from a series of recent digital drawings


18. Oktober 1977: Gerhard Richter's Work of Mourning and its New Audience


In Mourning and Melancholia, Sigmund Freud describes mourning as The reaction to the loss of a loved person, or to the loss of some abstraction which has taken the place of one, such as one’s country, liberty, an ideal, and so on. [The work of mourning sets in when] reality-testing has shown that the loved object no longer exists, and it proceeds to demand that all libido shall be withdrawn from its attachments to that object. (...) Nevertheless its orders cannot be obeyed at once. They are carried out bit by bit, at great expense of time and cathectic energy, and in the meantime the existence of the lost object is psychically prolonged. Each single one of the memories and expectations in which the libido is bound to the object is brought up and hypocathected, and detachment of the libido is accomplished in respect of it.(...) The fact is, however, that when the work of mourning is completed the ego becomes free and uninhibited again. 01

In 1999, eleven years after Gerhard Richter’s 18.Oktober 1977 paintings were first exhibited, their cathectic energy had, perhaps, become exhausted - so much so that the presence of these extraordinary pictures was no longer regarded a necessity in Germany. The fifteen canvases commemorate the imprisonment and death in 1977 of members of the radical Baader-Meinhof group, who were convicted of acts of terrorism in what was then West Germany. It should come as no surprise, that Richter's work of mourning, which so beautifully expresses the painful and tragic complicity of perpetrators and victims, should have become dislocated and removed, both literally and figuratively, from the place where the incidents occurred. And why not? A generation after the terrible events of 1977, the leaden years of the Deutscher Herbst (the German Autumn, as the terrorist period is known) seem more distant than ever.

When the great German painter sold the series to the MoMA in 1995, many spoke of a significant loss for Germany, since 18.Oktober 1977 was regarded then as a work of national significance. Unfortunately, German institutions were neither able nor willing to match the $ 3 million offered by MoMA. Originally on loan to the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt until December 31st, 2000, Richter's paintings were shipped to New York ahead of plan on the 3rd of May 1999. The time to let go of a powerful political document had indeed come early. A question, remains, however. Now that these difficult paintings, which are so firmly grounded in recent German History, have American residency, how will their American audience receive them?

I. Distance:
The title 18.Oktober 1977 mystifies. Will visitors to MoMA know what makes this date so special, worthy of receiving homage in a series of paintings? Will they understand this body of work as a nonspecific attempt to attest to the transience of existence, very much like On Kawara's installations and date paintings? The power and resonance, which emanates from a simple date can amplify our sense of community and social experience. Beyond the margins of our own dominant culture, however, a date is just a date: suggestive in its anonymity at best and meaningless at worst.02

It is the extraordinary elusiveness of the Oktober paintings that puzzles; they have an elusiveness that contradicts the matter-of-factness of their titles. They evade our attempts to take control and extract a narrative, make references, or create allusions. The references and allusions on which the works depend are corded –off, shrouded in a grey fog, they seem distant and opaque. Richter’s signature blur dissolves the spatial relation between viewer, painted surface and pictorial depth, undermining our confidence in the certainties of perception. Viewers may try to step closer to the surface of each canvas in search of clues. Yet their only discovery may be the painterly materiality of the grisaille, which bathes these works in a luscious shimmer. Or viewers may step back, tilting their heads and squinting, trying to impart more clarity to these images, until gently pushed on by an eager crowd. Or, perhaps, they might just stand back in awe and let the solemnity of these pictures radiate diffuse, quasi-religious sentiments of suffering and retribution. It is their impenetrable presence that seems to spoil efforts to investigate what lies behind these theatrical works with their un-dramatic titles. Yet to conclude that Richter's Oktober paintings remain incomprehensible for their new audience is perhaps premature. Are the canvases nothing but a beautifully crafted testimony to an encounter with death? What information can viewers gather by solely concentrating on these paintings? And where could they start?

Richter refers to the Oktober paintings as a cycle, without a beginning and an end. The point of departure depends on the spatial environment since access might occur at any point in the cycle, as could the exit. The arrangement of the work in the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt offered no guidance as to the proposed direction of one's gaze. The seemingly random succession of works compounded the difficulty of unearthing the linearity of a tragic narrative. We could start with the sentimental Jugendbildnis (Youth Portrait), which portrays a young woman, or with the ambiguous Beerdigung (Funeral) or even with the silent Plattenspieler (Record Player). A look into Richter's Catalogue Raisonné with its rigorous numerical archiving system reveals perhaps some sort of intentionality as to the sequence of the work. Following his system, the starting point of the Oktober cycle could be the three-part painting simply called Tote (Dead), which shows in profile 'three times the head' of a dead woman 'after they cut her down'.03 We could then move on to Erhängte (Hanged) - a near abstract representation of an interior space with a figure that seems to be hovering by a window and the two Erschossener (Man Shot Down) paintings, where we discern a male figure lying on the floor with his left arm extended. Next would be Zelle (Cell), a fiercely smudged view of a room with floor-to-ceiling bookcases, Gegenüberstellung (Confrontation) 1, 2, and 3, in which a female figure appears through a mist of grey and - in a film like sequence - smiles and turns away, then Jugenbildnis (Youth Portrait) and Plattenspieler (Record Player). Completing the cycle are the Beerdigung (Funeral), and, finally, the two Festnahme (Arrest) pictures, which are exceedingly difficult to decipher: two versions of an urban exterior, depicted from a high vantage point with a few buildings and the silhouettes of parked cars.

To be sure, the titles of these paintings could provide some anchorage and steer the inquiry away from a purely phenomenological reading since they seem to suggest that there is a meaning, a hidden agenda. But no further clues are given, and the images appear strangely emptied. Names such as Confrontation or Man Shot Down help to ground the scenes somewhat, but they ultimately mystify and confuse even more: although evocations of a narrative are there, the evidence is hidden from view, covered by layers of grey.

The allusions Richter conjures up but declines to analyse in his Oktober paintings rely upon the mediation of the camera. By copying photographic originals, which had been widely available in German news media at the time, he manages to partake in, what Roland Barthes calls, photography's noeme, its 'having-been-there'. He effectively subverts Barthes' dictum that 'painting can feign reality without having seen it'.04 Richter's Oktober paintings are explicitly grounded in the gaze of the camera; they draw on its putative testimony: they have seen the unspeakable, they claim to bear witness. However, as a promise made but never kept, historicity is called upon but never fully realised. Through the use of photographic signifiers, a certain facticity is palpable, yet the work remains obscured. Viewers may gaze but they can never grasp; they may only catch a glimpse of some terrible truth, from a distance. It is as if an extraordinary aura shields these paintings from a penetrating, critical gaze. In The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin describes the phenomenon of distance as a pre-requisite for aura. For him the definition of aura as a ‘unique phenomenon of a distance however close it may be’ represents nothing but the formulation of the cult value of the work of art in categories of space and time perception. Distance is the opposite of closeness. The essentially distant object is the unapproachable one. Unapproachability is indeed a major quality of the cult image. True to its nature, it remains ‘distant, however close it may be.'05

Richter, then, seems, creates with photographic and painterly means an aura of existential profundity, which conditions the reading of these paintings in a very particular way. The impressions of weight and solemnity that have been ascribed to the series are in part contingent upon that aura. In addition, the institutional framework inevitably amplifies the auratic quality of these canvases by staging them as unique master pieces contrary to the status of Richter's source material, that of mass-mediated news photographs. Significantly, however, those photographs, which were so much part of the collective German psyche some twenty-five years ago, are all but unknown to a large audience outside of Germany.

No doubt, Richter's Oktober images are carriers of an unspeakable truth. But contemporary viewers may have to look elsewhere to uncover what the paintings alone fail to communicate. The contrast between evasive Grisaille, and suggested historical facticity creates a sense of unease, which invites speculation on a dark episode but fails to spell things out. The knowledgeable flaneur may look at Record Player picture as just another Richter photo painting, executed with the same mocking virtuosity as, say, his Loo Roll series from 1965. Germans and some viewers, however, know that these images are different: Record Player, the record player; and that date: 18. Oktober 1977. One feels compelled to exclaim: Don't you know what happened?

II. Deutscher Herbst:
At 5 minutes past midnight on Tuesday October 18 1977, stun grenades detonate outside the cockpit window of Lufthansa Boeing 737 'Landshut', emergency exits burst open and men with blackened faces leap forwards, storm the plane screaming, shooting. Within minutes 'Operation Feuerzauber' is over.

The Lufthansa jet was parked on the runway of Mogadishu International Airport. It had been hijacked four days earlier on its scheduled flight from Palma de Mallorca to Frankfurt by a group of Palestinian terrorists in an attempt to press the release from prison of four convicted members of the Baader-Meinhof organisation. Under the cover of on-going negotiations with the hijackers about the imminent release of the prisoners, a special commando unit of the West German Border Police (GSG 9) had managed to close in on the plane and attack. At thirty-eight minutes past midnight, the first news bulletin on German Radio acknowledged the successful raid in the Somali capital. All eighty-six hostages had been freed, and three of the four terrorists were killed in the operation.

The spectacular showdown with the West German state apparatus had not gone according to plan. The hijacking of the Lufthansa jet had been conceived of as the push that would finally force the German Government to its knees since it had shown no willingness to release the prisoners in exchange for the kidnapped president of the Federal Association of German Employers, Hans-Martin Schleyer. But this plan exposed the delusional character of the Baader-Meinhof project itself. The state was not going to give in, and the struggle of the 'Six against the Sixty Million' (as novelist Heinrich Böll characterised it) was nearing its tragic conclusion.06 What followed in the 'Night of Stammheim' has been extensively examined, yet doubts remain. Three of the Baader-Meinhof inmates on floor seven of the Stuttgart-Stammheim high security prison were found dead or dying, and a forth lay injured, a few hours after the Mogadishu raid had taken place. Prison officers, making their rounds with breakfast rations, discovered the bodies of Gudrun Ensslin - hanged with a loudspeaker cable and Andreas Baader, shot in the back of the neck. Jan-Carl Raspe had severe head injuries from a gunshot wound and was barely alive. Irmgard Möller had multiple stab wounds. Raspe died the same day and only Möller survived.07

Just how large quantities of explosives and guns had found their way into the high security prison in Stuttgart and into the cells of the Baader-Meinhof was never answered conclusively. In spite of immediate strenuous efforts by the West German authorities to dispel any suspicion over the violent death, the many inconsistencies in the police report gave rise to unnerving speculation: murder or suicide, state execution or final act of defiance?

The next day, Schleyer was found dead in the boot of a car after a terrorist communiqué, revealing his whereabouts, had been published in the French daily La Liberation. He had been shot execution style since, with the deaths of the Stammheim inmates, there was no longer a case to be negotiated.

On Oktober 25, in a state funeral, Schleyer's body was put to rest in his native Stuttgart. And finally, on Oktober 27th, 1977, the bodies of Baader, Ensslin and Raspe were buried in a communal grave also in a Stuttgart cemetery. A tragic episode came to an end with two funerals that could hardly have been more different. Both funerals, however, were taking place in close proximity to one another: one, a widely televised grandiose display of a country in mourning, with its pomp and circumstance (Federal President Scheel apologised publicly to the family on behalf of the Government for not having saved Schleyer’s life); the other, a demonstration of defiance, deviance and anger with many of the hundreds of funeral guests and sympathisers, masked in balaclavas, and the whole crowd was under surveillance by thousands of armed police officers. Had it not been for the intervention of Stuttgart's mayor Manfred Rommel, the second funeral might have taken place on a municipal rubbish tip as demanded by an outraged public.

The murdering and bombing spree of the Baader-Meinhof group, which was the Red Army Faction (RAF), did not come to an end in the October days of the 'German Autumn'. Indeed many more assassinations and bombings followed until in April 1998 the last generation of the RAF published a communique declaring the project was finished. The events in October 1977 marked a traumatic incision in West German post-war history. What had begun in the late 1960s as a student protest against the Vietnam War, the latent re-nazification of West German public life, and neo-authoritarian tendencies in the cultural and economic establishment, reached a watershed in the Night of Stammheim. Both sides had increased their stakes in a lethal confrontation: RAF terrorists had shown their willingness to kill indiscriminately, confusing those in positions of power (Schleyer) with those, according to their own ideology of class warfare, at the receiving end of the state apparatus (the 'innocent', mainly working class, holiday-makers in the Lufthansa jet). The Social Democratic Schmidt-Government on the other hand had equally accepted the possibility of a massive loss of life, resolutely determined not to give any ground and release the prisoners. In this final stance we can thus discern the elements of an emblematic failure: the tragic admission of a deadly reality, the end of hope for a utopian project, a sense of loss.

The departure of members of the radical left into illegality and 'armed struggle' in the year 1970 had still carried with it the vague hopes of a sizeable portion of the younger generation.08 The subsequent audacity and courage with which they managed to evade the police, often in high-speed car chases, had earned the Baader-Meinhof group a status of iconic notoriety. Yet the state apparatus had been challenged in earnest and began to hit back. The police and the judiciary received big budget increases, electronic surveillance was added to the state's arsenal and countless far-reaching emergency bills that restricted civil liberties were passed in parliament. The idealistic liberalisation of German politics, initiated by Chancellor Willy Brandt in the early 1970s, had given way to an increasing heavy-handedness in the wake of terrorist activities. By the year 1977 the mood had changed: the heady days of Brandt's 'more democracy' campaign which was supported by many of West Germany's cultural and intellectual elites, were over. Numerous West German intellectuals, writers, scientists09 and film-makers who had willingly campaigned for Willy Brandt's Social Democratic Party (SPD) found themselves on the receiving end of the 'state-monopoly of force'. He or she who failed unequivocally to denounce terrorist activities was eagerly branded a Sympathisant. The sentiment of the silent public majority, kept up to date by the newspapers and magazines published by an agitating Springer-Press, was belligerent and uncompromising. Language itself helped to identify possible deviants: Baader-Meinhof Group or Baader-Meinhof Gang, for or against, Terrorist or law-abiding German?

