of films are going through the reverse process – from digital to film material. All this is constantly blurring the line between film and video, although this only concerns works made for one screen. In the domain of video and film installations, the development is leaning towards a gallery or cinema-esque space for exhibition and consumption.

Performance documentation, Performance and Video

Since the emergence of video art, performance documentation and performing with video have always been the most common actions. Very often they all appear just as video art. Here we need to learn about the relations between object and subject, for example if the acting and performance in the documentation is the main message, is it being extended by means of the video documentation or not?

Another important method to document performance is photography, as it can depict the connections between movements in its different stages, so it also works like a set of key frames. Through looking at a picture one can understand how the movements are interrelated, but the environment, sounds and details are not perceivable.

One cannot compare video and photography when both are used to represent events. This also marks the line where photography and video documentation become independent and work separately from the performance that they record. Both of them capture the nature of real events through their documentary function.

Photography and video can also be completely independent art forms if the actions and performance are not the subject but only an extension of a concept, subsequently the images are the summary of the idea. This was the case with China's early performance and performing arts.

Zhang Huan and Ma Liuming's works at East Village in the 1990s were filmed by Rong Rong and Xing Danwen. Later, they worked as artists either in the domains of performance or film. This example is simply to point out the establishing of different artistic forms of expression but does not consider the understanding of copyright questions between artists and filmmakers.

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Still from "30X30" by Zhang Peili, single-screen video, 1988

Zhang Peili's work “30X30” from 1988 can be seen as documentation of a performance, but also as the extension of a concept. By using this medium, Zhang has thoroughly thought about the element of time in regard to his work and medium. This coincides with the time characteristic in Li Yongbin's works, as he often uses the time of his recording medium as a restriction and precondition for his works. The performance in this case is a manifestation about concept, time and media.

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“Art Must Be Beautiful, Artist Must Be Beautiful” Marina Abramovic, video, 1975

This question also comes up in the early works by performance artist Marina Abramovic, such as in “Art Must Be Beautiful. ” The video of the performer’s action is the main subject, not a mere documentation of the performance. Also, in “Imponderabilia,” in collaboration with Ulay, it is obvious that the video we see today is a recording of a performance in the past, which has enabled the artist themselves or another artist to revive the scene, the only difference being the element of time – the scene can never be completely revived and the value of the video has also transcended from artwork to piece of art history.  

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“Imponderabilia” Marina Abramovic and Ulay, Performance, 1977

Animations, Short Films and Video

Animations and short films emerged from motion pictures and were later assumed by the realm of video art. This phenomenon was not decided by the techniques of creation of animation and shorts, but by its exhibition environment and media.
A lot of artworks we see today are labeled as video art, however their origins often lie in different creative sources and narration methods. Moreover, in terms of media, these kinds of works can constantly move between the domains of painting, photography, video and film. It does not have a fixed form, but rather only in touching all these different domains has it reached its perfect artistic form.

This may help us come closer to the reality of Qiu Anxiong, Sun Xun, Wu Junyong, Ye Linghan, etc., who are all artists in this domain.  

The effects and interrelations between animations, shorts and videos; the development of technology; the intervention of computers; all these cause the affinity towards video in the classic media forms like photography, animation and film. It helps the artist to complete his work easily, in the name of video art.

Similar to the previous situation of film and video, the blurred lines and the diversity of dissemination methods allow the artwork to radiate into other domains, leaving the limits of the art world behind to become an intersection of public media. Borrowing straight from the public media has become a strong trend for today's visual art.

Film and animation festivals, exhibitions as well as the public media have all helped to allow these kinds of work get far beyond their own identity; moreover, they have received a special classification through dissemination and exhibition environments. There is only a difference in the environment and location of exhibition, but no distinction in essence.

Documentary and Video

Documentary and Video both have their roots in video art, the differences lie in documentary's rendition of reality as its specific property, which can also be seen as a kind of real response to a video's documentation of a performance's live scene.
In recording a scene of art the documentary becomes the resurrection of the scene. When a video recording turns into a documentary or documentation of a scene, then it looses its identity as an individual art form. Its identity can only gradually change from a tool to show a past event—that ceased to exist—to the only medium that has recorded the information. For example, the documentation from the early days of video art of performance artist Marina Abramovic which have turned into rare classics of their kind. Whereas the visual recordings of Nam June Paik's “TV-Bra” can only be an appliance or account of the time and event due to the existence (and exhibition) of the original work (as a relic of the event).    

