Heidy Grundman
Doubts and Other Virtues: Some aspects of telecommunication art in Austria (1993)
Тематика: Медиа-технологии
Язык оригинала: русский

The electronic Space in which telecommunications artists operate - alongside transnational corporations, stock markets and the military is a complex idea only made possible by another phenomenon of art in the 1970s...conceptual art. Conceptual art predicts and requires, a conceptual space in which to exist, and a culture that has grasped that elusive notion will have no trouble at all de-materializing its power structures into something as relatively concrete as the Electronic Space of the global networks of international communications. Our interest in this space should be no surprise - art has always gone where the power is (1).

In 1983 the artist Fedo Ertl investigated the fate of the Jewish community in Graz in 1938. He found out that the bricks of the destroyed synagogue had been used for building the wall of garage. Removing a vertical strip of stucco he exposed the bricks: a memorial to “70 of the formerly 2000 Jews in Graz”, as the plaque which he place beside the exposed bricks states.
In 1985 the project “Brainwork” was conceived and organized by Richard Kriesche. Within this project Fedo Ertl continued this work - with the title “38/83”: in the Municipal Art Gallery in Los Angeles Prof. Bader, an emigrant from Graz, sat on the stage in front of the audience surrounded by music stands on which pictures of Graz before and after the so-called Crystal Night in 1938 were displayed. The room at the museum in Los Angeles was linked to the car park beside the garage, the wall of which had become a monument of remembrance (and served as a projection surface for slides during the event). The Audience in Graz - mostly artists - could ask Prof. Bader in Los Angeles questions by telephone and listen to his answers through loud speakers. Austrian radio broadcast the recorded conversation together with a small “feature” about the project, first in November 1985 and again in November 1986.

Extracts from the introduction to the radio version of the transcontinental conversation with Prof. Bader some quotations from this introduction:

I think that it is one function of the artist to make something invisible visible. (Fedo Ertl).
Well, you could say, a telephone conversation is nothing sensational. After all everybody talks to everybody else. But this telephone conversation has a different meaning: it was a public telephone conversation with amplification to the world at large. (Richard Kriesche).

...and we think that this is a possibility of artistic interaction with a history that is not conserved and preserved but of interaction with history as a new interpretation of our view of the present. (Richard Kriesche) (2).
This information was transmitted to the room so that the private telephone was used as a public telephone in the true sense of the word. The public were no longer only listeners. Everybody present was deeply moved. (Richard Kriesche).

In October 1988 a telephone dialogue between Graz and Santa Barbara took place, in which Prof. Bader once again faced an intercontinental live interview. The documentation of this dialogue was broadcast by the ORF (Austrian Broadcasting Corporation) in November 1988.

Fedo Ertl’s project is a typical example of a specific branch of art in which different spaces are linked or at least related to each other: the public urban space, the space of art, the space of communication media, the space of history, personal memory and finally the space of radio. In this case it really made sense to broadcast the recordings of the conversations, even though the tape was just a documentation of the live event, which, at that, was trimmed and made clearer for the one-way medium radio. Hence, the radio broadcasts told a story of an event which was much more unclear to the participants in Graz and Los Angeles and contained much more redundancy as regards the informative value. The events themselves cannot be repeated. The artist created the situation, the framework for the communication events, but did not control the events themselves.

Another project carried out in 1988 in remembrance of Crystal Night was “Crystal Psalms”, a pure radio project in which seven European stations co-operated. This project could well be repeated in its parameters as a composition - at least as regards the material: At six places (one of them was Vienna) choirs, instrumental ensembles and solo players gave simultaneous concerts - according to scores by the composer Alvin Curran which were transmitted live to a RAI studio in Rome. In this studio Alvin Curran sat at an audio mixer and mixed the concerts as they were received so that a live stereoconcert emerged which was broadcast immediately by each of the six stations involved.

Within the framework of “Bezugspunkte 38/88”, which took place in Graz in 1988, the controversial project “Sonic Projections from Schlossberg Graz” by Bill Fontana linked public space (with its points referring to the time of the national socialists) to radio - which is also such a reference point. In contrast to Alvin Curran, Fontana works with found material - in this case with pre-recorded and live material. He does not consider the arranging and re-arranging of the material received over line from various places a musical composition but a series of sculptures. One such “sculpture” as installed in the Landhaus-Hof for five days and was broadcast at various times on the ORF radio channels O1 and O3 during one day, thereby creating a large number of such sculptures - at every place where the live radio programme was received. Each and every listener merged these sound sculptures with his/her acoustic environment to form a unique version of the work.