And yet, the unfathomable events of the Deutscher Herbst made possible an experience of collective grief and mourning. The funerals in Stuttgart, two days and a few miles apart, had to be seen as two halves of the same whole. For a few moments, it seemed, the entire nation was horrified, aghast at the irreversible certainty of death itself. Both, victims and perpetrators had to pay with their lives for their antagonistic positions in a socio-cultural conflict that was in actuality situated outside their personal spheres. The ideological struggle that had made personal what was essentially public, had turned out to be a tragic failure. Yet the project of a more open, democratic and progressive society in West Germany had failed in its wake, too. In a traumatic funeral rite, the hope for an ideal and the possibility of change had come to an end.

III. Allegory and the Work of Mourning:
The British critic Amanda Sebestyen concluded in a 1989 review of the first London exhibition of 18.Oktober 1977: 'You could know none of this [the historical context] from the ICA’s presentation of these pictures, or from the most painful scrutiny of the exhibition catalogue. In Germany, just to commemorate those who have become non-persons was probably enough - the facts that had been suppressed remained in the minds of the watchers. But in London these pictures have been locked in an art historical deep-freeze'10

It seems as if these paintings can only make sense to a non-German audience when the exhibiting institution provides a second text, some sort of historical Überbau or superstructure. Only then, at a second glance as it were, can these impenetrable works be opened up and access to a concise reading be made available. As much as the initial reaction to the Oktober cycle may well be one of bafflement, the Überbau can easily provide the necessary support structure. With none provided, however, the historic significance of 18. Oktober 1977 will inevitably get lost in a haze of intangible unease.

If 18.Oktober 1977 can only truly be realised through a supplementary text; if these paintings otherwise become free-floating adding up to no discernible narrative, though they might suggest fragments of one - we are, according to Benjamin, faced with an allegory. In The Origin of German Tragic Drama he posits that the allegorist functions as a translator-mediator who provides access to an otherwise closed off meaning. The uncertain sense of historicity, or aura, is only opened up by the making available of hints and clues, which, together with the work itself, connect to a -however fragmentary- reading. The work itself is …incapable of emanating any meaning or significance of its own: such significance as it has, it acquires from the allegorist. He places it within it, and stands behind it; not in a psychological but in an ontological sense. In his hands the object becomes something different; through it he speaks of something different and for him it becomes a key to the realm of hidden knowledge; and he reveres it as an emblem of this.11

In The Allegorical Impulse: Toward a Theory of Postmodernism Craig Owens observes that allegory occurred when 'one text is read through another'. He continues: 'Allegorical imagery is appropriated imagery; the allegorist does not invent images but confiscates them. He lays claim to the culturally significant, poses as its interpreter.' Owens identifies further traits of allegory, such as its capacity to 'rescue from historical oblivion that which threatens to disappear' and its ability to function 'in the gap between a present and a past which, without allegorical reinterpretation, might have remained foreclosed.'12

It would be wrong, however, to conclude that Richter's series is intrinsically allegorical. This would be the case if the Überbau of the Oktober paintings was made available or at least accessible within the work itself. Richter is no allegorist; on the contrary, he obstructs the making of meaning, offering no more than a distant hint of historicity. Due to their refusal to communicate, Richter's images can be accessed only through an allegorical discourse, which is solely dependent on the institutional context in which they are displayed.

During the first North American tour of the Oktober cycle in 1990/91, extensive information displays had to be provided to help the public overcome the opacity of Richter's paintings and understand their historical grounding. For example, the catalogue that accompanied the exhibition Open Ends, which opened at the Museum of Modern Art in November 2000, offered some much-needed clues. Just how will these paintings continue to fare in future exhibitions. As time goes by, the need for an Überbau will no doubt increase. Since their status as signifiers of a specific historicity will fade inevitably, the significance of the Oktober paintings may well come to rest in a realm of universal abstractness, where they can conjure up quasi-religious sentiments about human injustice, suffering and death. Walter Benjamin even went as far as stating that 'allegories become dated, because it is part of their nature to shock.'13

But what if these extraordinary paintings transcended the traumatic events of the Deutscher Herbst? What if, in their new surroundings, they were to take on a new role? Perhaps they could continue to realise their allegorical essence and become emblematic of the kinds of tragic breakdowns that inevitably occur before rebels become perpetrators and innocents become victims. Perhaps, dislocated as they are now from their original telos, Richter's Oktober paintings could continue to release cathectic energies and be transformed into non-specific work of mourning. In a society that is marked by ever-more-frequent outbursts of violence, by murder and state executions, this role could not be more appropriate role. Could Richter's work not mourn the loss of humanity, the absence of mercy and the depth of hatred that so often scar our condition? Could we all not mourn, together, the fate of the anonymous death-row inmate, or the senseless killing of loved ones as we have been mourning our failings in the Baader-Meinhof trauma?

If the 18.Oktober1977 paintings succeed in opening up to a new audience, Gerhard Richter's great work of mourning may be, contrary to Freud's assertion, on-going. In that case we shall not begrudge the loss of such significant works but will celebrate that which makes us understand and reach out to one another: a shared sense of what it is to be human.


01 Freud, Sigmund. (1984) [1917]. 'Mourning and Melancholia' in Angela Richards and Albert Dickson (eds.) On Metapsychology: The Theory of Psychoanalysis (Volume 11 The Penguin Freud Library), London: Penguin, pp. 251-253

02 At times, due to the metaphoric significance and sheer magnitude of the event, a date can become emblematic on a truly global scale. The trauma of September 11th 2001 has become ingrained in our collective subconscious irrespective of cultural boundaries.

03 Richter, Gerhard. (1995). David Britt (trans.), Hans-Ulrich Obrist (ed.) Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting - Writings 1962-1993, London: Thames and Hudson, p.175

04 Barthes’ use of this term goes back to the Greek word noema, meaning: an enigmatic concept, obscure and subtle speech. Barthes, Roland (1993) Camera Lucida, trans. Richard Howard London: Vintage Books, p. 76, p. 92

05 Benjamin, Walter. (1992) [1936]. 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction ' in Hanna Arendt (ed.) Illuminations, Glasgow: Fontana, pp. 236-237

06 See Heinrich Böll's article 'Will Ulrike Gnade oder freies Geleit?' in 'Der Spiegel', week 2, Hamburg, 1972 which caused great controversy since he criticised the state for its failure to offer a more conciliatory approach towards the Baader-Meinhof group. Ever since, he was one of the most prominent public figures to be branded a 'Sympathisant', a sympathiser of terrorists.

07 Ulrike Meinhof had been found dead in Stammheim some eighteen month earlier, hanged from the wire mesh cover of her prison cell window. A team of coroners returned a 'death by suicide' verdict which was angrily rejected by members of the radical Left. Another key member of the group, Holger Meins, had dieed of starvation during a hunger strike in prison in 1974. Bakker Schut, Pieter H. (1997) Stammheim, Bundesvorstand Rote Hilfe, Bonn: Pahl Rugenstein.

08 In an opinion poll in March of 1971 Germans were asked whether they would give shelter to a member of the Baader-Meinhof Group for one night. Five percent said 'yes', and nine percent were undecided. In the 16-29 age group, ten percent said 'yes', and eleven percent were undecided. In effect 20 percent of Germans in the 16-29 age group would at least consider aiding the Baader-Meinhof Group. Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann: The Germans- Public Opinion Polls, 1967-1980, Westport 1981

09 Electronic surveillance measures at the home of the leading West German physicist Dr. Klaus Traube in 1976 gained most notoriety, when uncovered almost a year later in 'Der Spiegel'.

10 Sebestyen, Amanda. (1989). 'The uncivil dead (New Statesman & Society 01.09.89)' in Ulrich Wilmes (ed.) Gerhard Richter: 18. Oktober 1977 - Presseberichte, Köln: Walther König, p. 88

11 Benjamin, Walter. (1998) [1928]. 'Allegory and Trauerspiel' in The Origin of German Tragic Drama, London: Verso, pp. 183-184

12 Owens, Craig. (1992 ) [1980]. 'The Allegorical Impulse: Toward a Theory of Postmodernism' in Scott Bryson, Barbara Kruger, Lynne Tillman, and Jane Weinstock (eds.) Beyond Recognition - Representation, Power, and Culture, Berkeley CA / London: University of California Press, pp. 52-54

13 Benjamin, Walter. (1998) [1928], London: Verso, pp. 183-184

CAA Art Journal Award 2003

New York, February 19th 2003
First and foremost, I would like to thank former Executive Editor Janet A. Kaplan and Editor Michelle Lee-White, without whom I would not be standing here today. Janet took the time to engage with a dense piece of writing that was submitted to Art Journal entirely on spec whilst Michelle made sure that I wasn’t going to win the Bad Grammar Award.

When I left last Sunday, London was on terror alert. Tanks and armoured vehicles had been deployed around Heathrow to discourage anyone from shooting down airplanes with surface to air missiles. For better or worse I had booked an Air India flight, only to be told by a Pakistani colleague that that was a bad idea; (Kashmir and all). It seemed, the timing of my journey was a little bit unfortunate, especially since New York had been put on Orange Alert, the second highest on the new colour coded homeland security scale. With war on Iraq imminent, I almost packed a couple of rolls of duct tape but decided against it since I wasn’t sure what use sticky tape would be in a terrorist attack.

It was very reassuring to wake up on Monday morning in the midst of the worst blizzard New York had seen in decades.

Perhaps this is what the Chinese mean when they say to people they don’t like: ‘May you live in interesting times.’ For these are interesting times indeed. And it is not the weather we are worried about.

As we are gathered here in this great city to discuss and celebrate art in all its facets, we will also, without a doubt, question if and to what extent the times we live in should find their way into our work. Can we as artists, writers, critics, curators and educators avoid taking issue with the world around us? Does art lose its autonomy when it engages with the socio-political sphere? Is it rendered meaningless, a mere ornament, if it doesn’t?

When Gerhard Richter decided to paint dead terrorists, he violated, according to Benjamin Buchloh, and I quote, ‘the prohibition against representing historical subjects in modern painting as well as the taboo against remembering this particular episode of recent German history.’ In other words: this was not the done thing. Richter broke the rules.

History painting had been declared dead long ago, David’s Marat, Goya’s The Third of May 1808 or Picassos’s Guernica all but distant memories of painting’s erstwhile possibilities. But more importantly, after a series of terrorist attacks in Germany throughout the 70s, culminating in the events around the 18th of October 1977, the general public in Germany was in no mood to be lectured about the complexities and ambiguities involved in terrorism. Things seemed far more clear-cut. You would certainly not think of describing dead terrorists as the victims of their own ideology.

And yet, Gerhard Richter did just that: he appeared to be inviting us to see perpetrators as victims, icons of an emblematic and collective failure. Rather than de-humanise or demonise terrorists, Richter seemed to be doing the very opposite: granting murderers the dignity of a compassionate gaze. By stripping bare some core qualities that we can all relate to: personal hopes and dreams, aspirations and tarnished ideals, Richter invites us to recognize ourselves, our own humanity, in the ghost-like figures of the dead. If we manage to do that, if we manage to overcome our rage and mourn the murderer as well as the victim, we are already taking the first and decisive step towards reaching out and overcoming our divisions together.

’18. Oktober 1977’ appeals to an idea of humanity that rejects ideology, indeed one that goes beyond all ideology, an idea that connects perpetrators with victims for what they share not what divides them. It is fair to say however, that this position was and still is, and not just in Germany, extremely controversial if not downright unthinkable.

In my text, as published in Art Journal in 2002, I wonder whether Richter’s work of mourning can outgrow its German roots, now that it is located in New York. Only time will tell. I am sure however that we, as practitioners and theorists in the arts, will have to continue to address and reflect upon these issues in our work too if art is to retain currency and meaning.

In times such as these, we need art more than ever to brake the rules, to think the unthinkable and put ourselves in touch with what it means to be human.

Thank you very much.

The Dilemma of Media Art: Cybernetic Serendipity at the ICA London

One year after the 1967 Summer of Love and at a time of considerable political unrest throughout the United States and Europe, "Cybernetic Serendipity---The Computer and the Arts" opened at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London to much critical and popular acclaim. This paper outlines the conceptual framework of this seminal exhibition and looks at some of the accompanying press reception in order to address a key question: how media art deals with its own historicity and the underlying socioeconomic forces that render it possible. Presented 35 years ago and still paradigmatic for the ever-shifting boundaries between art, technology, commerce and entertainment, Cybernetic Serendipity epitomizes some of the complicated dynamics that delineate the gamut of media art today.

The coming together of digital communications technology and art in the second half of the 20th century has attracted a considerable amount of debate. Throughout the early years of what is now called media art, a sense of great optimism about the possibilities of the new medium prevailed. As recently as 1997, during the halcyon years of the technology boom, a sense of genuine excitement was palpable among theorists and practitioners. Hans-Peter Schwarz, one of the founding directors of the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM, Karlsruhe, Germany), described media art as an "explosive charge" at the gates of traditional artistic establishments [1].

A few years later, in the aftermath of the dotcom bubble, Schwarz's explosive charge turns out to be a dud. The art establishment has not been blown to pieces; on the contrary, if anything, the enthusiasm for all things digital has suffered a considerable setback. But perhaps the time has come to debate the evolution of computer art with a greater sense of historical and critical distance. It is my intention to contribute to this debate with a review, 35 years after the event, of "Cybernetic Serendipity---The Computer and the Arts," an early landmark exhibition of computer art at the ICA in London. Often regarded as a key event in the institutionalization of media art, Cybernetic Serendipity has been the subject of a growing number of papers [2], to which I would like to add a critique of the concept, realization and media reception of this important show. By identifying some opportunities missed in the wake of this exhibition, I want to raise a number of key issues concerning media art in general.

Happy Accidents
One year after the Summer of Love and at a time of considerable political unrest throughout the United States and Europe, Cybernetic Serendipity opened at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London on 2 August 1968 (Fig. 1). Under the curatorship of Jasia Reichardt, then associate director of the institute, the exhibition brought together work from a total of "130 contributors, of whom 43 were composers, artists and poets, and 87 . . . engineers, doctors, computer scientists and philosophers" [3]. One of the ICA’s most successful projects, Cybernetic Serendipity drew an audience of between 45,000 and 60,000 [4]. According to Reichardt, the exhibition "had visitors of all ages, all types, all nationalities, all classes" [5]. The exhibition closed on 30 October 1968.