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”TV Bra for Living Sculpture,” Nam June Paik, 1969

The existing location, event, time, people, have all decided a video's identity as an individual work or additional appliance.
Another approach is the artist's use of documentary techniques and durations to distinguish the work from a performance recording. These kind of works stand in between the lines of experimental documentary and standard television documentary, they define their characteristics as different kinds of media through the modes of exhibition.

On the one hand, these types of works are being exhibited as art works, on the other, it can also be seen as public media material, that can be used directly for broadcasting (television or online). Meanwhile, the films that are shown in a space or context of an exhibition can also be defined as proper art and be seen as art works.

Therefore, this relation is far from absolute. Due to the nature of dissemination, video art has had multiple identities since its beginning.

Theater and Video

Regarding theater in video, the documentation of theater, and the use of video in theater.
With theater in video (by which I mean video works with the special characteristics of theater), these types of work emphasize the use of theatrical special effects, group performances and a coherent, real-time narration, which is captured on camera. A distinction is made between single-screen presentations and video installations. The theater in single-screen works is not the same as a recording of a stage play. Through the use of one or several settings (real or virtual environments), the artist fulfills the general concept of theater and conveys this message made of mixed arts by the means of video. These methods and techniques were used in Wang Jianwei's “Dilemma, Three Way Fork in the Road” (2007) or “Hostage” (2008), as well as in Peter Greenaway's “Nightwatching” (2007) and Lars von Triers  "Dancer in the Dark" (2000) and "Dogville" (2004). Besides the differences in the recording media, the main point of these kinds of work is to revive the nature of some certain moment and event, but not the single-minded pursuit of a realistic representation; they are more about presenting the moral behind an event and releasing the timeless resonance of life.

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Still from “Dilemma, Three Way Fork in the Road”, Wang Jianwei, 2007


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Still from “Dogville”, Lars von Trier, 2004

Documentation of theater obviously refers to documentaries, i.e. live recordings of a play. The main function of these kinds of work is to record and revive classics, just like DVDs of operas, ballet or drama. They all have exactly documented the movements and sounds on stage, and also the view of the audience and orchestra. Their main purpose is to revive the live atmosphere; they do not contribute to the narration or try to use as little as possible from the narrative qualities of their media and act completely in accordance to the nature of dissemination.

Video in theater is a subsidiary or parallel space created through the theatrical stage or the auditorium. Its function is to add to the change of the stage setting, the acting and the narrative through visuals. Videos used in theaters are often not seen as individual art works, as they depend on a complex set of media, and they also become a factor that contributes to this complexity. The visuals seen in Wang Jianwei's “Paravent” (2000) and “Ceremony” (2003) are a good example of this.

Video as Narrative Media

This type of work emphasizes the video as a carrier of narrative, it has a comprehensive nature and it leans towards motion pictures. Like the extension of a painting's time and space in Peter Greenaway's “Nightwatching” (2007), this is a special media that cannot be replaced by images or paintings. However, in its function to disseminate narration, video has mastered the combination of the complicated relation between stage set, narrative and environment. The works of Yang Fudong, Lu Chunsheng, Gao Shiqiang, Qiu Zhijie all belong to this category and also they make a leap between documentaries and motion pictures.

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Still from “Nightwatching”, Peter Greenaway, 2007

The works of the above mentioned artists can be reduced to an arena comprised of installation, performance, sound and environment, but what cannot be restored is the unique visual language of the artist and the method used to connect all these complicated factors. Interpreting this kind of comprehensive form of expression from this level, video distinguishes itself from theater, as it is able to cast off the question of time from a scene and reality, it can render any past event at any given time.  
With the artist as the main narrator and video as an independent, sole narrative media, the scene cannot be recreated – the recreated or extended scene will be perceived as a different piece of work. This is the difference between video as a narrative medium, and installation, and the on-the-spot narration at an exhibition. Its characteristics cannot be interchanged, which also coincides with the above-mentioned interactive functions and the independently created characteristics.

