Early video is so lovable. Hidden in the low-contrast images and lost political references are rebellious experiments to find a way to express the vibrant importance of the moment. The more than 40 videos of Record > Again! at the Goethe Institute are a time capsule that hold an insight into some of the struggles and hopes of the German artists who made them.
These artists created radical works that questioned the role art played in society. They fought with video cameras to reclaim the world of art from the dominant cultural threat: bourgeois passivity (That sounds so utopian today). The work had to be accessible and yet inscrutable at the same time. In 1969 at the Galerie Junge Generation in Vienna, Peter Weibel had an exhibition of some electronic noise machines that worked by waving your hands around. At the opening, Weibel interviewed on camera random members of the audience about his work. These video feeds were broadcast in the gallery. The conversations that they recorded were entirely about the politics of art and society.
More recently, Paul Wiersbinski‘s King Nothing (2008), is a chaotic art walk in a warehouse squat lead by a man with a whip. The farcical group of patrons only ask how much things are and if they can buy them. The world of art is shown to be run by the evil influence and false worship of wealth.
If these works were not punk enough, then how about a performance of Einsturzende Neubauten from 1981 at the Festival of Genius Dilettantes? Complete with wooden plank and hammer for percussion, this was the sound of divided Berlin. Equally punk, is Ulrike Rosenbach‘s Good Luck for a Better Art, (1977). Rosenbach spits milk at the camera over Klaus vom Bruch‘s shoulder as he whispers the title of the video.
In 1969, the year before receiving a life long achievement award from the Deutscher Filmpreis, Valeska Gert made a video for Ernst Mitzka that was never exhibited until now. Gert first imitates a baby then immediately acts out the moment of death. In 1981 Michael Morgner, after being smuggled into East Germany, went out with a plein-air painting group and staged what he claims to be the first video performance in the GDR by walking out into a pond and delivering a messianic message.
Wolf Kahlen‘s Warning: Filming (1980) is a chaotic mess. Kahlen filmed with a army surplus surveillance camera noisy jazz improvisations and A.R. Penck painting on glass panes that were placed over the monitor. These paintings were then turned into a silk screen portfolio and smuggled out of East Germany.
The concerns that these works engage echo up to us today. This is just the tip of the iceberg of unknown early videos.
Record > Again! was produced by ZKM and exhibited at the Goethe Institute, Boston from April 27—May 11, 2011. The catalog and educational copy of all 43 videos are available from ZKM and the Goethe Institute.