The title of the exhibition suggested its intent: to make chance discoveries in the course of using cybernetic devices, or, as the Daily Mirror put it at the time, to use computers "to find unexpected joys in life and art" [6]. It was structured into three main areas; the first was dedicated to computer-generated graphics, film, music and poetry (see Figs 2--4). The second section provided a showcase for cybernetic devices, such as interactive installations, robots and painting machines (see Fig. 5). The third area was a "learning zone," which dealt with the history of cybernetics and the demonstration of uses for computers (see Fig. 6). The list of contributing artists included Bruce Lacey, Wen Ying Tsai, James Seawright, Nam June Paik, Jean Tinguely, John Cage and Lowell Nesbitt, who exhibited a series of opaque, monochrome paintings of IBM computers. Presentations by General Motors and Boeing concluded the exhibition.

The level of logistic complexity involved in organizing, mounting and maintaining the show was unprecedented. Instead of handling traditional artifacts, the administrators and curators at the ICA found themselves in charge of extremely fragile computer soft- and hardware, which proved difficult to set up and run. Interactive systems in neighboring exhibits interfered with one another, and sound insulation proved a major problem. Compared to traditional projects, the difficulties involved in keeping the exhibition in working order were greater by several orders of magnitude. Owing to the unprecedented cost involved in mounting Cybernetic Serendipity, the need for corporate involvement was considerable, possibly stifling a more critical approach. After some initial reluctance on the part of industry, funding, benefit in kind and participation was secured, most significantly from IBM, Boeing, General Motors, Westinghouse, Calcomp, Bell Telephone Labs and the U.S. Air Force research labs. All in all, the resounding success of the exhibition seemed to vindicate the project.

The media reception of Cybernetic Serendipity was on the whole extremely favorable. In a review symptomatic of much press coverage, the Evening Standard enthused: "Where in London could you take a hippy, a computer programmer, a ten-year-old schoolboy and guarantee that each would be perfectly happy for an hour without you having to lift a finger to entertain them?" [7] The Guardian agreed that it "lured into Nash House people who would never have dreamed of attending an ICA exhibition before" [8]. Cybernetic Serendipity promised fun for the whole family, not just an elite of art connoisseurs. "Children, scientists and the simply curious could spend fascinated hours in this world of computer art" [9]. The press celebrated the exhibition as an event that "guaranteed to fascinate anyone from toddling age to the grave" [10]. Even the writer in The Lady felt compelled to urge that "one must go to the present exhibition at the INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY ARTS . . . not to understand in the least what is going on but to experience that particular tingle which is inherent in an act of threshold-crossing" [11]. Art critic Jonathan Benthall declared that Cybernetic Serendipity would be remembered as a "landmark," not least due to its "breeziness and catholicity" [12]. Others agreed: "For breaking new ground, revealing new fields of experiment, seminal importance, sheer hard work and enormous organization, the exhibition Cybernetic Serendipity . . . is arguably the most important exhibition in the world at the moment" [13]. According to Brent McGregor, "the status of the event was such that Umberto Eco came from Italy to view its wonders" [14].

Aside from the almost unanimous consensus that Cybernetic Serendipity was worth seeing, two recurring themes can be identified in the reception and presentation of the exhibition.

The End of Art?
Mario Amaya, in the Financial Times, pondered: "I am left with the sneaking suspicion that much of this exhibition has little to do with art as such. In fact, the show seems to be telling us more about what art is not, rather than what it could be" [15]. More to the point, Michael Shepard in the Sunday Telegraph found that "this exhibition . . . serves to show up . . . a desolation to be seen in art generally---that we haven’t the faintest idea these days what art is for or about" [16]. Robert Melville from the New Statesman went even further: "The winking lights, the flickering television screens and the squawks from the music machines are signaling the end of abstract art; when machines can do it, it will not be worth doing" [17]. According to Leslie Stack, the ICA’s information officer, "people will not know what has been created by the scientist and what comes from artists" [18]. Reichardt related an experiment, carried out under the auspices of Michael Noll at the Bell Telephone Laboratories, in which a sample audience attempted to distinguish a genuine Mondrian painting from a computer fake of a Mondrian painting: "59% of the people who were shown both the Mondrian and one of the computer versions preferred the latter, 28% identified the computer picture correctly, and 72% thought that the Mondrian was done by computer" [19].

Computers Are Fun!
Lingering doubts about the merits of "artistic" experiments with computer hard- and software aside, many observers emphasized the sheer fun that could be had by putting art and science together. Nigel Gosling remarked that "this exhibition . . . could have been mounted with equal validity in the Science Museum, and discussed with equal . . . understanding by a science correspondent" [20]. The ICA’s Leslie Stack declared: We want people to lose their fear of computers by playing with them and asking them simple questions. . . . So many people are afraid that computers will take over, but in this show they will see these machines will only do what we want them to. . . . Happy accidents . . . can happen between art and technology [21].

The Daily Mirror duly delivered a populist note: "Computers don’t bite, for it is a joyous exhibition" [22]. Mario Amaya seemed to capture the atmosphere of Cybernetic Serendipity, describing it as "a veritable Luna Park of sideshows, display booths, and fun-houses, inviting visitors to touch, push buttons, talk or sing into microphones and television screens, or listen to speakers and earphones issuing sounds and information" [23]. The Evening Standard characterized the exhibition as "a kind of homage to electronics, with the emphasis on fun rather than art or technical achievement" [24]. Katharine Hadley commented that "if the exhibition’s artistic achievement is controversial, for the sheer enjoyment of playing with some of 1968’s most ingenious computer toys, Cybernetic Serendipity is unrivalled" [25]. Michael Shepard of the Sunday Telegraph described "the most sophisticated amusement arcade you could hope to find around, an intellectual funfair without parallel" [26], while John Russel from the Sunday Times saw "computers at playtime" [27].

Dissenting Voices
Overall, the praise for Reichardt's undertaking seems almost unanimous and the near absence of critical debate equally striking. Could it be that the ICA's "happy accidents" flourished so well because they were staged in an atmosphere of breathtaking naïveté? Only a few lone voices seem to acknowledge the more serious and inevitably unhappy accidents that litter the history of cybernetics. "Do not be fooled," cautioned Michael McNay of the Guardian in a rare critical review of the exhibition: "Norbert Wiener . . . knew better. He published the first treatise on the new science not very long after the holocausts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, yet he felt able to predict for cybernetics a destiny as fateful as for the atom" [28]. McNay correctly points out that "these words do not appear in the promotional literature for the exhibition, but in their shadow the jokes take on a pallid look" [29]. The writer in New Society put it more succinctly: The conclusion is a rather sinister one for those who believe that cybernation is not a neutral development, but an instrument of a growing technocratic authoritarianism, which deserves the critical resistance and not the consoling fellowship of our artists. When we ignore the total social context in which they work, and begin to accept the after-hours fun and games of IBM technicians as art, we are not all that far from admiring the aesthetic surface of thermonuclear mushroom clouds and ballistic missiles [30].

The fact that Cybernetic Serendipity enjoyed tremendous popularity in the late summer of 1968 in London, while, in the words of its curator, "the same venture in Paris would have needed police protection" does indeed raise some important questions [31]. Critics might argue that, in the United Kingdom, the subversive momentum of 1968 never unfurled in the same way, with the same force, as it did in continental Europe or the United States; that Britain’s pathetic "revolt" hardly left the campus of the London School of Economics. Still, at a time of heightened global political awareness, not least in the wake of the American war in Vietnam, it seems extraordinary that the ICA did not deem it necessary to make any statements other than that "computers can be used for pleasure" [32]. Does this total lack of critical engagement with the socio-economic sphere point to a wider dilemma in media art?

Technology, Art and Politics: From Norbert Wiener to the Millennium Dome
Far from being the first exhibition to showcase art and technology in the postwar years, Cybernetic Serendipity was one of many high-profile events staged towards the end of a first phase of innovation and experimentation. But perhaps more successfully than any other exhibition at the time, Cybernetic Serendipity, with naïve enthusiasm, managed to capture a snapshot of art, entertainment, science and politics, all mixed up in a curious amalgam that came to be known as media art.

In the decades immediately after World War II, an increasing curiosity and competence began to emerge among artists, focusing on technology as a new means to facilitate exploration of and interactions with the physical environment. An interest in the use of industrial materials, chemical processes and state-of-the-art engineering practices characterizes many artistic experiments in the 1950s and 1960s. In the wake of these explorations, artists appropriated modern materials, equipment and scientific know-how, often in partnership with business corporations, research institutes, technicians and engineers. The utilization of scientific know-how, however, did not simply lead to a re-valorization of the art object and the materials that could be made of it. On the contrary, the integration of technology engendered a growing interest that went beyond a strictly object-oriented approach toward practices that focus on process, ideas and (inter-) actions. Concomitant with experiments in participation and interaction, with happenings, performances, land art and conceptual art, media art is often regarded as a conclusion of the de-materialization of the art object [33]. What better way to conceptualize the art object than to program a machine in a grammar of pure electronic differences [34], zeroes and ones?

Back in the 1940s, Norbert Wiener's new science of cybernetics evolved from military experiments with feedback loops [35]. Wiener devised a tracking mechanism for anti-aircraft guns, feeding information about the predicted flight path of an enemy plane back into the system so that the gun could change its position accordingly. The whole contraption, including the gunner, could be defined as a goal-driven, dynamic system that responded to environmental changes in order to achieve predetermined objectives. The anti-aircraft gunner as part of an integrated, nervous---if not downright twitchy---system (Wiener's "hunting" [36]), an early cyborg of sorts, constitutes a striking image for the emerging theory of cybernetics (See Fig. 7 for an exhibit that provided a prescient connection with cybernetics in the case of "Joey").

Owing to its broad remit, cybernetic thinking lent itself to an extremely wide range of interdisciplinary practices and scientific discourses. Cybernetics promised to constitute nothing less than an integrative lingua franca, which biologists and mathematicians, economists and anthropologists were invited to take up and use [37]. By the mid-1950s, artists and composers also began to explore and engage with cybernetic thinking. Unlike mechanical technology, however, electronic hardware could only be obtained and manipulated in collaboration with industrial corporations. Engineers, whose help became indispensable, began to develop an interest in the work of artists.

When E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology) formed in 1967, it was founded on the strong belief "that an industrially sponsored, effective working relationship between artists and engineers will lead to new possibilities which will benefit society as a whole" [38]. Indicative of the pitfalls that lie ahead when art, technology and entertainment are married under industry patronage, the E.A.T. project climaxed with the commission to build the Pepsi Cola Pavilion at the 1970 Osaka World's Fair. Literally an inflatable edifice of smoke and mirrors, E.A.T.'s dome merged the psychedelic with the corporate, resulting in an experience akin to imagining Richard Wagner on acid. Gene Youngblood’s call for a "practical utopianism" by means of "perpetual fog banks and krypton laser rainbow light showers" [39] adds an almost tragicomic footnote.

In the British art scene, it was perhaps one individual, more than any others, who contributed to the spread of cybernetic thinking. In a letter to the editor of Studio International published in July 1968, Roy Ascott claimed precedence "as the artist responsible for first introducing cybernetic theory into art education in this country (Ealing 1961) and for having disseminated the concept of a cybernetic vision in art through various art and scientific journals in recent years" [40]. Ascott’s Groundcourse, a unique program of study at Ealing School of Art (1961--1964) and later at Ipswich Civic College (1964--1967), incorporated innovative methods, such as behavioral psychology, chance operations and interactive collaborations. Groups of six students functioned as integrated units of self-regulation, who had to react to environmental stimuli according to predetermined parameters. Ascott’s 1964 show Diagram Boxes and Analogue Structures, at the Molton Gallery in London presented "a cybernetic model of art as an interactive system" [41]. For Ascott, the participatory nature of his art suggested a model in which environment, artist and audience were all part of the same system. Tellingly, however, Ascott's innovative practice was not considered suitable for Cybernetic Serendipity.

Nonetheless, the exhibition's pseudo-progressive message, wrapped up in a fun-fair of blinking, hooting robots, hit upon an impressionable sociopolitical and cultural environment. For the first time since the end of the war, Britain was experiencing a rapidly rising standard of living and the emergence of youth culture. Labour’s election victory in 1964 had put a modernization program at the top of the political agenda, and the prime minister’s call for a technological utopia is unforgotten. Outlining his vision of a modern Britain, Harold Wilson described a country "forged in the white heat of this revolution" where there would be "no place for restrictive practices or for outdated methods on either side of industry" [42]. If Britain were to remain a player on the world stage, it would have to embrace modern technology, modern practices and modern thinking.

Against this backdrop, Cybernetic Serendipity fitted in extremely well, as it offered a lighthearted view of the modern world without raising too many (if any) objections or stirring fears. Rather than focus on the technocratic, threatening or plainly vacuous elements in Wilson's vision, the exhibition merged science and technology with great entertainment and a dash of art. Staged when computers consisted of large, centralized mainframes guarded by a caste of stern programmers, Cybernetic Serendipity succeeded in injecting an overdue element of fun into the information-technology sector. Perhaps for the first time, it could be considered "cool" to be involved with computers. Especially for the young and impressionable, Cybernetic Serendipity provided a sense of excitement, much needed if Britain was going to compete successfully in the new age of digital computing.

According to Roger Beard in a 1968 issue of Technical Education & Industrial Training, the National Computing Centre (NCC), a government agency set up by in 1965 to encourage the growth of computer usage in the UK, "might well take a leaf from the ICA’s book" [43]. Beard attested to a widespread lack of "computer appreciation" in society and endorsed the ICA exhibition as "required viewing" since it achieved "in an instant" what the unwieldy, technocratic NCC could only dream of: a "re-definition" without which it was "undoubted that the computer will remain in an exclusive . . . field which the bulk of the next generation will no more understand than we do" [44]. Judging from the public reception of the exhibition, Cybernetic Serendipity certainly succeeded in increasing "computer appreciation." More interestingly, however, it did so by transforming the austere "modernist computational aesthetic" [45], with its mainframes and technician programmers, into a new kind of cool, entertaining and decidedly postmodern spectacle.

Over 30 years on, Britain's trendy media and IT industries were once again at the heart of government drives to promote an image of cutting-edge art and technology as national assets. Tony Blair's "Cool Britannia" project and a plethora of new art and technology initiatives put New Labour's new millennium into sharp relief. From dotcom start-ups around London's Hoxton Square to the newly built Wellcome Wing of the Science Museum, the alliance between computers and art was portrayed once again as integral to the notion of a modern nation with a bright and prosperous future.