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“Hygiene No. 3,” Zhang Peili, single-screen video, video installation at exhibition, 2001
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Still from “Hygiene No. 3”, Zhang Peili, single-screen video, 2001

The different exhibition results in China and France of Zhang Peili's work “Hygiene No. 3” show very well how a video as a narrative medium turns by itself into another exhibition and installation piece. Because a triple screen was used for the French exhibition and the change of colour and image through the process of reproduction, a new edition of the video installation was created. Its roots were still “Hygiene No.3,” but a change in the edition is similar to a change in the medium, which leads finally to the change of the artwork.

Video and New Media Art

It is essential to learn about the relation and difference between video and new media.

Video (TV) as an era's new media form and medium appeared in the 1960s. Back then it was a complete novelty. Today, however, it is gradually going through self-perfection and retreating from the stage of history. Changes in media are starting to merge with television and the internet, it is also no longer a sole dissemination medium, but transforming into an interactive interphase.

The appearance of new media in the 1970s is also the beginning of a series of interdisciplinary researches, which are rooted in the emergence of video art. At the same time, with the development of chaos theory and art forms that involve elements such as the non-image, physical performances and theatrical performances started to appear. When these forms were integrated into the system of visual presentation and public space, with artworks specifically dealing with identity, new media art was contrived. The sphere of new media art is an ever-expanding organism, its reticular connections come from different fields of real life and science fiction.

The recently hyped social media work is a good example for a new type of media and medium, whose basic principles lie in art. Of course, it also involves many different domains or art forms that were added by artists.  
    
Video art is widely recognized as the beginning of new media, but in today's new media, video is gradually being regarded as a classic medium, better used for distinction and research. Like painting, photography and video and its related art forms are turning into classics. Like video and performance, video and the body, video and politics, video and theater, etc., nothing of it is very applicable when directly taken into the realms of new media, as new media has extended the nature of video as a medium and developed a unique form of aesthetics and characteristics, like a living being transformed by an artist or a robot designed according to the environment or questions of environmental protection.

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“GFP Bunny”, Eduardo Kac, 2000
http://www.ekac.org/gfpbunny.html#gfpbunnyanchor

The rise of video art is essentially different from the rise of new media art; it has completely developed from the environment of art and the artist's own needs. Furthermore, it is achieved directly by the artist or constellation. Whereas the creation of a piece of new media art requires the involvement of non-artists of different knowledge backgrounds.

Whether video is a part of new media art depends on each person’s own understanding. This may come from an inner transformation or requirement for media and is related to ones socialization and knowledge constitution. Holistically seen, global new media art's diversity and complexity, as well as its continuous development is something that video art cannot catch up with.    
A person who is well versed in music might be a physicist or mathematician7, another well versed in art might be a scientist or engineer8, the characteristics of each epoch is what corresponds to it and may even surpass our usual grasp of one single area of knowledge. To understand video art's current situation in China, it seems it is still necessary to involve the questions of art's origin, information and society.  

Conclusion

Recognizing works, with art as their main subject, has to start with the understanding of media and medium, as this is something that can be described and distinguished. We will not discuss the aesthetics and concepts of art, because many interpretations and systems of knowledge already exist in these domains. Moreover, geopolitical factors have also to be taken into account in order to find the origin and relations of media art’s development.

Understanding the origins and current situation of video art's development may help us to learn about its connections in its creation and the relations between painting, photography, performance and installation. Starting from this point, it is easier to distinguish video as an individual artwork from video as an auxiliary recording.

Of course, there are still many aspects of this analysis that deserve further deliberation; for example, forms of exhibition such as the escape from the gallery exhibition mode, which is continuously widening the possibilities and diversity of exhibition spaces, and incorporating spaces from different realms to use as an arena for art relations.

In its current stage, art should also be changing in its discourse – this is a necessary understanding. Also, the changes in today’s dissemination methods have not only offered art a platform, but sometimes the medium is the extension of the concept and the artwork itself.

Li Zhenhua, 4.6.2011


Translation by Weina Zhao
proofreading by Edward Sanderson
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