Radio seems like an extension of the interest I had in public space. If I made a sound-sculpture I could take one sound and place it into a new situation and that was a sound-sculpture. But with radio, if I took a sound I could simultaneously put that sound into thousands of different acoustic situations and I regarded it as a kind of very experimental medium in the sense that it was a chance to make thousands of different versions of the same piece; each one would be unique.... (3)

The actual form such a work finally takes on cannot be imagined and documented by anybody. It is fleeting and irrepeatable. What remains is the memory in the heads of the participants/users. The name of the author was of no importance, neither to the recipients who came to the Landhaus-Hof and only became recipients when they extracted the sounds of the sculpture from the everyday background noise, nor to the radio listeners who suddenly found themselves amidst the cooing of pigeons. Even the fact that they were participating in a work of art was not always clear to them.

Surveillance documentation video

Similar things apply to the work “Surveillance” by Robert Adrian X: pictures recorded by the surveillance cameras of the central surveillance room of the Vienna subway system broadcast live during the short breaks in the Austrian television programme, that still occasionally occurred in 1983, so that all the Austrian TV sets that were tuned in became surveillance monitors - even though it was only for 20-60 seconds. The artist wanted to have (a) no sound and (b) no explanations and hence no signature of the work. The institution of television did not allow that, at least the title of the work had to be indicated as well as the information “Live from....More information in Zehn vor Zehn” The author had to appear in this newscast - and precisely in his function as an author. For those not watching that later newscast the identity of the author and the fact that they were seeing art was irrelevant. Nobody needed instructions to realize that television had suddenly opened to the underground stairways and platforms of the subway system.
Another exploration of the telecommunication media regarding their institutional limitations and given rules was carried out in the amateur radio project “Kunst-Funk” organized by the group BLIX in the Vienna Secession in 1984.

The attractions of amateur radio were clear: radio transmission is free, a world-wide network exists, all media available for telephone are used by radio amateurs, and in principle, amateur radio is a model for the way modern communications technology can be used by private individuals and groups.

...In a sense "Kunst-Funk" was a sentimental attempt to experience what radio might have been like if it had not become a centralized mass-medium. But the strict licensing regulations and restrictions on content (e.g. no meaningful information aside from name, address, call-letters and discussion of equipment - and radio amateurs are regularly monitored and prosecutions for infringements can result in confiscation of equipment or worse) have resulted in a ghetto mentality by radio amateurs which makes them extremely suspicious of outsiders and frightened of coming into conflict with the authorities by trying anything new - such as working with artists....4
In the project "Kunst-Funk", art was considered “meaningless and without content” in order to comply with the laws governing amateur radio.

It would, however, be an illusion to think that only in the space of the so-called New Technologies decisions are taken long before an artist can move in the regulated space. Similar things apply to work in all public spaces, which are always institutionalized spaces, too. Richard Kriesche, who has tried again and again to introduce the activity and the thinking of artists into public spaces - especially into immaterial ones - has frequently taken a clear stance in this respect, for example in his performance “Radio/Zeit” in 1988 in which signals from a weather satellite set a keyboard in motion which played Mozart’s “A Little Night Music”. At the performance it was not possible to understand the text spoken by the artist accompanying the noise of the signals and the Little Night Music, but this was possible in the radio version.

In 1979 artists from Austria participated for the first time in a project based on the medium of computer communications conference and mailbox which was quite new at that time. Bill Bartlett organized this event under the heading Interplay” from Toronto in the IP Sharp Network, a commercial timesharing system. Artists in Canada, Australia, the USA and Austria participated in it. In contrast to today, this project did not endeavour to link and explore existing networks and to fill them with artistic contents but to get access to computer communications and to set up networks between artists. IP Sharp was the only network outside universities and academies accessible at local rates and: IP Sharp did not charge the artists for computer time at the host computer in Toronto. Today PCs and private networking have long superseded the commercial operations of timesharing systems.

In 1980 Gottfried Bach of the Vienna subsidiary of IP Sharp and the Canadian artist Robert Adrian, who lives in Vienna, developed ARTEX, a mailbox programme for artists, in first experiments in which Bill Bartlett was involved, too. ARTEX was to serve for co-ordinating artistic communication projects, was to be a medium for art projects and to simply establish contacts between artists working in electronic space.