New Labour's Millennium Dome project, however, came to epitomize the fallacy of "irrational exuberance" [46] and empty political rhetoric, a bubble that burst soon after the millennium fireworks had gone off. Packaged as a family-friendly exhibition of digital wizardry and sponsored by corporate business, the Dome project failed to recoup its cost and remains, to this day, a liability to the public purse. The magic formula that combined, in one big spectacle, science, entertainment, art and politics seemed to have lost its pulling power. However, in science museums, educational establishments and media art institutions around the world the spirit of Cybernetic Serendipity lives on. Interactive theme parks and digital teaching aids have become standard fare, except that, after over two decades of exposure to digital consumer products, the visiting public is perhaps less impressionable. If you own a PlayStation 2, why get excited about an interactive museum display unless you get blown away by more bang for your buck?

Cybernetic Serendipity, Supervening Social Necessity and Database Politics
Contrary to the assumptions made in Cybernetic Serendipity, science and technology are not self-sufficient, immune from outside influences, political pressures and economic interests. On the contrary, technological developments are symptomatic in character, and the socio-economic conditions that drive scientific progress must be understood if technology is to be brought to bear within artistic practice.

Why is it, for instance, that Charles Babbage's proposals for an analytical engine in 1833 were only realized some 100 years later in Vannevar Bush’s Differential Analyzer? According to Brian Winston, technology is far more implicated in the social sphere than is usually acknowledged. He proposes a model that illustrates his point: In this model, the "accelerator" is the supervening social necessity transforming the prototype into an "invention" and pushing the invention out into the world---causing its diffusion. But there is also a "brake": this operates as a third transformation, wherein general social constraints coalesce to limit the potential of the device radically to disrupt pre-existing social formations. I will refer to this particular "concentration" of determining social factors as the "law" of the suppression of radical potential [47].

The success of an invention or a prototype, according to Winston, depends upon its perceived threat to institutional politics and associated business interests on the one hand and its perceived benefit on the other. Only if an unequivocal supervening social necessity becomes apparent can the invention enter into the phase of diffusion. Powerful factors, however, jeopardize the success and dissemination of the invention for some time. Winston argues: "Understanding the interaction of the positive effects of supervening necessity and the brake of the ‘law’ of the suppression of radical potential is crucial to a proper overview of how telecommunications technologies develop" [48].

Babbage’s analytical engine could not have been built in 1833, due to the absence of a supervening social necessity. Only with the increasing complexity of the American population census in the late 19th century and the emergence of a modern business culture could an impetus emerge. Yet it had to come to the "Firing Table Crisis" in the United States and the ENIGMA blackouts in Britain during World War II for Winston’s "law" of the suppression of radical potential to be crushed by emerging supervening social necessity [49]. The need for military processing power had become overwhelming. Towards the end of World War II, the first electronic computers were operational, ready to be fully deployed in the nuclear arms race of the Cold War. The military-industrial complex had become the main driving force in the development of computer science. Michael De Landa warns that, we may easily dismiss the role that the military played, arguing that without the intensification and concentration of effort brought about by the war, the computer would have developed on its own, perhaps at a slower pace. And I agree that this is correct. On the other hand, many of the uses to which computers were put after the war illustrate the other side of the story: a direct participation of military institutions in the development of technology, a participation which actually shaped this technology in the direction of uniformization, routinization and concentration of control [50].

While it may be simplistic to maintain that computer-scientific activity took place exclusively for and within the military sector, Arthur L. Norberg and Judy E. O’Neill point out that throughout the Cold War a strong "partnership" was encouraged between the military and the academic community [51]. The main driving force for military-technological developments was the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), which was founded in the aftermath of the Sputnik shock of 1957: When the space program accelerated . . . in 1957, digital computers became an integral part of that activity as well. The more sophisticated the various military systems became, the greater the demands placed on their computing elements [52].

Responsible for coordinating the academic research effort in electronics and engineering was ARPA’s Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO). According to Norberg and O’Neill, three major branches in computer science benefited from the massive injection of government money through the IPTO": computer graphics---"the fundamental concepts behind the remarkable computer graphic images we encounter every day emerged primarily from research projects funded by the IPTO’; artificial intelligence ---"IPTO . . . was the largest funder of AI in the world for at least a decade and a half after 1962---providing an amount far greater than the total provided by all other groups"; and networking---"It is well to remember that the basis for this program to connect us to the 'Information Superhighway' is only the latest chapter in the story of invention, development, and implementation of networking, a technology begun by IPTO" [53].

Here, then, we have the "happy" ingredients of Cybernetic Serendipity’s success: funny-sounding robots (see Fig. 5), interactive computer graphics, simulators and systems that react to the environment; in a word, a re-packaged and sanitized arsenal of high technology, straight from the laboratories of the American military-industrial complex (see Fig. 8). And not a single mention of the real driving force behind computer technology of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s can be found in the exhibition catalogue or in most of the accompanying press coverage: the demands of the U.S. war economy. Concerning computer technology’s supervening social necessity of the late 1960s, Cybernetic Serendipity excelled only in its conspicuous silence (see Fig. 6). This glaring omission is particularly poignant at a time of heightened global tensions, war in the Far East and political unrest in most major Western capitals. Cybernetic Serendipity, without doubt, failed to address what needed addressing; it did not balance the potential for entertainment with the need for critical reflection. It created a huge amount of enthusiasm about technology without revealing its hidden agenda or indeed its true potential.

Clearly, an analysis of the aesthetics of media art must recognize and acknowledge some sort of critical framework; it must investigate how, if at all, art and technology can engage with the supervening social necessity of its time without playing into the hands of those whose economic interests bring about the evolution of technology in the first place. An emergent medium founded on technologies of modern warfare must problematize issues that established artistic media need not take up. But if scientific progress is predetermined by socioeconomic forces, as proposed by Brian Winston, where exactly does that leave media-artistic practice? Can media art hope to escape the gravitational pull of the techno-economic sphere?

Media art is implicated in the process of organizing and perpetuating technological innovation and commercial dissemination in a way that traditional media such as painting and sculpture are clearly not. At the same time, however, it is ideally placed to put to use, disrupt or re-represent the streams of data that connect the economies of the information age. In a regime of ubiquitous consumption of content, media art could help augment criticality by subverting, disrupting and revealing the "total flow" of corporate data and by allowing connections and associations to be made where these are otherwise denied or obscured [54]. Media art could help recover and "augment" self-awareness and the importance of point of view. When cybernetic systems from electronic banking to interactive doormats become ubiquitous, data emerges as the key currency enabling the ebb and flow of information. Abstract and pristine in mathematical structure, and traveling with the speed of light through nodes and networks, data must be re-represented for human consumption as a sensory stimulus, as image, sound, smell, touch or taste. Media art can problematize this process of re-representation; it can discuss how meaning is constructed, how social realities are revealed and how subjectivity can be undermined or re-affirmed. Sensory stimuli that re-translate bits of information back into human bandwidth do not need to dumb down, immerse and pacify the human recipient. Media art can recover "statistical representation as political performance" [55], it can introduce database politics as the site for critical practice, operating from within an all-encompassing "information paradigm" [56]. At a time when the interface between human and computer begins its evolution into an alluring, multi-sensory spectacle, not least thanks to willing media artists such as Youngblood, Cybernetic Serendipity does not address the need for such practice. On the threshold between modernist computing with its towering stacks of punch-cards and the rather more entertaining, corporate kind of immersive computing, the ICA exhibition presents art as the willing progenitor of the latter.

To be sure, the ICA exhibition represents an early landmark in the evolution of digital media. Paradigmatic for the institutionalization and commercialization of media art over the last decades, Cybernetic Serendipity anticipated the blurring of boundaries between art, science, technology and entertainment, between corporate interests and artistic integrity. Exemplary for the appeal of the great promises made early in the computer age, Cybernetic Serendipity epitomizes the dilemma much of media art faces today: its complicated relationship with the socio-economic environment, the difficulty of engaging with its own historicity and transcending mere techno-fetishism, and the all-too-familiar sense of a naïve, unbridled optimism with its inevitable pitfalls and false dawns.

If exhibitions must pull crowds, however, Cybernetic Serendipity was a resounding success. Completely unlike the dour and self-referential hermeticism of conceptual art in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Cybernetic Serendipity pointed far ahead to the more recent phenomenon of interactive scientific theme parks and popular blockbuster exhibitions. The exhibition generated a sense of excitement about technology, especially amongst a younger audience, to a degree that can only be described as "unheard of" in the context of an arts institution. However, the widespread absence of critical debate in the wake of this exhibition represents a serious omission on the part of the organizers and points to a wider dilemma that media art needs to address in order to be taken seriously.

I am grateful to Steven Johnstone and David Evans for their suggestions and Jasia Reichardt for her invaluable help and generosity.
References and Notes


Hans-Peter Schwarz, "Discourse 1: Media Museums," in Rebecca Picht and Birgit Stöckmann, eds., Media Art History (New York: Prestel, 1997) p. 11.
P. Brown, "30 Years On: Remembering Cybernetic Serendipity," Outline, The CTIAD Journal 6 (Autumn 1998) pp. 3--5; Mitchell Whitelaw, "1968/1998: Rethinking a Systems Aesthetic," ANAT (Australian Network for Art and Technology) (June 1998) ; Brent MacGregor, Cybernetic Serendipity Revisited (Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh College of Art, 2002).
Jasia Reichardt, "‘Cybernetic Serendipity’--- Getting Rid of Preconceptions," Studio International 176, No. 905, 176--177 (November 1968).
The figures are somewhat contradictory. Jasia Reichardt counted "more than 60,000 visitors during the eleven weeks of the exhibition." Reichardt [3] pp. 176--177. Michael Kustow, however, then director of the ICA, in an interview with the Guardian, cited a much lower figure: "In eleven weeks 45,000 saw it, it is now touring America, and with luck it will lose no more than £4,000." In Terry Coleman, "Wild in the Mall: Terry Coleman on the ICA’s Financial Crisis," Guardian (5 December 1968).
Reichardt [3] pp. 176--177.
David Clemens, "Scene," Daily Mirror (9 August 1968).
"Fun by Computer," Evening Standard (2 August 1968).
"Happy and Unexpected Discovery Closing," Guardian (19 October 1968).
Katharine Hadley, "Serendipity with Cybernetics," in Hampstead and Highgate News (9 August 1968).
Michael Shepherd, "Machine Mind," Sunday Telegraph (11 August 1968).

"In the Art Galleries," The Lady (15 August 1968).
Jonathan Benthall, "Lucky Computers," The Listener (15 August 1968).
Shepherd [10].
MacGregor [2].
Mario Amaya, "Software in the Mall," Financial Times (13 August 1968).
Shepherd [10].
Robert Melville, "Signalling the End," New Statesman, (9 August 1968).
Leslie Stack quoted in Linda Talbot, "Meet the Friendly Robots," Hampstead and Highgate Express (26 July 1968).
Jasia Reichardt, "Computer Graphics---Computer Art," in Jasia Reichardt, ed., Cybernetic Serendipity---The Computer and the Arts, exh. cat. (London: Studio International Special Issue, 1968) pp. 70--71.
Nigel Gosling, "Man in an Automated Wonderland," in Observer (4 August 1968).
Talbot [18].
David Clemens, "Scene," Daily Mirror (9 August 1968).
Amaya [15].
Evening Standard [7].
Hadley [9].
Shepherd [10].
John Russel, "The Art of the Computer," Sunday Times (4 August 1968).
Michael McNay, "Blind Idiots Need Not Apply," Guardian (2 August 1968).
McNay [28].
"Aesthetic Gadgetry," New Society (8 August 1968).

