The First Worldwide Video Catalog –
Produced by and for the exhibition “Projekt 74,” Cologne (1974)
Around the year 2000, the Austrian video and performance artist Valie Export, wrote a letter to me. She was a bit desperate because she couldn’t find any footage in her personal archive about her important work “Raum Sehen – Raum Hören” (Seeing Space – Hearing Space) (1974). Because her piece was created and recorded in the context of the exhibition “Projekt 74″ (Kunsthalle Köln and Kölnischer Kunstverein) by the Lijnbaancenter Rotterdam team, and was decorated with an award, she hoped that I would have a copy of the videotape. I was the curator of the video section in those days, which was meanwhile a quarter of a century ago! Actually, I could be helpful; in collaboration with the media archive of the ZKM Karlsruhe and its (former) director Heinrich Klotz, I had already copied the most important of my old videotapes. That’s how the video catalog of that exhibition was transformed into a new format and the video artists were able to add another artwork to their oeuvre. Now, Valie Export’s tape is one of 500 works in my complete archive and personal library about video art, which includes all of my correspondence, drawings, documents, and so forth, which I donated to the Akademie der Künste, Berlin, two years ago (2011).
This first worldwide video catalog is not only one which displays original artworks. Beside the copies in my archive and those belonging to Lijnbaancenter, we (myself and the technical team) produced new works by eleven participating artists. However, not one copy was sold, in spite of our publication’s availability during the exhibition (5 July – 8 September 1974). Thanks to special circumstances, which will be explained later, the catalog was described:
“An electronic catalog is available on a Sony 3/4 inch tape (U-matic for both European and American players) with selected video activities by Böhmer, Breloh, Davis, Export, Jonas, Ortlieb, Rosenbach, Ruthenbeck, Sharp, VAM, and Weibel. The price: 300 DM (deutschmarks), black & white and color, 60 minutes.”
On the tape there are eleven artists, but actually Peter Weibel’s work is missing. So, two (of three) newly produced videotapes of Vito Acconci were added. Acconci was already a star in those days, showing at the Sonnabend Gallery, NYC, and probably he had not yet given his permission for the publication. The catalog includes a photo by Joschik Kerstin, who documented all the artists at work (page 406, image 1). The reason why Peter Weibel’s work “NEN,” which he produced in Cologne on August 4th (page 425) was the only work not included in the video edition, can only be explained by the fact that he refused to give his permission; only he refused! The cover of the catalog was designed by Paul Maenz, a specialist in advertising and graphic design. He used the slogan “Kunst bleibt Kunst”(art stays art) in the background of an ambivalent image of clouds, in the light of sunrise, or possibly sunset. After 1968, cover and slogan design could only be understood as a provocation, according to the contribution of the participating artist Klaus Staeck (page 325), where he says “Art of the 70’s does not take place inside the museum.”
Actually, I have to explain why photos are shown in this print section of the catalog, documenting the fact that they could only have been taken during the time of the exhibition. It’s because the first version of the catalog, ready in time for the press conference, had to be destroyed because one of the participating artists, Katharina Sieverding (page 316/317) did not accept the quality of her color reproductions. To tell the truth, it must be reported that this was the consequence of a legal judgment. One single artist -out of 200 in this catalog of 436 pages- demanded that the book not go into distribution. That did not seem to be appropriate. It is difficult to reconstruct the whole background and the true reasons, but the court met on a Friday at 12.30, which was traditionally the start of the weekend for civil servants. Therefore, the official lawyer in charge, employed at the city administration, was absent, and the (female) judge felt encouraged, and reached an unusual decision: the whole catalog had to be reprinted. The artist had won the case! I tried to make the best of a negative situation, and managed to bring photos of the actual art production into the (new) publication. Therefore, documentation could be added for Acconci, Rosenbach, VAM and Weibel, as well as for the first live performance of Nam June Paik, when he sat like a Buddha next to his work “Buddha” at the opening (page 419).
My colleagues in those days (Evelyn Weiss and Dieter Ronte) radically edited down the chapter about the 96 videotapes, to only three pages with no images. My protest did not change anything, to them it was too uninteresting to show three stills of each videotape in the catalog, and it was also a good opportunity for them to save money. In effect, my own colleagues censored the exhibition. They found video to be too boring and unimportant for the exhibition project as a whole, even if it was the first time that video art was shown in Europe. At the same time, David Ross had added 30 percent Europeans (and German productions by artists Gerry Schum, the Lijnbaancenter, Wolf Vostell and Jochen Gerz) to his touring exhibition “Open Circuits,” for the McLaughlin Library at the University of Guelph, Canada. Under the motto, “An Exhibition on the Theme of Videotape in Art,” almost 100 art works were seen. In reaction to this situation, I took the chance to publish our unique materials as well, and as head of the Kölnischer Kunstverein, I edited a 40 page catalog, “Video Tapes.”