In 1980 Austrian artists participated in an event which linked the Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts in Vienna via SloScan TV and the IP Sharp network to museums and other places of art in 11 cities in Japan, Canada, Australia and the USA. This conference under the heading of “Artists’ Use of Telecommunications” was organized by Bill Bartlett for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. In the Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts in Vienna there was a lot of excitement, but also disappointment and frustration, especially among the public who had expected a spectacle and, instead, was asked to actively enter something into the network. By the way, this event has disappeared from the memory of this Viennese museum, just like e.g. Friederike Pezold’s “Radio Freies Utopia” which had pitched its tents in the Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts by day and night also in 1980 during the exhibition “Video Made in Austria” initiated by Dieter Schrange. No catalogue was published, neither before nor after the event (as would be appropriate for this kind of art) which, however, is not unusual for such events (5).

A tiny (advance) catalogue was published for Richard Kriesche’s computer communication conference “Kunst/Mikrokunst Makrokunst” between Zagreb, Amsterdam and Vienna and so we may assume that this conference really took place. How these projects were really organized and executed is a question art historians should ask the artists involved while there is still time.
In 1981 a project by Tom Klinkowstein and Robert Adrian X discovered the FAX, which still was called telefacsimile at that time, as an art medium for Austria and Europe. At the Ars Electronica 1982 it was integrated as one of the media used in the project “The World in 24 Hours” by Robert Adrian.
For Europe, Austria was involved in telecommunication projects quite early. Some of these projects were even initiated here. In North America - where there are private telephone companies which, like Bell, had already developed a videophone system in the 1970s and made it available to artists and where telefax, SloScan TV and even satellites were accessible much earlier and where the strong tradition of Experiments in Art & Technology and/or Mail Art as well as institutes like the MIT (with fellows such as Aldo Tambellini or Antoni Muntadas) exist - and also in Australia approaches to telecommunication art developed some years earlier. These are, however, also not well documented. It is a fact that the Austrian Postal Services do not really facilitate this type of art and that for instance the transceivers for SloScan TV reached Austria via rather unorthodox ways, and so on and so forth.

At the Ars Electronica 1982 the project “The World in 24 Hours” linked artists in 16 cities on three continents in an ARTEX conference via the IP Sharp Timesharing network for 24 hours - from noon on 27 September to noon on 28 September. The participants were called from Linz when it was noon according to their local time in order to exchange works, improvisations and information via the media available to them. Any medium using telephone lines and available in Linz was welcome: SloScan TV, telefax, voice transmission.

The intention of “The World in 24 Hours” was to follow the midday sun around the planet - creating a kind of telematic world map. Of course the most noticeable thing about this map is that it includes only the capitalist industrial nations - 3/4 of the world is missing - which is a problem that will haunt all telecommunications programs for the foreseeable future 6.
Due to its openness and its low-tech approach “The World in 24 Hours”, and event prepared in co-operation with students and artists from Linz, differed considerably from an event organized by Bernd Kraake also at the Ars Electronica 1982 in the very same lobby of the provincial studio of the ORF: Kraake’s event was a carefully prepared performance with refined SSTV pictures. The spectators remained spectators, the period of time was usual for a performance, etc. The other participants had to be there live - no matter what time of the day it was for them. This is all from memory (!) as the catalogue was an advance catalogue.

The project “The World in 24 Hours” already offered those not equipped with a computer the possibility to participate simply via the phone. This option was extended in 1983 when co-operation between artists in Berlin, Budapest and finally also Warsaw resulted in “Telephonmusik”, in concerts in which technical apprentices participated alongside musicians, and other artists. “Wiencouver IV” 1983 made the different availability of technologies especially clear: between Vancouver and Vienna on ARTEX and on SSTV connection existed - an interactive low-tech TV programme developed, whereas only telephone music took place between Budapest, Berlin and Warsaw.

Documentation cassette, ARTPOOL Budapest

In the very same year of 1983 one of the most conclusive telecommunication projects took place, lasting for 10 days. This project called “La Plissure du Texte” was conceived by Roy Ascott for the exhibition Electra 83 in Paris. A planetary fairytale was told by artists in 11 cities on 3 continents within the IP Sharp system (and, for once, not only in English). Each station adopted the role of a figure in this fairytale... This project involving artists of all branches of art as well as anybody wanting to participate perfectly realised everything on which Roy Ascott had been working as a theorist: distributed authorship, the elimination of the hierarchy between the artist and the public, etc. “La Plissure du Texte” once again made clear how the character of the work of art is changed in electronic space: none of the participants - not even the initiator - was able to keep track of all the ramifications of the planetary fairytale told during 10 days and nights which could only be documented by selected and random parts. “La Plissure du Texte” has to remain a legend. Only those involved can report on it, however, and only on those parts they experienced themselves. And no art historian will ever succeed in finding all those involved and in interviewing them about what they experienced. Art history geared towards completed works and only drawing conclusions from them (concerning the creation, production conditions, intentions, etc.) is reduced to absurdity by projects like “La Plissure du Texte.”