Reichardt [3].
Talbot [18].
Jack Burnham, "Systems Esthetics," Artforum 7, No. 1 (September 1968) p. 31.; Lucy R. Lippard, Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object (New York: Praeger, 1973).
Roy Ascott, "Is There Love in the Telematic Embrace?" Art Journal 49, No. 3 (1990) p. 241.
Norbert Wiener, "Introduction," in Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999; originally published 1948) pp. 11--12.
The term "hunting" is used in mechanical engineering to describe pathological oscillations between two fixed points. The mechanism, due to its initial inertia, overshoots the target coordinates, but receives instant feedback resulting in an over-correction in the opposite direction and so forth. Wiener and Rosenblueth saw a connection between this and other mechanical phenomena and symptoms in patients with neurophysiological damage. For an early appraisal of these ideas, see Arturo Rosenblueth, Norbert Wiener, and Julian Bigelow, “Behavior, Purpose and Teleology,” in Philosophy of Science 10 (1943) pp. 18--24.
Steve J. Heims, Constructing a Social Science for Postwar America---The Cybernetics Group 1946--1953 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993; originally published 1991) pp. 27--28.
Billy Klüver and Robert Rauschenberg, E.A.T. News 1, No. 2 (June 1967).
Gene Youngblood, "The Open Empire," Studio International 179, No. 921, 177--178 (April 1970).
Roy Ascott, "Cybernetics---Letter to the Editor," in Studio International 176, No. 902 (July/August 1968) p. 8.
Roy Ascott, e-mail to the author (2000).
Harold Wilson, "Speech by the Rt. Hon. Harold Wilson MP," in Report of the Annual Labour Party Conference (London: Labour Party, 1963) pp. 135--140.
Roger Beard, "Editorial: The Computer," Technical Education & Industrial Training 10, No. 9 (September 1968).
Beard [43].
Sherry Turkle, Life on the Screen---Identity in the Age of the Internet (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997; originally published 1995) pp. 18--36.
Allan Greenspan, Speech to the American Enterprise Institute (1996).
Brian Winston, Media Technology and Society---A History: From the Telegraph to the Internet, (London: Routledge, 1998) p. 11. For a diagrammatic rendition of Winston’s model, turn to Figure 7 on p. 14.
Winston [47].
For the production of so-called firing tables, a huge number of differential equations had to be calculated. Goldstine recalls that "a typical firing table required perhaps 2,000--4,000 trajectories," and quotes from a working memo from the Ballistic Research Laboratory in Aberdeen, Maryland, of 1 February 1944, stating that "'even with the personnel and equipment now available, it takes about three months of work on a two shift basis to turn out the data needed to construct a director, gun sight, firing table. . . . The number of tables for which work has not been started because of lack of computational facilities far exceeds the number in progress." Quoted in H.H. Goldstine, The Computer from Pascal to von Neumann (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1993 [1972]) pp. 138, 165--166. The "firing table crisis" eventually led to the development of ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer). The British equivalent of the "firing table crisis" was of course the crucial effort to crack the German Navy's ENIGMA codes in the U-boat war. Alan Turing’s efforts in Hut 8 at Bletchley Park succeeded by May 1941, enabling British intelligence to read all U-boat messages within one day. Yet improvements in German encryption efforts led to a number of ENIGMA blackouts, when, once again, Allied intelligence could not decode German radio traffic sufficiently speedily to influence decision-making on the ground. Turing and his team decided to solve the increasing mathematical complexity of code breaking by building Colossus, an advanced electronic computer, which was completed in 1943.
Manuel De Landa, "Economics, Computers and the War Machine," in Gerfried Stocker and Christine Schöpf, eds., Infowar (New York: Springer, 1998) p. 167.
Arthur L. Norberg and Judy E. O’Neill, "Introduction," in Transforming Computer Technology: Information Processing for the Pentagon 1962--1986 (Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins Univ. Press, 2000) p. 1.
Norberg and O'Neill [51] p. 4.
Norberg and O'Neill [51] pp. 151--197.
A compelling example of disruptive strategies can be found in Brecht's "Epic Theatre." Rejecting "culinary" consumption, Brecht favored interruption over intoxication; he juxtaposed more than he fused together in order to make the audience realize, recognize and respond, rather than dream and escape in theatrical pseudo-reality. See Bertolt Brecht, "A Short Organum for the Theatre," in John Willett, ed. and trans., Brecht on Theatre---The Development of an Aesthetic (London: Methuen, 1990; essay originally published 1948) p. 194.
Natalie Jeremijenko, "Database Politics and Social Simulations," in Barbara London, ed., Technology in the 1990s: Natalie Jeremijenko, MOMA, (2000) [originally published 1995]; .
N. Katherine Hayles, "Virtual Bodies and Flickering Signifiers," October 66 (Fall 1993) pp. 69--70.
General Bibliography
Briers, David. "Star Dot Star," Art Monthly 219, (September 1998) p. 50.
Burnham, Jack. Beyond Modern Sculpture (London: Penguin, 1968).
Burnham, Jack. "Art and Technology: The Panacea That Failed," in John Hanhardt, ed., Video Culture (New York: Peregrine Smith Books, 1986).
Shanken, Edward A. "From Cybernetics to Telematics: The Art, Pedagogy, and Theory of Roy Ascott," in Edward A. Shanken, ed., Telematic Embrace: Visionary Theories of Art, Technology, and Consciousness by Roy Ascott (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2001).
Manuscript received 22 June 2001.
Rainer Usselmann is the recipient of the 2003 Art Journal Award. He teaches theory and practice of photography and media art at the Arts Institute at Bournemouth, U.K.
Fig. 1.
"Cybernetic Serendipity," exhibition invitation, front.
Fig. 2.
Andrew Rawlinson, computer poetry, 1968.
Fig. 3.
Plotter print-out. Computer Graphics by Peter Milojevic, McGill University, Montreal. Milojevic created his graphics program in Fortran on an IBM 7044, which was connected to a Calcomp 565 plotter.
Fig. 4.
Installation view. To the left, Sidebands by Hugh Riddle and Anthony Pritchett, 1968. These graphic forms are stills from a kinetic sequence using oscillographic techniques, which are used for frequency measurement. The system on display was originally developed to generate graphics for the television trailer of the BBC science fiction series “Out of the Unknown.”
Fig. 5.
Nam June Paik, Robot K-456, 1963. "A female robot known for her idiosyncratic behavior," K-456 was first exhibited at the 1964 New York Festival of the Avant-Garde. A year later, Paik’s robot went on show in Wuppertal, Germany, as part of 24 hours, a Fluxus-inspired Happening.
Fig. 6.
“Highlights of the History and Technology of IBM Computers from 1890 to the Present.” The display was produced by IBM for an exhibition entitled “History and Technology of Computers,” which was held at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., in 1967. The IBM section won the gold medal as the most outstanding exhibit of that year at the 1967 “International Display World Competition.”
Fig. 7.
The Mechanical Boy, drawing by Joey. In 1959, Bruno Bettelheim published an account of "Joey," a boy who thought of himself as a robot. Joey constructed machines in his bedroom and attempted to connect himself with imaginary wires to power outlets in order to perform basic bodily functions. Bettelheim argued that Joey's autism was caused by his unloving parents. Joey's drawing shows a man whose body is formed by electrical wires.
Fig. 8.
William Fetter of the aircraft manufacturer Boeing is credited with introducing the term “computer graphics” in 1960 for his computer generated “human factors” cockpit drawings. The renderings, based on U.S. Air Force data, were used to determine cockpit configurations suitable for human capabilities. Boeing Computer Graphics, two "50-percentile" pilots (i.e. average in functional dimensions) in a cockpit. Equipment used: Keypunch IBM 1400C reader printer, IBM 7094 computer, Gerber plotter.

Flow and Presence in Bill Viola’s ‘The Passing’

I. Introduction:

When, in a 1998 article, Peter Lunenfeld described video as ‘simultaneously exhausted and energized’01 he gave expression to the extraordinary success with which audio-visual media have been transforming a whole gamut of cultural production over the last decades. From the museum’s white cube to the dingy dungeons of underground clubs; from nose cones of smart bombs to You’ve Been Framed; from Driving School and Police Stop! to the Rodney King tape and Jamie Bulger’s abduction02; from Sojourner’s Marsian panoramas03 and the Web Cam phenomenon to Video Nation - the sheer gravitational pull of video imagery seems both, irresistible and crushing. Marc Mayer concedes in a 1996 exhibition catalogue that

[…] video’s theoretical and practical possibilities are so inconceivably vast, its versatility so immeasurably profound and of such perplexing unorthodoxy, that even after a quarter of a century, the medium’s defenders are still struck with vertiginous awe as if glimpsing the sublime. 04
Yet there seems to be little time to remain struck with ‘vertiginous awe’ in the face of video’s tantalizing possibilities since the medium is itself becoming engulfed in a much wider and further-reaching re-framing of representational politics: the shift towards digitization. The availability of cheap processing power, coupled with the unlimited flexibility of digital data, as it flows with the speed of light from one node to another, has already brought about an uncanny convergence of previously separate media. This re-framing can be witnessed in particular in its implications on film, photography, music and the graphic arts. With the increasing convergence of digital media, video is set to become but a significant part of a much broader drive towards a more ‘spectacular’ culture and its manifestations in, what is euphemistically called, Media Art..05 Hans-Peter Schwarz from the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM) in Karlsruhe anticipates nothing less than a paradigm shift:

[…], a new art form rattles at the gates of the museum - not to get in this time […], but to deposit an explosive charge, which could […] break down or at least make holes in the firm walls behind which the museum protects its treasures […]: the art of the digital communications media.06

From the early days of video art as a potentially subversive practice07 to the total absorption of audio-visual media into 1990s’ consumer culture, traditional institutional politics are coming under increasing pressure. Whilst video art in the 1960s and 70s could be understood as an oppositional gesture, critiquing the signifying practices of the television medium, the 1980s and 90s 08 have brought about an unprecedented ‘cult surrounding electronic images’, one in which video plays an essential part by ‘linking together the planes of space and time, fiction and reality, the critical discourse and the everyday.’ 09 Today, it seems, video art no longer operates from the fringes, away from the mainstream of cultural production, but as ‘an integrative “lingua franca”’ 10 of visual culture per se. In its poignant pairing of high technology with ubiquity, video, embedded in the broad text of Media Art, contradicts the selective and highly ‘competent’ curatorship, which traditional institutional practice necessitates. Exactly how could video art be exhibited without transforming the white cube into a communal television-viewing facility, a commercial theme-park or the secular chill-out lounge of a dance-venue?

The trend towards large-scale video installations, which is evident in a recent series of ‘blockbuster’ exhibitions, has to be seen as a counter-movement, as an answer to video’s full-scale immersion into mainstream culture. An affirmation of a canon of ‘great masters’ in video art would then be inversely proportionate to its lost autonomy, its lost independence.11 Perhaps by celebrating the ‘unique’, the ‘extraordinary’, the ‘overwhelming’, or simply the sheer scale of a select few works, institutional practice seeks to re-affirm the object of art and the role of the artist.

Having won numerous awards and fellowships, Bill Viola is, without doubt, amongst the most established and celebrated artists at work today; he is, to be sure, an undisputed member of that canon of ‘great masters’.12 Bill Viola’s pieces are known to operate on a grand scale and with an astonishing degree of technological sophistication, often rivaling that of commercial film-production. Whilst his latest work is characteristic of a certain tendency, which Elaine King, in a 1998 review of Viola’s work, aptly described as a propensity towards ‘Wagnerian theatricality’ or even ‘showiness’13, some of his earlier pieces seem more ‘subdued’. One of these more ‘subdued’ pieces is called ‘The Passing’.

In choosing to discuss one particular text in preference to any other possible choice, I acknowledge the near tautological dilemma, which is immanent in all critical writing: selection foregrounds interpretation and the interpretation of culture from within culture cannot be situated outside culture. My choice, then, has to be explained as contingent upon a certain number of presuppositions, which may or may not be extracted from material parameters accessible through the work itself. This project of significant signification, as it is constructed around a number of specific notions and projected onto the work and its interaction with the surrounding culture, could be described as the work’s discursivity.14 Any imbalance, disturbance, interruption or even absence in the semiotic economy of the thing itself and its immersion in the here-and-now, renders an exchange possible, facilitates discursivity. According to Saussure, this economic metaphor depends on a measure of difference, which is necessary for the resumption of an exchange: for difference implies process and process implies difference.15 Sameness on the other hand levels the flow and terminates the exchange.16 With no osmotic potential manifest in the work, and no exchange between the work and its exterior meta-texts, any discursivity that could emanate from or be projected back onto the text must stall, leading to stasis and closure. A question, then, has to be formulated as to how we can assess the potential for discursivity inherent in a given text.

To make available and assess the potential for discursivity in ‘The Passing’, I intend to describe origination, format, technology and the distribution of this tape first, before I proceed with a discussion of medium-specificity and its ideological superstructure.17 Tracing a lineage of deterministic criticality, from Greenberg via Fried, Krauss and Williams to Frederic Jameson I propose to query the notion of ‘total flow’ and its validity in a context of contemporary sensibilities. ‘The Passing’ could be regarded as almost emblematic in this debate since it seems to be situated exactly in between critical positions. It is through ‘The Passing’ that Viola literally passes on to a television audience his subjectivity 18, transmitting images of deep personal traumas, experiences, and visions. In doing so ‘The Passing’ not only exemplifies the very possibility of publicly broadcast video-art but also, and at the same time, its narcissistic overtones. In addition, ‘The Passing’ seems to stand out as one of only a few low-key, single monitor pieces in Viola’s recent decidedly theatrical and sculptural video-oeuvre.19 This then will serve to highlight the intriguing dialectic inherent in video art as it moves between institutionalized cult and mass-mediated mainstream.

In my conclusion I will argue for a revised notion of ‘total flow’ to facilitate discursivity in contemporary video art.

I.I Description:

‘The Passing’ is a single monitor, monochrome video tape, which was commissioned by the public German television station Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF) as part of its Das Kleine Fernsehspiel 20 slot and jointly funded with the American National Endowment for the Arts in 1991. The 54 minute tape premiered on October 14, 1992 at 10:40 p.m. on ZDF and was broadcast in Britain on Channel Four to coincide with a survey of Viola’s work at London’s Whitechapel Art Gallery, in December 1993.

Viola shot the sequences for ‘The Passing’ between 1987 and 1991 at or near his Long Beach home as well as on various locations in the scenic American West 21(Plates 5, 6 and 9; pp. 31, 32 and 35). Employing sophisticated night-sight, infra-red, and ultra-low-light imaging technology, many of the desert shots appear to be taken in total darkness. Interspersed with the landscape footage we can discern, more or less clearly, a catalogue of persistent images: a bearded man (Viola; Plate 1, p. 27) in close-up, an elderly woman in a hospital bed (Viola’s mother Wynne Lee Viola; Plate 4, p.30), a child (Viola’s first son Blake; Plate 3,p. 29) playing on a beach and at a birthday party, a new-born baby (Viola’s second son Andrei) and a man floating under water, tangled up in white sheets of fabric (Plate 7, p. 33). The faint likeness of a young woman (His wife Kira Perov or perhaps Viola’s mother?) is revealed briefly before it disappears from view again. A freight train emerges slowly from a tunnel (Plate 2, p.28) with screeching wheels before it heaves past and into the night.

The repeated recurrence of some of these motifs places ‘The Passing’ firmly in the context of Viola’s oeuvre as a whole, albeit on a less monumental scale than usual. Amongst the various meta-forms, which Viola seems to employ, his insistence on the water metaphor (Plate 10; p. 36) and the juxtaposition of ’old’ (death) with young (birth), stand out as particularly noticeable.22 Similar parallels to Viola’s other, more sculptural pieces, can be found in his masterly manipulation of audio and the centrality, which it occupies in this tape. As is the case in many of his other works (sic.), sound seems absolutely indispensable to ‘The Passing’, too. For it is the tape’s overwhelming score of steady breathing that conditions the audience irrevocably towards the pre-text ‘sleep’. Every now and then, however, the breathing seems to fade and we can hear muffled and strangely drained sounds, which appear to be choreographed to coincide with the stream of images. Cleverly manipulating amplitude and wavelength of the recording, Viola creates sound-scapes, which amplify the spatio-temporal element in his work. Water sounds heavy, gelatinous and enveloping; children’s laughter seems to literally drift past, a constant drone accompanies the hospital scenes and then again: breathing, slow and steady, only occasionally interspersed with the bodily sounds of saliva and swallowing. Overall, the sound is instrumental in creating and constantly re-affirming the spatial intimacy, which seems to enshroud the viewer. We are literally invited into the enticing sensuality of Viola’s dream-world and placed as close to the physicality of those who are involved in it, as the medium permits. It appears as if we are made to feel that we have indeed become a part of Viola’s extended family of man.23

In ‘The Passing’ Viola develops the narrative of a sleeper (Viola himself), who is slowly falling a sleep and waking up just to finally drift away again. As his mind ebbs and flows along the no-mans-land of consciousness, that in-between-state, where the physical being seems to dissolve into a repository of intermingling sounds and images, the audience is there to bear witness.