The exhibition “Projekt 74″ was subtitled “aspects of international art at the beginning of the 70’s.” The official historical date was not so spectacular. Although the collection of Wallraf-Richatz-Museum had a 150 year history, the museum itself had only existed for 125 years. Kurt Hackenberg, Cologne’s city councilor in charge of cultural affairs, had completely different intentions: at the end of, and at the peak of his successful career (after over 20 years of work) he wanted to make Cologne not only the city of museums founded and organized by its citizens, but the new center of contemporary art, like it’s new gallery scene and the continuously growing art market in Cologne, which had started already in 1967. In those days, the art world (critics and the art scene) assumed that documenta 5 in Kassel, by Harry Szeemann, would be a huge disaster, like the exhibition “Happening & Fluxus” that he curated at the Kölnischer Kunstverein in 1970. So, Kurt Hackenberg saw a chance to bring an international art focus to the Cultural City Cologne, to compete with Kassel, which was provincial and situated near the border to the GDR. But, the art critics at Cologne’s “Stadtanzeiger” attacked contemporary art especially hard. There were ongoing rumors that the editor, Alfred Neven DuMont, had personally given orders to write and publish critical reviews about contemporary art! Surely, it would be interesting, necessary and clarifying to have some scientific research about what happened around the reception of documenta 5, in comparison to pilot projects like the avant-garde exhibitions “Szene Rhein Ruhr 72,” at Museum Folkwang Essen (in the popular Gruga Halls and Gruga Park) curated by Dieter Honisch, and as well as “Projekt 74.” Especially when compared to Szeemann’s documenta, for which only Gerry Schum’s new media works “Land Art” and “Concept” were chosen. Meanwhile in Essen, and two years later in Cologne, experimental film, video art and avant-garde music (from Stockhausen, to Kagel and Kraftwerk) were included for the first time. The picture changed over the following ten years, documenta improved, and the reputation of documenta5 was resurrected, but exhibitions in Cologne (until “Westkunst” in 1981) were judged as negative.
In the context of our first video catalog, the remarkable fact of “Projekt 74″ is not so much the broad mix of conceptual art with positions of painting and sculpture, was not the first integration of experimental film and video into the art context, but the concept of the video section itself. In the Kölnischer Kunstverein, video art was shown in three categories:
meters /2,153 square feet (a third of the entire Kunstverein’s space).
Unique, and never repeated again, was the collaboration with three artists who were members of the Lijnbaancenter Rotterdam. They were open to move to Cologne for a bit more than two months, and brought all their hardware with them to share with the invited artists, who spontaneously joined them. Only a few people outside of institutions (like Museum Folkwang in Essen) or the art academies even had video players in those times. As a result, not only were there three artists/technicians available, but we also established a media park with four cameras, editing desk, and etc. Henk Elenga, Wink van Kempen and Frederic Kappelhof established a public schedule for production that was developed together with the invited artists, who appear in the chronological order of their live performances: Taka Iimura, Doug Davis, Willoughby Sharp, Rainer Ruthenbeck, Vito Acconci, Joan Jonas, Dan Graham, Ulrike Rosenbach, Peter Weibel, Valie Export, and Heinz Breloh. They were followed by the two groups: telewissen (Harald Schuhmacher) and VAM (Michael Geißler), who deliberately wanted the audience to be involved and/or to develop their own initiatives. On one of the “free” days, the artist Harald Ortlieb activated us all to create a production, and to include the experiment in the video catalog. Concerts (of Phil Glass and others), or dance performances (of Yvonne Rainer for example), took place Monday or Friday. The exhibition was open until 10 pm nightly and productions, together with the artists, were public and interested visitors and young artists could watch.
The video catalog includes my speech at the opening, as well as longer parts from the eleven artists, which were all produced live in Cologne. Sometimes they are announced by the artists themselves, sometimes they are without any explaining texts. All the sound was recorded live.
The keywords, so important in every discussion, in those days, were: “the museum as a studio” and, “the new just-in-time production for exhibition.” At the same time, we felt that the visitors themselves should be involved in the process of art making; non-professionals should be motivated to do artistic work. Therefore, video was an appealing media in so far it showed the results of moving images in real time to the producer. One could either make corrections immediately or just start all over again without wasting material and costs. Working with film or even with the popular and cheap Super 8 technology did not offer these possibilities.
In addition to the main, thick catalog, the thin booklet “Video Tapes,” and the video catalog with the eleven contributions, the magazine KUNST Nr.4 (in its 14th year) was published. I was the author of the cover story, “Video – a new media in fine arts.” Together with the photos of the live video performances from “Projekt 74,” the features of video art had then as well been published in this widely distributed art magazine (pages 68-84). But, even the added advertisement for the video catalog brought no success. Gerry Schum had similar experiences, and also could not sell his limited, signed editions since 1971, even if they were not so expensive if compared to his original works of Land Art. He consequently had to change his “Videogalerie” (Video Gallery) into “Fernsehgalerie” (TV Gallery), yet the experiment was presented only twice on German television. Nowadays, artists publish their work on the internet, and show excerpts on YouTube without earning enough money to pay for their costs. There are a many video documentations about artists and on artist movements, but editions of video artworks are still rare: an important example is the edition “40 Years of German Video Art,” with 12 parts and 55 video pieces (Edition Cantz, Stuttgart, 2006).
German to English translation: Susanne Gerber
English copy edit: Kathy Rae Huffman