“Hearsay”, a project focusing - among other things on the predominance of the English language in the networks - was initiated by Norman White in Canada (Vienna was one of the stations participating) in which a poem written by a Hungarian living in Canada travelled, once again via ARTEX, around the world in one day. After receiving the poem, each station forwarded it in a different language - hence in a translated version - to the next one. In 1985 IP Sharp still proved to be superior to fax because there were simply not enough fax machines available as yet - at least not to artists.

In 1986 - at the same time as the communication scene was revolutionised by the increasing spread of PCs with their networking facilities - the Biennale at Venice included a part on art and technology for which Roy Ascott, who was one of the curators, conceived a “Planetary Network”, integrated into the Laboratorio Ubiqua at the Arsenale and prepared via ARTEX. For two weeks contributions were transmitted via SSTV (colour), telefax and ARTEX from all over the world to and from the laboratory. Additional media such as video discs, digital sound, paint systems were available in Venice. The famous Biennale di Venezia was opened to any artist anywhere in the world who was willing and able to participate - which meant that the art works and artists were constantly changing (at least as regards the section on art and technology) during those two weeks. Additionally, the topic of art and telecommunications was discussed all around the world in an on-line symposium via ARTEX sponsored by IP Sharp. The material from the “Planetary Network” (including some highly impressive work for SloScan TV) as well as of the on line symposium have never been processed or properly documented.

Even though further impressive and important projects were implemented for instance at Ars Electronica (like Roy Ascott’s “Gaia” which included on exploration of the digital screen from a horizontal point of view or the projects/installations by Radio Subcom, Ponton TV, Stadt Werkstatt, Margot Pilz/Roland Scheidl and others) the discussion during the Biennale and afterwards showed a certain disenchantment in some artists, which was not least due to the fact that the costs for telecommunication did not decline as expected the beginning. Higher quality standards resulted in an increase in the data volume, etc. university networks would have been an obvious choice as project carriers. But these networks were hardly accessible to independent artists. In Austria the communication monopolies continued to make things difficult: a project by Fedo Ertl intending to use SSTV for communication between hospitalised patients and their relatives, for instance, was dragged out for a long time by the Austrian PT without being implemented. Videotext projects did not live up to the expectations since the postal authorities allowed their Mupid to become a flop. Still - or maybe even due to these experiences and discussions - artists in Austria, too, continued to work on telecommunication projects which have yet to be documented.

The “World in 24 Hours” would be quite impossible to organise now. It is not only obsolete but historically obsolete - because there is nothing to be learned from it. It would have been a useful lesson if the assumption about the future it was based on had been confirmed by events - but the decision about the future had already been taken in the board-rooms and laboratories of the electronic companies - and their military, industrial and commercial customers - long before 1982. These decisions did not include providing low-cost interactive networking for artists or any other non-institutional users and the electronic pollution resulting from them is something we are going to have to live with for a long time (7).
In 1991 “Arts Birthday” - the annual telecommunication event (based on a project by Robert Fillou in 1963) - organized in Vienna by Mathias Fuchs, was held under the title “Texts, Bombs and Videotape - a journey to the zone” using fax, ARTEX and SSTV due to the shock reaction of telecommunications artists to the Gulf war. It was highly critical of the role of art and artists.

In the project ARTSAT 8 carried out in 1991, Richard Kriesche extended his approach using the data from outer space which had triggered Mozart’s “A Little Night Music” in the performance “Radio/Zeit” in 1989, and achieved such a complexity that this project cannot be described here. At any rate, he succeeded in adding an art project to the numerous scientific projects of the space mission AUSTROMIR - being fully aware of the military background of all such expeditions, no matter how well this may be covered with the cloak of national pride and serious research. In the AUSTROMIR art project ARTSAT, a robot, a sequence and ten Austrian composers were induced to work based on the data of a message sent by the Austrian cosmonaut from the space platform MIR.09. Many different spaces were linked and a variety of people were involved: the initiator, authors of individual contributions, engineers, radio amateurs, participants, the public and Austrian television. In brief, a broad range of experts and non-experts co-operated in implementing the project.

In the meantime the method of transmitting not music but control data for instruments and computers has been applied in several projects, for instance in the “Puente Telefonico” by Gerfried Stocker, Seppo Grundler and Horst Hortner, Gerfried Stocker and Mia Zabelka. For this project the permanent sound, video, data and telephone links existing between the ORF radio and TV studios in Innsbruck, Salzburg and Dornbirn with their identical architecture were activated. In the three lobbies, which exactly correspond to the one in Linz, where 10 years before “The World in 24 Hours” and the project by Bernd Kraake were implemented, three performances simultaneously took place on the evening of October 1st, 1992. The performers also played remote-controlled instruments on-line which were located in the two other studios where they were not physically present. The non-hierarchical connection between the performers in the three studios lead to a collective composition with mutual influences. Simultaneously with the performances, a live stereo mixing of the events in all the three provincial studios was broadcast via radio channel O1, which became the fourth space of the event as a result.