The tape’s blurred, luminous and auratic timbre entices the viewer to accompany Viola on his passage into the semi- and sub-conscious, yet the title of the piece does not just seem to allude to a passing between different states of consciousness, it also evokes the grander narratives of life and death. For it could be argued that the making of ‘The Passing’ coincided with a period of personal crisis and trauma in Viola’s own life.24 In a 1997 article and interview for Art News, Viola, together with author Hunter Drohojowska-Philip, attempted to retrace his life in the years between 1987 and 1991. A compelling autobiographic narrative emerged, which, if taken into account, could establish a valuable pre-text to the work in question. After years of successful work as an established video artist, numerous installations which ‘increased in length and complexity, and visual pyrotechnics, the demanding exhibition schedule began to take a toll’25 To find ‘relief’26, he and his wife traveled for five months through the American South-West. Yet nothing seemed to work: ‘I had a creative block and couldn’t get the images to work [...] It was a difficult time’. 27 The death of Viola’s mother two years later and the birth of his second son Andrei within nine month of her death, ‘focussed [his] investigations in a very real way’.28 Viola finished ‘The Passing’ that same year (1991) and a further nine new installations in the following 12 month.

The making of ‘The Passing’ coincided with the introduction of the 8mm videotape format in 1988, which opened the production of video to the home-user. In its wake, a new wave of ‘reality-tv’ programming arrived and subsequently became an integral part of public broadcasting schedules. Shows like Cops, America’s Funniest Home Video’s, America’s Most Wanted and I Witness Video appear and firmly establish the use of video/camcorder footage as part of popular TV formats around the world. With the availability of cheap and good quality recording technologies, the balance of video usage shifts from the purely passive mode of absorption (video-rentals, MTV) towards a more involved mode of production-consumption. Firmly embedded in the ‘spectacular’ consumer economics of the late 1980s and 90s, the camcorder revolution begins to have an impact on the domestic photo-album as the site of ‘social memory’.29 Sean Cubitt, in his interpretation of ‘The Passing’, acknowledges:

There are elements of The Passing that read as images from a family album, albeit an unusual one, in that it includes what is most often excluded from the family’s set of recollections - images of dying and death - along with toddlers’ first steps, birth and holidays.30
As video diaries begin to supplant family snapshots in their role of affirming individual identity by embedding it in social ritual, the currency of the ubiquitous video image is further augmented through the stream of images released in conjunction with the use of high-tech weaponry in the 1991 Gulf War. 31

To be sure, the practice of video production and consumption changed dramatically. 32 With the increasing availability of 8mm tape and home-video camcorders, the technology necessary to make video more widely accessible, had finally arrived. 33 Bill Viola’s ‘The Passing’ was made and publicly broadcast at a time of significant changes to the video economy as a whole; changes, which subsequently decentralized and dismantled the mediums exclusivity and yet affirmed its role in the powerplay of capitalist politics.

‘The Passing’ is available for viewing from the Film and Video Umbrella in London, éditions à voir in Amsterdam and the Electronic Arts Intermix in the US.

I.II Interpretation:

We have now established a number of discursive spaces, within which ‘The Passing’ can be seen to operate. Its historic specificity can inject meaning and significance into the web of possible readings, which might be spun around its textuality. The process of inscribing significance by opening up or making available a work’s discursivity is now leading to specific readings in specific contexts. ‘The Passing’ can begin to function as a ‘significant’ text, which highlights a particular point in the development of a genre, a significant period in the life and work of its author and the broader historical context of its time. It can be seen as symptomatic for a notion of change, both in socio-historical as well as in strictly autobiographical terms. Its origination in the late 1980s and early 1990s places it at an important juncture in video art practice and visual culture on the whole. If the discursive space, within which ‘The Passing’ operates, can be identified as a particularly significant (made meaningful through signification) moment in time, in its art-historic, autobiographic as well as socio-economic associations, we can perhaps regard ‘The Passing’ as a point of departure. It could be seen as a moment when video-art as a genre moved towards more theatrical, sculptural and installation based work, due to the widespread availability of cheap video-recording technology. As Dave Beech so aptly observed:
Video art used to be routinely shoved into the corner of the gallery on little monitors. Now, with the development of the looped tape and the use of large-scale video projection, it has learnt how to give painting and sculpture a run for their money. Video projection is to the 90s art what shop display was to the art of the 80s: a trademark by default. 34

The 1990s public, it seems, does not any longer ‘come to museums looking for more television to watch’.35 Instead, artists are ‘now poised before the prospect of creating a categorically different species of video monster, a monstrous theater that television cannot emulate.’36 To be sure, Bill Viola’s work, as it developed from the making of ‘The Passing’ to his more recent pieces (sic.), can be seen as symptomatic for just such an attitude. This, then, imbues ‘The Passing’ with significance that cannot be derived from the web of discursivity , which resideswithin the work and its formalist attitude, but from its relation to the exterior historicity of its own medium.37 The currency of the video-diary format, as an increasingly popular means for the production of social identity, must equally be seen in the context of socio-economic developments, which actually provided the means necessary for such a shift (sic.). ‘The Passing’, with its fly-on-the-wall disposition and its unashamed display of private emotions and traumas, fits quite neatly into the narrative of 1990s image production-consumption. For we can easily discern an acutely personal sensibility in its audio-visual narrative, eager to be shared with as large an audience as possible. In keeping with the modus operandi of the video-diary genre, we can safely deduce that the title of the piece implies ’the passing on of the artist’s mother and the passing on of genetic and cultural material to his infant son, […] the passing of time, […] and a passing between dream and waking.’38 All, one might add, intensely private moments, which are nevertheless shared with a potentially large community of television viewers. Pierre Bourdieu, in his sociological analysis of popular photographic practice, examines the currency of the ‘ordinary’ in domestic image production.
Unlike fully consecrated artistic activities, such as painting or music, photographic practice is considered accessible to everyone, […] and those involved in it do not feel they are being measured against an explicit and codified system defining legitimate practice in terms of its objects, its occasions and its modalities; [...].39

The same could, perhaps, be said about the inherent nature of the video-diary format, since the opening of video production to the average household went hand in hand with the introduction of the 8mm format. To be sure, the implication of the ‘private’ and ‘personal’ in ‘The Passing’ does point towards an aesthetic of ‘The Everyday’ as opposed to the institutional regimes of competence and connoisseurship.

If ‘The Passing’ can be understood to operate in the gap between an increasingly sculptural tendency in video art on the one hand and, to phrase it with Benjamin, its widening ‘secularisation’40, manifest in video’s mass-mediated assimilation in television culture, on the other; if ‘The Passing’ can be situated exactly between these two emergent positions, what does it say about the nature of video art and its possibilities in the early 1990s in general and the medium-specificity of ‘The Passing’ in particular? Or, to ask with Rosalind Krauss: within what discursive space does video, as a medium, operate today?

When Theodor Adorno criticized Benjamin’s notion of the art object as cult object and instead expressed his own idea of how art’s autonomy could be achieved through the ‘uttermost consistency in the pursuit of [its] technical laws’41, he foreshadowed the up-coming debates around medium-specificity, which subsequently attained currency in Greenbergian modernism. In a controversy, which found its continuation in the writings of Michael Fried, Raymond Williams, Rosalind Krauss and Fredric Jameson, the object of art itself is at stake. For apart from notional differences, a certain consensus seemed to imply that the dialectic within a work of art could be traced back to the materiality of its component parts. An investigation into the specificities of the medium and its different genres could unearth technical laws, which would govern the practice of artistic expression. Only through a complete understanding of the technical laws, which are understood to govern this or that particular medium, could a discourse be opened. This implied that a given medium had to be firstly comprehended in its essence and its qualities before any critical engagement could commence. According to Clement Greenberg, in Towards a newer Laoocon, the ‘purity’ of a work of art was primarily contingent upon its adherence to and acknowledgment ‘of the limitations of the medium of the specific art’.42 By emphasizing the ‘medium and its difficulties, […] the purely plastic, the proper, values of visual art come to the fore. Overpower the medium to the point where all sense of its resistance disappears, and the adventitious uses of art become more important.’43 Defending the increasingly untenable Greenbergian notion of ‘purity’ in art, Michael Fried, in his 1967 Art and Objecthood, distinguishes between the ‘theatricality’ of ‘literalist’ art, from art, which succeeds in suspending its own objecthood. Fried writes:

[…] the presence of literalist art, which Greenberg was the first to analyze, is basically a theatrical effect or quality - a kind of stage presence. It is a function, not just of the obtrusiveness and, often, even aggressiveness of literalist work, but of the special complicity that that work extorts from the beholder.44

If theatricality was to be avoided at all costs, it had to be done through a strict adherence to the medium’s specific properties, which – in the case of painting – were defined by the two-dimensional surface of the canvas. Any attempt to emphasize properties, which were considered foreign to the essence of the medium would lead away from a suspension of objecthood and instead towards ‘theatricality’. For Fried, ‘the success, even the survival, of the arts has come increasingly to depend on their ability to defeat theatre.’45

The currency of the Greenbergian debate, to be sure, extends beyond its repercussions on modernist painting and sculpture. Since it puts forward the essentialist position that a medium possess quantifiable properties, which can be recognized and identified, it continues to underscore, well into the 1970s and 80s the debates around video-art and television. The classification of essential determinants is here seen as an important part of the critical discourse around the work itself. If video-art was to be taken seriously, its basic properties had to be defined in relation to television and visual culture as a whole. Despite post-structuralist approaches towards the ‘textuality’ of a work, its suspension in a process of endless signification,‘that pure and random play of signifiers that we call postmodernism’46, some agreement as to the essence of video and television seems to transpire. Vito Acconci, an early practitioner in video-art, described the television experience as a ‘wave of sameness, about to enter everywhere’47 which could either be seen as threatening or reassuring. He observes:

Television broadcasts the same programme, all over a particular country, at the same time. […]. When a TV set, in a particular household is turned off, that world is lying in wait, the world-within-the-TV-set ready to erupt, to flash on ‘in the middle of things’ (the plot has already been going on without us). ‘It’ is always there, though we might not be yet, we might not be watching. But people in some other house are already watching [...].48

The idea that television could be seen as a never-ending stream of images, ubiquitous and ever present, a parallel universe of audio-visual representations, can also be found in Raymond Williams notion of television as ‘planned flow’.49 Television, then, does not have a beginning or end, it just flows in a continuous, time and space defying gesture. According to this definition, television does not engender the kind of agency which facilitates interruption, the means necessary to render Brecht’s theatre epic in order to counteract the illusion of immersion in the audience. Television is totally enveloping in its spatio-temporal signal, since it pronounces the suspension of time in the moebius-strip of endless transmission. Television’s essential quality, so it would seem, is its eternal proximity. Sean Cubitt talks about ‘the here-and-now-ness of the broadcast event’50 while Fredric Jameson asserts: ‘it seems plausible that in a situation of total flow, the contents of the screen streaming before us all day long without interruption […], what used to be called ‘critical distance’ seems to have become obsolete.’51 Donald Kuspit characterizes television as ‘simply a flowing fantasy’52, in which the autonomous self of the viewing subject dissolves since it ‘can no longer make that distinction between absence and presence.’53

In theorizing video, critics have tended to subscribe to the idea of ‘total flow’ as the basis for an understanding of the specific properties of the new medium of video art. Yet with the inclusion of the camera into the loop of ‘total flow’, some additional points need to be made since, ‘unlike the other visual arts, video is capable of recording and transmitting at the same time - producing instant feedback.’54 Rosalind Krauss, in Video: The Aesthetics of Narcissism, presents the subject as captured in ‘the prison of a collapsed present, that is, a present time which is completely severed from a sense of its own past.’55 In it, she argues, the ‘consciousness of temporality and of separation between subject and object are simultaneously submerged.’56 With this ‘vanquishing of separateness’57, video’s discursive space is one of autistic closure. It does not suggest absences, imbalances or interruptions, for its instantaneous feedback mirrors the world onto itself in a tautological state of perpetual presence. This inherently solipsistic position, according to Krauss, can be identified as Video’s essence. With the suspension of spatio-temporal coordinates, video cannot refer to anything ‘other’, anything external, but its own failure of referral. Sigmund Freud, in a 1914 treatise, identified the ‘introversion of the libido’ as the state when the subject seems to have ‘withdrawn his libido from people and things in the external world, without replacing them by others in phantasy.’58 Freud describes this as a position in which ‘the libido that has been withdrawn from the external world has been directed to the ego and thus gives rise to an attitude which may be called narcissism.’59 This finding, according to Krauss, lends currency to both, an analysis of the individual’s forming of subjectivity, as well as the structural integrity of the social body as a whole. In a heavily audio-visualized environment, the attitude of narcissism, then, could be identified in the individual as well as the group, or society as a whole.

The compelling accuracy of this critique and its discourse of closure, suspension and solipsism is reflected in many fascinating early pieces by video artists of the 1960s and 70s.60 However, with the success of MTV, the introduction of cheap camcorders, the growing popularity of rapid-editing techniques, and a trend towards theatricality in an increasing number of video installations, video art’s locus seemed to gradually shift away from the formalist attitude (i.e. the preservation of the medium’s specificity) that is implied in Krauss’ critique. The formalist attitude would insinuate that ‘pure’ video art, would inevitably have to privilege the notion of technology over aesthetic concerns. Video, inasmuch as it is seamlessly embedded in the total flow of television, could only continuously refer back to its own self-referentiality. When staged, however, as a spatio-temporal singularity in the heroic guise of a sculptural installation, video-art interjects once again the trusted theatricality of the Cartesian subject. For it can then be experienced in a number of spatio-temporal propositions in relation to the viewing subject. By literally walking through, its discursive space can be tested along the well-known taxonomy of subject-formation and affirmation.61

It must now be evident that Bill Viola’s ‘The Passing’ could not register as a ‘pure’ video tape in the strictly formalist sense of the word, neither can it be classified as ‘sculptural’. Too many different strands of ‘story-telling’ seem to compete with one-another. There is footage, which shows the sleeper in his bed, there are images of the playing child, landscape shots, underwater scenes, the elderly woman and so on. The film-like editing of these different streams of narrative further dilutes the sensation of ‘real time’, which is so central to video’s perceived locus . Any sensation of video time’s suspension is, without doubt, destroyed in the construction of a distinct narrative, which does feature beginnings and endings. Since here is the artist, who has presumably just gone to bed and is trying to fall a sleep, yet the tape is only 54 minutes in length, unlike Andy Warhol’s film Sleep (1963), which ran for a full 6,5 hours. Hence, what we are experiencing in ‘The Passing’ could only be described as fictional, or compressed time. This emergent fictionality of ‘The Passing’, its constructed and contrived character, seems to be further emphasized by the use of high-tech gadgetry, which dramatizes screen content by injecting more theatricality into the piece as a whole.

And yet, Bill Viola’s ‘The Passing’ does offer some points of reference which places it quite firmly in the context of video-art’s discursivity or, what was described earlier as video’s locus. Without doubt ‘The Passing’ epitomizes a narcissistic attitude, which had been correctly identified by Rosalind Krauss in the mid 1970s as characteristic of video art’s position. For what could be more narcissistic than the opening up of one’s own private family album to a large audience of television viewers, to share in the joys and grief of lived human experience? Bill Viola’s narcissism, however, goes further, since what we are shown not so much represents the anxieties and trauma’s of his family as a whole, but strictly his very own emotions, narrated from the perspective of the dreaming male subject.

It is in the sleeping state that, according to Freud, ‘the primal state of distribution of the libido is restored - total narcissism, in which libido and ego-interest, still united and indistinguishable, dwell in the self-sufficing ego.’62 And thus ‘The Passing’, for its lack of compliance with a strict ‘code’ of, what amounts to, technological determinism, does share in one of video’s most striking features: its narcissistic condition.
II.III Conclusion:
The discursive space of video-art must now, at the turn of the millennium, take into account the spectacular economies of new and digital media. ‘Streaming’ video allows the distribution and broadcasting of audio-visual content over the Internet, enabling access to an unprecedented audience at little or no cost. Cheap web-cams, digital video cameras, which are connected to the web, can transmit images non-stop to anyone, who has access to the Internet, an audience that is growing at a phenomenal rate. Commercial search engines already exist, which allow the internet user to locate particular streams of images emanating from one particular web-cam. Tens of thousands of digital video cameras constantly feed into the closed circuit, which is the World Wide Web, producing a continuous flow that is as total as it is ever-present. Like closed circuit television, streaming digital video on the internet ‘collapses the present’, ‘submerges consciousness of temporality and of the separation between subject and object’, leading to a ‘vanquishing of separateness’ (Krauss, 1976), albeit on a much bigger scale, one might add.

In this emerging condition of perpetual suspension, of continuous flow on a global scale, the world is captured in the reflection of its own image. In this never-ending global flow of live footage from thousands of digital web-cams, we, according to some, are faced with a Hegelian totality, in which ‘the real becomes image and the image becomes real, the world becomes a work of art and our condition becomes transparently virtual. In the realized eschatology of the virtual kingdom, nothing lies beyond.’63 In this condition, new ways have to be found, which can shape the flow and its ‘eternal presence’. It is here that Bill Viola’s ‘The Passing’ offers a glimpse of how the flow could be configured. In opting out of the seductive theatre of the media-museum, which again privileges the Cartesian object, ‘The Passing’ provides the model for an interface, a template that not so much structures the flow, but points towards the possibility of structure. Total flow cannot be sustained by the individual for long, since its subject-hood, no matter how fragmented, depends on the relational dialectic of a before and after, a here and there.. The all-engulfing ‘now-ness’ ultimately threatens the subject with its dissolution; total flow implies closure, stasis and paralysis. In the age of digitality, only the partial blocking and the partial flowing can let a signature emerge. The function of the interface is precisely that: the blocking of some information and the passing of other.

‘The Passing’ could then serve as the model for a contemporary practice in which the work is the interface, which channels and frames the various strings and streams of the ‘total flow’. Soon perhaps, we might see more projects in the vain of ‘The Passing’, in which various ‘flows’ are transmitted simultaneously, only held together by an ‘ordering’ interface.

II Notes:

01: Lunenfeld, Peter. (1998). 'Bill Viola' in Art / Text, no.61 (May/July’98): pp. 80-81
02:’[…] video surveillance tapes are regularly used in criminal trials, the most notable being the shopping-center tape of Jamie Bulger being abducted. And the apparatus of surveillance can be used in favor of the oppressed as much as the oppressor, as when in 1991 George Holliday used his new Sony minicam to record LA policemen beating black motorist Rodney King.’ In: Falcon, Richard. (1998). 'V for Video' in Sight & Sound, ns8 (Mar.’98): p. 25

03: One of countless sites on the Internet devoted to images from the 1997 ‘Pathfinder’ mission to Mars can be found at Smith, Peter (1997): ‘There once was a mission to Mars […]’, (Dec 1999)

04: Mayer, Marc. (1996). Karen Lee Spaulding (ed.) Being & Time: The Emergence of Video Projection, Buffalo, NY: The Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, p. 17

05: For an exhaustive definition of Media Art , see Roger F. Malina on the first prize-giving for interactive media art during Ars Electronica 1990 which can be found in: Hünnekens, Annette. (1997). Der bewegte Betrachter. Theorien interaktiver Medienkunst, Cologne: Wienand Verlag, p. 182

06:Schwarz, Hans-Peter. (1997).'Discourse 1: Media Museums' in Rebecca Picht, Birgit Stöckmann (eds.) Media Art History, New York: Prestel, p. 11

07: The early spirit in 1960s video art is fittingly captured in Nam June Paik’s famous declaration that ‘television has been attacking us all our lives, now we can attack it back.’. Paik’s citation is taken from: Falcon, Richard. (1998). 'V for Video' in Sight & Sound, ns8 (Mar.’98): p. 24

08: For a comprehensive survey of video art histories, see: Sturken, Marita. (1991). 'Paradox in the evolution of an art form: great expectations and the making of a history' in Doug Hall and Sally Jo Fifer (eds.) Illuminating Video: An Essential Guide to Video Art, New York: Aperture, pp. 101 - 121

09: ZKM. (1999). 'Video Cult/ures, exhibition leaflet' in Dr. Ursula Frohne and Dr. Konstanze Thümmel (eds.)Video Cult/ures, exhibition leaflet, Karlsruhe: ZKM, p. 2

10: Ibid., p.2

11: ‘[...] the popularity of corporate media, as seen in the example of MTV, was due in large part to the mass media’s appropriation of avant-garde techniques pioneered by independent video- and filmmakers. While video as media intervention was largely ignored, video installation would find its place in the museum in a grand manner, with such large-scale exhibitions as Nam Jun Paik, Image World, Dislocations and such artists as Viola, Nauman, and Hill gaining widespread recognition.’ In: Hanhardt, John G. and Villasenor, Maria Christina. (1995). Christina Villasenor (ed.) Art Journal, v.54, no. 4 (Winter 1995): p. 24

12: For a chronological overview of Viola’s life and work see: Viola, Bill. (1995). Robert Violette (ed.) Bill Viola: Reasons for Knocking at an Empty House (Writings 1973 - 1994), London: Thames and Hudson, pp. 287 – 291

13: King, Elaine. (1998). 'Bill Viola: Fire, Water, Breath' in Sculpture, v.17 no 6 (July/Aug.’98), Washington D.C: , p. 17

14: Rosalind Krauss used the notion of ‘discursivity’ to analyze the complex cultural systems within which the reading of a photograph or its lithographic reproduction remains suspended. Krauss asks: ‘ And the photograph? Within what discursive space does it operate?’ In: Krauss, Rosalind. (1996) [1989]. 'Photography’s Discursive Spaces' in Richard Bolton (ed.) The Contest of Meaning, Cambridge MA / London: MIT - Press, p. 288

15: The notion of difference is, of course central in structural linguistics. Ferdinand de Saussure’s work marked a shift away from language (langue) as a referential naming system towards an understanding of language as a system of differences . According to Saussure ‘in language […] there are only differences.’ In: Saussure, Ferdinand de . (1974)[1907-1911].Wade Baskin (trans.)Course in General Linguistics, Glasgow: Fontana / Collins, p.120. Leading on from Saussure’s work, Jacques Derrida reflects on ‘[…] the moment when language invaded the universal problematic, the moment when, in the absence of a center or origin, everything became discourse […] that is to say, a system in which the central signified, the original or transcendental signified, is never absolutely present outside a system of differences.’ In: Derrida, Jacques. (1978). 'Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of Human Sciences' in Alan Bass (trans.) (ed.) Writing and Difference, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p.280

16: The idea of ‘flow’ as contingent upon a gradient of intensities or identities can be found in the work of Gilles Deleuze. In Anti-Oedipus Deleuze defines ‘flow’ as contingent upon an economy of desires: ‘Desiring machines […]’ are ‘[…] flow-producing machines […]’ and ‘Desire causes the current to flow […]’ in: Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. (1996) [1969].'The Desiring Machines' in Robert Hurley, M. Seem and H.R.Lane (trans.) Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, London: Athlone Press, p. 5

17: Dimitris Eleftheriotis proposes an alternative discourse around video art, one ‘[…]which escapes the intellectual ‘traps’ of technological determinism, symptomatic technology and ideological determinism, and establishes strong conceptual links between technology, aesthetics and politics.’ In: Eleftheriotis, Dimitris. (1995). 'Video Poetics: Technology, Aesthetics and Politics' in Screen, v.36 (Summer ’95), London: , p. 100 Based on Heidegger’s 1954-55 lecture ‘Die Frage nach der Technik ’, technology is seen here as a mode of revealing, as both poetic and scientific. Whilst this argument cannot be properly investigated here, I might add that the model of discursivity, which I propose, can actually accommodate Eleftheriotis’ Poesis.

18: See Sean Cubitt’s exhaustive text on aspects of subjectivity and sociality in Viola’s ‘The Passing’ which I shall refer to subsequently as: Cubitt, Sean. (1995), page-number.
Cubitt, Sean. (1995).'On Interpretation: Bill Viola’s The Passing' in Screen, v.36 (Summer ‘95) , London: , pp. 113-130

19: For a comprehensive list of Viola’s works, see: Gehr, Herbert. (1999). Rolf Lauter (ed.) Bill Viola: Europäische Einsichten / European Insights, Munich: Prestel, p. 360

20: ‘The small television feature’ (my trans.) The ZDF commissions work for this slot on a frequent basis as part of its public broadcast remit. Das Kleine Fernsehspiel can thus be regarded as a niche, within which the dynamics of commercial television are temporarily suspended. Although funding is not tied to achieving particular viewing figures, the production of decidedly artistic material is still relatively rare and usually delegated to the sister station Arte, based in Strasbourg.

21: The locations were: Anza Borrego Desert, California; Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah; Colorado Lagoon, California; Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah; Death Valley National Monument, California; Joshua Tree National Park, California; Rhyolite, Nevada; Salton Sea, California; Tumacacori National Monument, Arizona. In: Gehr, Herbert. (1999). Rolf Lauter (ed.) Bill Viola: Europäische Einsichten / European Insights, Munich: Prestel, p. 215

22: Parallels to the audio-visual narratives of ‘The Passing’ can be found in: ‘The Stopping Mind’ (1991), ‘Heaven and Earth’ (1992), ‘Nantes Triptych’ (1992), ‘The Arc of Ascent’ (1992) and ‘Deserts’ (1994). Recurring images include shots of a man floating under water, a woman (his wife Kira Perov) giving birth, an elderly woman dying (his mother Wynne Lee Viola), children playing (his son’s Andrei and Blake) and the mythic scenery of the American desert landscapes. The fact that all of the above were produced after ‘The Passing’ suggests a certain lineage in his recent oeuvre.

23: I am alluding here, of course, to the 1955 photography exhibition with the same title at the MoMA, New York and curated by Edward Steichen. The Family of Man, that ‘corny exhibition’ (Elliot Erwitt), signified an attempt to reduce the material complexities of human endeavor across a vast gamut of different cultures to the linear narrative of a shared ‘humanity’. For further reference, see: Szarkowski, John. (1989). '7. After the Magazines' in Susan Weiley (ed.) Photography Until Now, New York: The Museum Of Modern Art, p. 254

24: The validity, however, of any autobiographical data should be viewed in strictly critical terms. An investigation of personal circumstances must not foreclose a thorough-going analysis of a given text, yet it can constitute one of many discursive spaces (sic) , within which a work can be seen to operate.

25: Drohojowska-Philip, Hunter; Viola, Bill. (1997). 'The Self-Discovery Channel' in Art News, v.96 (Nov.’97): p. 209

26: Ibid.

27: Ibid.

28: Ibid.

29: Bourdieu, Pierre. (1996) [1965]. 'The Cult of Unity and Cultivated Differences' in Shaun Whiteside (trans.) Photography: A Middle-Brow Art, Stanford: Stanford University Press, p. 30

30: Cubitt, Sean. (1995), p. 116

31: In Michel Foucault’s analysis of the regime of discipline and knowledge, surveillance and visibility are necessary to underscore structures of power. In the Panoptikum , according to Foucault, power articulates itself most efficiently for it allows an invisible, small group of people to subject a much larger and visible group to a rule of punishment. The parallels to modern warfare with its smart bombs are striking since the destruction of the enemy is based on the enemy being visible. A visible target can be destroyed whilst the own troops are safe due to their invisibility to the enemy. (Stealth etc.) In: Foucault, Michel. (1977) [1975]. Alan Sheridan (trans.) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, London: Allen Lane,

32: For a useful chronology see: Falcon, Richard. (1998). 'V for Video' in Sight & Sound, ns8 (Mar.’98): p. 26

33: In its impact on the medium at large, the introduction of 8mm video is comparable, perhaps, to the introduction in 1888 of the Kodak Box and its impact on photography.

34: Beech, Dave.(1999).'Video after Diderot' in Art Monthly, no 225 (April 1999): p. 7

35: Mayer, Marc. (1996), p. 27

36: Ibid, p. 30

37: Yet these readings can only be seen as exemplary for the structural economy between the work and its exterior meta-texts. In selecting some and rejecting others, the process of critique completes the work as the site of discourse.

