Nau mai, haere mai, welcome to eyeCONTACT, a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm John Hurrell its editor, a New Zealand writer, artist and curator. While Creative New Zealand and other supporters are generously paying me and other contributors to review exhibitions over the following year, all expressed opinions are entirely our own.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A way in

Digital Heritage: Video Art in Germany from 1963 to the present (Part 1)
St Paul St Gallery, AUT, Auckland
13 May -13 June 2008

We have here twenty-seven hours of moving image on twelve monitors, each small screen showing a selection that is part of a larger chronological sequence. There is no ordering at all in terms of thematic content or size.

This show is sprawling. Overwhelmingly so. Fifty-nine artists with works that vary between two hours and two minutes long, and you can’t click on to specific items using an index or remote control. You get what happens to be on when you walk into the room. So it is chaotic and rambling. You on the other hand, are expected to be curious. If you are that, you need to make several visits. With a big thermos and a knapsack of chocolate every time. Maybe a hip-flask.

Not all of it is from German artists, though the work by non-Germans was made in Germany. Some film is included. And television news too. There is a lot of untranslated German – so it is viewer hostile from a Kiwi viewpoint. And there are no handouts or wall labels to introduce you to the work. Plus with one monitor going without headphones it is noisy enough to intrude on those others with them. Definitely not user-friendly.

Yet, yet, if you – like me – are really curious because, after all, it is art (and you know some video is fantastic), it is possible to figure out a means of access.

Here’s what you can do.

First of all, take a look at this link and the list of works, zero in on half a dozen names that catch your eye, google some info on their contributions to the show, and then when you come to St. Paul St. look for them on the laminated cards by each monitor listing artists, works and time durations.

Then look in the beautifully produced catalogue on the table by the office. It has small essays on each artist and excellent illustrations. That will show you what to look out for.

Because very long works are mixed with very short ones on each DVD, each monitor is highly unpredictable. You can’t sit down and watch each from beginning to end. But if you start off with one that faces across the room you can routinely observe what is showing on several screens in front of you. And because the headphone leads are long you can get out of your chair and move around. You can squiz at several monitors at once, make snap decisions if you are bored and move on to other screens.

All this means that it is hard to devote all your attention to one work at a time. That is easier if you work nearby and can come during lunchtime. Then you can really concentrate.

So using the above procedure, I found an assortment of works (complete or in portions) which I really liked. Some, like Marcel Odenbach’s study of the bourgeois life style, As if memories could deceive me, I only saw the tail end of, but what I did catch, fascinated. Others like Rosemarie Trockel’s Buffalo Billy and Milly, of drawn upon film of actors dressed as animals, I saw starting on the other side of the room, so on quickly realising who made it I sprinted over and grabbed a seat. I managed to see Joseph Beuys’ Filz TV in its entirety and likewise Jan Verbeek’s film of commuters being crammed into a train during Tokyo’s rush hour. I also managed to regularly dip into films by Rebecca Horn (of bizarre bird costumes that extended the human form) and Corinna Schnitt (whose very long zoom shot of a dinky housing village owes a lot to Michael Snow’s Wavelength).

Probably the highlights were Heike Baranowsky’s Passage I (a short silent film of a freighter travelling in the open sea being seemingly repeatedly passed by another ship with the camera) and Harun Farocki’s very long Prison Images, an exploration of the theme of Foucauldian surveillance, comparing the camera with weaponry, and using archival footage and old movies. The more I saw of these the more intrigued I became. Therefore I am considering more visits. (I also really want to see the rest of the Odenbach). I barely scratched the surface.

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