In such projects specific forms of concerts and performances are developed for telecommunication art, i.e. the public does not have to take the role of an active participant, in which the public frequently feels extremely uneasy, but may take the conventional view of a listener/recipient. This audience, however, only experiences part of the entire work, rather in the form of a separate chapter while being aware of the other chapters unfolding elsewhere at the same time. This constitutes an abandonment of the open workshop character as we know it from projects like “The World in 24 Hours” or even “La Plissure du Texte”, of telephone music, fax and hypertext projects and especially of projects like “Piazza Virtuale”. Piazza Virtuale combined mass media - or what is still thought to be mass media - and all other communication technologies also for the spectator for whom they were only interesting when he/she tried to enter the broadcast via phone, fax or e-mail. The individual chapters of the project can easily be traced since the work was reduced in the consumable time, arranged according to a given scenario and - even if it was broadcast via radio as with “Chip “Radio” it was not designed to merge with the acoustic environment of the listener but rather to shield him/her from this environment. It’s only via ear-phones that you can sense all the subtleties of the live compositions with material coming from the three different locations in the stereo space. The overall work, however, cannot be grasped, neither by the active participants (artists/engineers) nor by the audience at the various spaces. A focus for research is the question how the different intertlinked spaces can be represented in each location in all their intricacies and be made an aesthetic experience.

It is not about the disappearance of space, but about the discovery of space (Andres Bosshard).

It is not only simultaneity, the phenomenon of the presence, the convergence and at the same time differentiation of space in time, linking various “publics”, etc. that are topics of projects in the electronic/digital space, but also the transition to post-traditional art from conventional types of art rooted in certain traditions and only understandable from these traditions. Most of the projects in electronic space describe precisely the disappearance of art as we used to know it.
The project ZEROnet for example belongs to post-traditional artistic practice. There is no author, no individual in control, there are no objects, nothing that can be consumed, it can be used by everybody - just for the fun of it. It is operated by artists, which is important, but does not turn everything happening in it into noble art...
At the narrow side of the media that is turned to the people and linked to populations of self-regulating systems also artists are at work - maybe in order to learn something about the “side of the media withdrawn from the people” (F. A. Kitrtler) or at least about our relations to it and about the division between the two sides of technology. (In the 1970s even economic enterprises tried to benefit from the “different” way artists think).
There is good reason to be doubtful. Some artists are the first to doubt and - to put it melodramatically - to despair. Somehow and for reasons frequently not understandable to the observer they continue their tightrope walk. They continue, without a home base, surrounded by the data noise which constitutes, according to Richard Kriesche, “the awareness of the world”.

While watching television one night, Ross started to speculate about what it was that was in between the channels. He already knew what was on the channels. The occupied channels consisted of orchestrated static. Static made to resemble news, panel shows, documentaries, talk shows, theatre of the absurd, short subjects and video. These were also the unoccupied channels consisting of unorchestrated static, emptiness. There he would be; in front of his television set. Ross would sit in his chair, changing channels. One after another; program; program; program; static; static; program; static; program; program.

“So what was it?”, he thought. “What was in between those channels?” (G. X. Jupiter-Larsen)

(This lecture-text is based on material which was accessible to Heidi Grundmann thorough personal involvement either because she was involved, at least marginally, as a commentator, organiser, curator or because she witnessed the unfolding of many of the projects as the partner of one of the artists who was involved in this field very early.)

Foot notes:

1. Robert Adrian X: "Electronischer Raum". In: Im Netz der Systeme. Kunstforum International. Band 103, Sept/Okt. 1989.
2. ARS ACUSTICA Selection 1991, hrsg. von der EBU, Genf.
3. Bill Fontana in einem Interview, 1989.
4. Robert Adrian X: op cit.
5. s.a. Art Telecommunication, Vancouver, Wien, 1984, ISBN 0-920974-08-2.
6. Robert Adrian X: op cit.
7. Ibid.
8. ART SAT, CD mit Kompositionen von 10 osterreichischen Komponistlennen. In Zummanarbeit mit dem ORF Kunstradio. Zu bestellen bei ORF, HPP, Argentinierstr 30a, A-1040 Wien, Osterreich.

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