38: Cubitt, Sean. (1995), p.115

39: Bourdieu, Pierre. (1996) [1965], p. 7

40: Benjamin, Walter.(1992) [1936].'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction ' in Hanna Arendt (ed.) Illuminations, Glasgow: Fontana, p. 237

41: Adorno’s critique was written in response to Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.. In an exchange of letters Adorno rejected Benjamin’s assertion that art was necessarily grounded in ritual by stating that the art-object was ‘inherently dialectical; within itself it juxtaposes the magical and the mark of freedom.’ In: Adorno, Theodor. (1977) [1936]. 'Letter to Benjamin (London 18 March 1936)' in Ronald Taylor (ed.) Aesthetics and Politics, London: New Left Books, pp. 121-123

42: Greenberg, Clement. (1986) [1940]. 'Towards a newer Laocoon' in John O’Brian (ed.)Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism; Volume One; Perceptions and Judgements, 1939 - 1944, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 32

43: Ibid, p. 34

44: Fried, Michael. (1998) [1967]. 'Art and Objecthood' in Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (eds.) Art in Theory 1900 - 1990, Oxford: Blackwell, p. 826

45: Ibid, pp. 830 - 831
The debate, which accompanied Art and Objecthood cannot be covered here. For further reference, see Artforum, Summer 1967

46: Jameson, Fredric. (1999)[1991]. 'Surrealism Without the Unconscious' in Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, London: Verso, p. 96

47: Acconci, Vito. (1993). 'Television, Furniture and Sculpture - The Room With The American View' in Nicola Hodges, Ramona Khambatta and Katherine MacInnes (eds.) Art & Design - World Wide Video, London: Academy Group, p. 27

48: Ibid
49: ‘In all developed broadcasting systems the characteristic organization, and therefore the characteristic experience, is one of sequence or flow. This phenomenon, of planned flow, is then perhaps the defining characteristic of broadcasting, simultaneously as a technology and as a cultural form.’ In: Williams, Raymond. (1974).'Programming: Distribution and Flow' inTelevision: Technology and Cultural Form, London: Fontana, p. 86.

50: Cubitt, Sean. (1991). 'Timeshift' in David Morley (ed.)Timeshift - On Video Culture, London: Routledge, p. 35

51: Jameson, Fredric. (1999)[1991], pp. 70 – 71

52: Kuspit, Donald and Rapaport, Herman. (1995). 'Television and the Unconscious- Donald Kuspit: An Interview' in Sharon Helmer Poggenpohl, Hans Breder and Herman Rapaport (eds.)The Luminous Object - Video Art / Video Theory, Iowa City: University of Iowa, p. 191

53: Ibid, p. 188

54: Krauss, Rosalind. (1976). 'Video: The Aesthetics of Narcissism' inOctober 1, 1976, Cambridge, MA: MIT - Press, p. 52

55: Ibid, p. 53

56: Ibid, pp. 58-59

57: Ibid, p. 56

58: Freud, Sigmund. (1984) [1914]. 'On Narcissism: An Introduction' in Angela Richards and James Strachey (eds.) On Metapsychology: The Theory of Psychoanalysis (The Pelican Freud Library Volume 11 ), London: Penguin, p. 66

59: Ibid, p. 67

60: The artists, whose early video work comes to mind include Vito Acconci, Richard Serra, Nancy Holt, Bruce Nauman, Lynda Benglis, Peter Campus, James Byrne, to name a few.

61: See the exhaustive discussion of subject-formation and art in: Foster, Hal. (1996). 'Whatever Happened to Postmodernism' in Annette Michelson, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois, Benjamin Buchloh, Hal Foster, Dennis Hollier and Sylvia Kolbowski (eds.) The Return of the Real, Cambridge MA / London: MIT - Press, pp. 209-226

62: Freud, Sigmund. (1976) [1917], p. ?

63: Taylor, Mark C. (1999). Mark C. Taylor (ed.) About Religion - Economies of Faith in Virtual Culture, Chicago & London: Chicago University Press, p. 5

II.II References:

Acconci, Vito. 'Television, Furniture and Sculpture - The Room With The American View' in Nicola Hodges, Ramona Khambatta and Katherine MacInnes (eds.) Art & Design - World Wide Video, London: Academy Group, 1993

Adorno, Theodor. 'Letter to Benjamin (London 18 March 1936)' in Ronald Taylor (ed.) Aesthetics and Politics, London: New Left Books, 1977 [1936]

Barthes, Roland. Richard Howard(trans.) (ed.)Camera Lucida, London: Vintage Books, 1993 [1980]

Baudrillard, Jean. 'The Precession of Simulacra' in Paul Foss, Paul Patton and Philip Beitchman (trans.) (eds.)Simulations, New York: Semiotext(e), 1983

Benjamin, Walter. 'The Author as Producer' in Marcia Tucker, Brian Wallis et al. (eds.) Art After Modernism: Rethinking Representation, Lincoln - Massachusetts: David R. Godine, 1984 [1934]

- 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' in Hanna Arendt (ed.) Illuminations, Glasgow: Fontana, 1992 [1936]

Bourdieu, Pierre. 'The Cult of Unity and Cultivated Differences' in Shaun Whiteside (trans.) (ed.) Photography: A Middle-Brow Art, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996 [1965]

Bürger, Peter. Michael Shaw (trans.) (ed.) Theory of the Avant-Garde, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986 [1974]

Cubitt, Sean. David Morley (ed.)Timeshift - On Video Culture, London: Routledge, 1991

- 'Populism and Difficulty: Television and Video Art' in Julia Knight (ed.) Diverse Practices - A Critical Reader on British Video Art, Luton: University of Luton Press, 1996

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. Robert Hurley, M. Seem and H.R.Lane (trans.) (eds.) Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, London: Athlone Press, 1996 [1969]

Deleuze, Gilles. Paul Patton (trans.) (ed.) Difference and Repetition, London: The
Athlone Press, 1994 [1969]

Derrida, Jacques. 'Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of Human Sciences' in Alan Bass (trans.) (ed.) Writing and Difference, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978

Feuer, Jane. 'The Concept of Live Television: Ontology as Ideology' in Ann Kaplan (ed.) Regarding Television, Frederick, MD: University Publications of America, 1983

Foster, Hal. 'Whatever Happened to Postmodernism?' in Annette Michelson, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois, Benjamin Buchloh, Hal Foster, Dennis Hollier and Sylvia Kolbowski (eds.)The Return of the Real, Cambridge MA / London: MIT - Press,

Foucault, Michel. Alan Sheridan (ed.) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, London: Allen Lane, 1977 [1975]

Freud, Sigmund. Angela Richards (ed.) The Interpretation of Dreams (Volume 4 The Penguin Freud Library), London: Penguin, 1991 [1900]

- 'On Narcissism: An Introduction' in Angela Richards and James Strachey (eds.) On Metapsychology: The Theory of Psychoanalysis (The Pelican Freud Library Volume 11), London: Penguin, 1984 [1914]

- 'The Libido Theory and Narcissism' in Angela Richards and James Strachey (eds.) Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (The Pelican Freud Library Volume 1), London: Penguin, 1976 [1917]

Fried, Michael. 'Art and Objecthood' in Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (eds.) Art in Theory 1900 - 1990, Oxford: Blackwell, 1998 [1967]

Fry, Roger. 'An Essay in Aesthetics' in Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (eds.) Art in Theory 1900 - 1990, Oxford: Blackwell, 1998 [1909]

Gehr, Herbert. 'Film, Art and Videotape' in Rolf Lauter (ed.) Bill Viola: Europäische Einsichten / European Insights, Munich: Prestel, 1999

Greenberg, Clement. 'Towards a newer Laocoon' in John O’Brian (ed.) Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism; Volume One; Perceptions and Judgements, 1939 - 1944, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986 [1940]

Habermas, Jürgen. 'The Emergence of the Public Sphere' in Anthony Giddens, David Held, Don Hubert, Steve Loyal, Debbie Seymour and John Thompson (eds.) The Polity Reader in Cultural Theory, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1994 [1989]

Hanhardt, John G.. 'Film Image - Electronic Image - The Construction of Abstraction, 1960 - 1990' in Sharon Helmer Poggenpohl, Hans Breder and Herman Rapaport (eds.) The Luminous Object - Video Art / Video Theory, Iowa City: University of Iowa, 1995

Hünnekens, Annette. Der bewegte Betrachter. Theorien interaktiver Medienkunst, Cologne: Wienand Verlag, 1997

Kandinsky, Wassily. 'Concerning the Spiritual in Art' in Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (eds.) Art in Theory 1900 - 1990, Oxford: Blackwell, 1998 [1912]

Krauss, Rosalind. 'Photography’s Discursive Spaces' in Richard Bolton (ed.) The Contest of Meaning, Cambridge MA / London: MIT - Press, 1996 [1989]

Kuspit, Donald and Rapaport, Herman. 'Television and the Unconscious- Donald Kuspit: An Interview' in Sharon Helmer Poggenpohl, Hans Breder and Herman Rapaport (eds.) The Luminous Object - Video Art / Video Theory, Iowa City: University of Iowa, 1995

Lacan, Jacques. Dennis Porter (trans.)The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, London: Routledge, 1992

Lauter, Rolf. 'The Passing' in Rolf Lauter (ed.)Bill Viola: Europäische Einsichten / European Insights, Munich: Prestel, 1999

Lyotard, Jean-Francois. 'What is Postmodernism?' in Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (trans.) (eds.) The Postmodern Condition, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984 [1982]

Mayer, Marc. Karen Lee Spaulding (ed.) Being & Time: The Emergence of Video Projection, Buffalo, NY: The Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, 1996

McLuhan, Marshall. 'The Medium is the Message' inUnderstanding Media, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998 [1964]

Saussure, Ferdinand de . Wade Baskin (trans.) Course in General Linguistics, Glasgow: Fontana / Collins, 1974[1907-1911]

Schwarz, Hans-Peter. 'Media-Art-History' in Rebecca Picht and Birgit Stöckmann (eds.) Are Our Eyes Targets ?, Munich: Prestel, 1997

Sturken, Marita. 'Paradox in the evolution of an art form: great expectations and the making of a history' in Doug Hall and Sally Jo Fifer (eds.)Illuminating Video: An Essential Guide to Video Art, New York: Aperture, 1991

Taylor, Mark C. Mark C. Taylor (ed.) About Religion - Economies of Faith in Virtual Culture, Chicago & London: Chicago University Press, 1999

Viola, Bill. Robert Violette (ed.) Bill Viola: Reasons for Knocking at an Empty House (Writings 1973 - 1994), London: Thames and Hudson, 1995

Williams, Raymond. 'Programming: Distribution and Flow' in Television: Technology and Cultural Form, London: Fontana, 1974

II.III Journal Articles:

Archer, Michael. 'Video Lives' in Art Monthly, no. 228 (July / Aug. 1999)

Baker, Kenneth. 'Experience before Intellect' in Art Newspaper, v.8 (Dec.’97)

Beech, Dave. 'Video after Diderot' in Art Monthly, no 225 (April 1999)

Cubitt, Sean. 'On Interpretation: Bill Viola’s The Passing' in Screen, v.36 (Smr‘95)

Darke, Chris. 'Feelings along the Body' in Sight & Sound, v.4 (Jan.’94),

Denk, Andreas. 'Bill Viola - Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, NewMetropolis, Rijksmuseum, World Trade Center, Felix Meritis - 12.09. - 29.11.1998' in Kunstforum International, no. 143 (Jan./Feb.’99)

Drohojowska-Philip, Hunter and Viola, Bill. 'The Self-Discovery Channel' in Art News, v.96 (Nov.’97)

Duncan, Michael. 'Bill Viola: Altered Perceptions' in Art in America, v.86 (Mar.’98)

Durden, Mark. 'Unseen Images. Whitechapel Art Gallery, London; Exhibit' in Creative Camera, no. 327 (April/ May ‘94),

Eleftheriotis, Dimitris. 'Video Poetics: Technology, Aesthetics and Politics' in Screen, v.36 (Summer ’95)

Falcon, Richard. 'V for Video' in Sight & Sound, ns8 (Mar.’98)

Hanhardt, John G. and Villasenor, Maria Christina. 'Video / Media Culture of the Late Twentieth Century' in Christina Villasenor (ed.) Art Journal, v.54, no. 4 (Winter 1995)

Heartney, Eleanor. 'Bill Viola at the Guggenheim SoHo' in Art in America, v.85 (Oct.’97)

Judson, William D. 'Bill Viola - Allegories in Subjective Perception' in Christina Villasenor (ed.) Art Journal, v.54, no. 4 (Winter 1995)

King, Elaine. 'Bill Viola: Fire, Water, Breath' in Sculpture, v.17 no 6 (July/Aug.’98)

Krauss, Rosalind. 'Video: The Aesthetics of Narcissism' in October , 1 - 1976, Cambridge, MA: MIT - Press, 1976

Kuspit, Donald B.'Bill Viola: The Passing' in Artforum, v.32 (Sept. ‘93)

Kuspit, Donald B.'Deep TV: Bill Viola’s Via Negativa.' in Artforum, v.33 (May ‘95)

Lacan, Jacques. 'Television' in October, 40 (Spring 1987), Cambridge, MA: MIT - Press, 1987

Lunenfeld, Peter.'Bill Viola' in Art / Text, no.61 (May/July’98)

Meigh-Andrews, Chris. 'Unseen Images. Whitechapel Art Gallery, London; Exhibit' in Art Monthly, no. 173 (Feb.’94)

Nicastro, Nicholas. 'The Passing' in Film Comment, v.29 (Jan./Feb.’93)

Pollack, Barbara. 'Bill Viola' in Art News, v.97 no4 (Apr.’98)

Rutledge, Virginia; Viola, Bill. 'Art at the End of the Optical Age' in Art in America, v.86 (Mar.’98)
Usherwood, Paul. 'Bill Viola. Durham Cathedral, England; Exhibit' in Art Monthly, no. 201 (Nov.’96)

Zurbrugg, Nicholas. 'Jameson’s Complaint: Video-Art and the Intertextual Timewall' in Screen, v.32 (Spring ‘91)

II.IV Video Tapes:

Viola, Bill. Bill Viola (prod./ dir.)‘The Passing’, 54:00, colour. Amsterdam: éditions à voir, 1991