Picture*codes#. 1992-2002
10 Years of Media Art in Dialog
Sat, November 09, 2002 – Mon, January 06, 2003

A tenth birthday is always a special occasion to celebrate, not just because ten is a round number, but because it is the first with two digits. 10 is 1 and 0, the basic unit for any computer, the basis for media art. So we would like to use the celebration to reflect about the coding of images in the digital age. And where better to do this than in museums, in art collections, at art associations or in educational venues like academies. We are not interested getting in a jolly group round the table with the birthday cake, in other words luring the friends of media art into the ZKM, but we want to make art a little more democratic, make it accessible. Not least for this reason, ZKM and the Südwestfunk Baden-Baden have been awarding the »international\media\art\prize« jointly since 1992.

Unfortunately, video artists' hopes of using television technology to reach a wider public were never fulfilled. Isolated projects have gone down in history, like for example Gerry Schum's programme »Identification«, broadcast by the WDR, with artists like Giovanni Anselmo. Joseph Beuys, Jan Dibbets, Mario Merz et al., or David Hall's »TV Interruptions«, broadcast by Scottish Television in 1971. But overall the »Media Art for All« project has largely failed, and has not got any further than isolated contributions here and there in the mass media. The »international\media\art\prize« has been the only constant quantity. 50 media art works are presented annually, after first being assessed for quality and content by a jury.

And so why has there been a retreat into the »White Cube«, even though it is in split form, to celebrate the round birthday? There is not only one reason for this, and the room for explanation is limited. We do not want to address the question of media art and reproducibility here. So far the answer has probably been that it is almost impossible to tackle it. Where can you rent an artist's video? Where can you be as sure of finding a tape as you are of finding Rembrandt's »Night Watch« in Amsterdam? On closer examination, it seems as though media art is even less easily accessible than the traditional arts like painting and sculpture. And even though over 1000 titles can be called up in the ZKM media lounge at any time, we are not content with this. We do not want to wait for visitors, we want to reach them. We also want to include other institutions: in a networked world, art needs co-operation as well if it is to be noticed.

Media and video contributions in particular have been taken for granted above all by the younger generation for a long time now. Thus the number of entries has increased from year to year, until finally the diversity and breadth of variation threatened to become unmanageable. For this reason, a theme was added as an additional criterion from 1999: »cITy« in that year, then »Control Space« and this year »Picture Codes«. All these concepts are open enough to involve all the genres from theoretical reflection to performance, but have a fine enough mesh not only to pursue artistic developments using the selected works, but also to make a contribution to current discussion.

Of course there have been picture codes for as long as there have been pictures, and classical art history justifiably starts at an appropriately early stage. But we are not trying to compete with ancient Greek images, the altarpieces of the Middle Ages or the expressive gestures of the modern age - on the contrary, we want to stimulate a dialogue. We want to allow a selection from the 500 entries for the »international\media\art\prize« to enter into a dialogue with Classical Modern objects, with the relics of technological history, with exhibits from literature, as picture codes are always put together from a remnant of the inexpressible. It is only by confronting, only by looking that the more profound layers of pictorial legibility can be revealed to us.

It is only when they are compared with each other that pictures can convey the emotional qualities to us that words alone cannot describe: thus Paul Garrin's 1998 video »Free Society« takes up the aspect of power, the power of the state and the police, but also the power of those who are ready to change the status quo by using violence, which was the intention of the Jacobites in the French Revolution or the German revolutionaries in 1848/49. The material is taken from news broadcasts and TV documentaries, then manipulated and alienated artistically to show the breadth of modern media information culture, and then moving on the historically linear plane to the reports of the 19th century democratic revolution in the modern presentation by the Badisches Landesmuseum in Karlsruhe. Erik Pauser and Johan Söderberg's work »Rodney King«, 1992-93, now on show at the Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Stuttgart, is also about the influence of television images. It is a graphic representation of the riots in Los Angeles after the murder of Rodney King, which makes the relevance of art, its critical intervention, accessible to a younger generation of artists.

Sometimes we were simply lucky with the choice of tapes, for example, Pascal Magnin's work »Reines d'un jour«, 1997, is an entry for the »international\media\art\prize« that can be seen at the important »Der Berg« exhibition at the Heidelberger Kunstverein. The subject is a sensual, powerful and witty homage to the beauty of nature in the Alps.

… These are just a few examples to make it clearer why we are so interested in presenting media art in Baden-Württemberg and environs. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all the institutions who committed themselves to support us and look after the »international\media\art\prize« in their venues prudently and sympathetically.

Exhibitions team

Barbara Könches (project management)

Organization / Institution
ZKM | Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie