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Sreda, 09. januarja 1997


Slika je virus / Image Is Virus, 1983
video, 20'
produkcija / Production: Meatball, Den Haag

Scanned Reality

What is pain?
Obviously damage to the image.
There could be no pain if there was no image.
Image is Virus, a video by D. Martinis.

Even in his earliest works, made at the beginning of the seventies, Dalibor Martinis, one of the pioneers of video art in Croatia, focused his attention on the relationship between reality and media reality. His first work in the video medium (together with Sanja Iveković), entitled TV-Timer, was first shown at the Trigon '73 international exhibition in Graz, Austria, and was a 25-minute black-and-white video film showing the intervention of the artists in TV broadcasts by means of other media (telephone, watch) or by the appearance of the artists themselves. With the established relationship between the real space (of TV broadcast) and the illusory space (the artists' interventions), the authors clearly showed that they are not merely using video as a means of personal expression, but as an opportunity for critical relation to another medium - in this case, to broadcast national television programmes.

Martinis' first video installation, entitled Dead Nature, 1974, also dealt with the interpretation of television as a closed circle. With extremely limited means, the artist spoke ironically of the nature of television, juxtaposing the "real" dead nature presented on the television set with the increasingly "dead" news appearing on the screen.

The analytical and tautological nature of Martinis' early work is also strongly represented in his mature work, for example his 1983 video, Image is Virus, which has become an essential element in any study of video art developments in the eighties. The film has been shown at numerous international art exhibitions, and has received some important awards (at the 7th Tokyo Video Festival in 1984, for example). Although, in the eighties, we can notice more subjectivity, (self-)irony and even sentimentality in Martinis' work, in Image is Virus the basic position of the speaker remains external to the subject. This depersonalisation, perhaps even coldness, will remain a more or less constant feature of his work, regardless of whether a piece of work allows for the elements of narration and descriptive tone, or whether it is constructed using strictly formal language and principles

Image is Virus has precisely this kind of analytical and logical structure, persistence bordering on self-denial. But control, however, does not mean the reduction of mind. The apparent symmetry with which Martinis has framed the video by dividing it into four parts, titled according to the control functions of a video recorder (Slow Motion, Reset, Fast Forward, Rewind), is a compositional support, but also a "raster" of mind, in which the "disorder" of message can be more clearly illustrated. Martinis was largely influenced by the work of William S. Burroughs; a quotation from which opens the Image is Virus video ("What is reality? There is no true reality or real reality. Reality is simply a more or less constant scanning pattern"), and Martinis also tries to visualise Burroughs' technique of cut-up writing. He uses quotations from Burroughs, which "run" at the top of the picture as an accompaniment to it, although they do not actually accompany it. He takes the method of collage and montage, which was so much promoted at the time in post-criticism and meta-literature, back to the place where it originated - into the new media.

It was found that binary information could be written at the molecular level and an entire image could be contained within a grain of sand. However, it was found that these information molecules were not dead matter but exhibited a capacity for life which is found elsewhere in the form of virus. Image is Virus, a video by D. Martinis.

The title itself is a paraphrase of Burroughs' expression: Language is Virus, and since it is said that one picture is worth a thousand words, Martinis ventured to use the virus metaphor for the television picture and concluded that television is - an epidemic.

Each segment begins with the eyes of a TV viewer, their gaze staring into us - into the viewers of the viewer. This motif of the observer being observed, also appears in some of Martinis' other works, which shows that video can assume the role of a form of social control. In this work, it primarily has the role of censorship, the cut which replaces one reality with another. The common feature of all four parts of the video is a stratification of the TV picture - the elements of one image (diminished image) are "copied" over another TV image, changing the latter into its background.

Word begets its image and image is virus. Image is Virus, a video by D. Martinis.

Slow Motion features the slow but ceaseless upward and downward movement of a dropping picture - just as in TV interference. It was shot in several different public elevators, mainly in department stores, and it is the only part of this video which has a "documentary" character which relates to the "real reality". Primarily outlined here are formal and aesthetic elements, the concerns of a "beautiful" picture, the almost Mondrianian minuteness, and the tendency toward abstract collage. The directions in both pictures sometimes coincide, double themselves; the vertical is occasionally cut by the left-and-right movements and is accompanied by a monotonous sound sometimes coinciding with the correct monochromatic surfaces of the picture. The motion, the passing, proves to be an ultimately significant constant in all Martinis' work. By opening - as Paul Virilio would say - the "third window", which marks the emergence of space-speed (espace-vitesse), Martinis actually succeeds in creating "fugitive images".

The second part, Reset, is composed of the repetition of a short sequence in which four TV announcers appear consecutively. Their greeting - "We wish you a pleasant evening" - just before the national news broadcast, is repeated and accelerated until, finally, it is transformed into unrecognisable sound. At the same time, the picture zooms in on the figures, and thus deconstructs the image, almost revealing each individual pixel.

The third part, Fast Forward, centres on the juxtaposition of "shooting" video games and TV advertisements. Against the "background" of a large blue square, and accompanied by the sound of "shooting", images of TV advertisements are inter-cut with shots of explosions, military aircrafts and scenes of devastation. The Eros of destruction and the destruction of Eros are thus placed one beside the other with no clear commentary, while the caption shows the "neutral" instructions of slot machines: Pay it all. Pay it back. ...

My power is coming, my power is coming and I got millions and millions of images of me, me, meeeee. Image is Virus, a video by D. Martinis.

In the fourth part, Rewind, a small picture extends over the background of video games and covers the whole screen. A close-up of a woman's face convulsing voluptuously is accompanied by sounds of groaning and sighing, and the caption ultimately convinces us that these are sequences from a pornographic video. We are returned to "reality" by the rotation and inversion of the picture, which then stabilises in the opening sequence with the eyes of the viewer on the screen of a television monitor placed in one of the rooms of the "real reality".

Martinis has used ready-made material in some of his video sculptures and installations, and in this video too he uses mainly the technique of appropriation, as he makes collages and montages from already existing footages. But these quotations are never literal: he deconstructs and reconstructs them through electronic manipulation, and thus reactualises the question raised by a medium within a medium: How far is reality actually real? Burroughs' words - There is no true reality or real reality. Reality is simply a more or less constant scanning pattern - is Martinis' unambiguous answer, and has quite consciously been selected second hand.

Nada Beroš

© 1996 MOREL / Si21