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The Endless Sandwitch
[...] there is a function between the telly and the viewer: the user switches the telly off and on. This function is represented and becomes the content of the programme itself [...] on the screen again a few viewers are sitting in front of television screens. On the last a breakdown occurs and the successor has to rise to repair his breakdown. This interferes with the screen of a second successor. The breakdown multiplies up to the real TV screen, forcing the real viewer to stand up to repair the breakdown. Delay: the real process is the final point of a reproduced process.

[PHOTO] Thus Peter Weibel describes his tele-event Endless-Sandwich. He immediately confronts us with the modernist fundamentals of his communication-and media-critical works of the late sixties and early seventies. Beyond the problems of one-sided sender-receiver dependence hinted at in this quote from 1972 and the everyday ideological construction of our image of reality, and hence our social reality, and mass media representation pretending to be natural and innocent, he clearly distinguishes between the breakdown of a representation within a representation and the breakdown of a representation in reality, which consequently means that the postulation of an authentic outer world is possible. An outer world, or, a critical distance concerning the differentiation between media and reality as well as between high and low, art and everyday life experienced by Peter Weibel towards the end of the Sixties, especially in his close relationship with the first generation of Viennese Aktionismus and his reading of Herbert Marcuse´s essay “On the Affirmative Character of Culture“.

In the face of the cultural change of the last 25 years, concluding in a universal society of consumption, information, and media, every basis for a belief in authenticity and autonomy seems nowadays to be missing. In the postmodern hyper-space “consisting of nothing but images of itself and obsessed with pseudo-events and spectacles of every kind“ distance has been cancelled. We have been confronted for years with the culture of simulacrum “where the exchange value has been generalised to an extent that even the memory of the utility value has been erased“ (Frederic Jameson). Originally Endless Sandwich generated suspense for its viewers with the experienced difference between the media image and the real event, thus thematising the governmental determination of reality via the media, but today this oeuvre exemplifies that there is no longer anything more real than our media images. We no longer realise any rupture between the breakdowns on the TV-screen and the breakdown of the TV-screen, but a seamless transition.

[...] the poisoning of communication, committed daily by television, strikes back at the medium. The daily dose of deadly words spoken by the news presenter causes the death of the latter. He is choked by the noxious ecology of the information and communication system TV [...] (Peter Weibel on TV-NEWS, 1972)

The counter-revolutionary , subversive foregrounding of newer technologies of representation and communication leading Peter Weibel from early language- and technology-based communicational analyses, through cinematic deconstruction of apparatuses and illusion, to a direct working approach to TV and video in 1969, went hand in hand with a full-blown media witch-hunt against him and his colleagues after “Art and Revolution“, an Aktionismus-event at the University of Vienna in 1968.

Generally speaking, the at that time rapidly growing communication- and power instrument television had already become so massively influential on our culture and society, that politically thinking artists and intellectuals interested in linguistic, communicative, and consciousness-forming structures had to deal with it. Finally, when in 1968 Sony was the first to distribute a relatively low-priced portable 0.5 inch video device on the European market, all obstacles to direct artistic work with this TV-like medium were out of the way. Though video and TV should be distinguished in respect to different distributional methods (i. e. on the one hand monopolistic mass media structures, on the other free, private channels) and by their constructional conditions and possibilities (some keywords: real time transmission, time-shift, image-editing), they almost entirely correspond to each other. That is why Peter Weibel, lacking broadcasting opportunities, realised his artistic projects dealing with the constructional and manipulative aspects of television as video-installations.

Concerning TV NEWS one might state that this work, originally broadcast on television, generates its suspense especially from the contrastive blending of several levels of reality. Watching the TV-news the average viewer of the time believed that he could distinguish between allegedly real pre-recorded newscasts, seemingly authentic live-presentation, and his own extra-media living-room reality. Putting the news presenter into a not perceivable glass container filling the screen between the usual film reports, Weibel made the viewer believe that the presenter was not sitting in the studio, where smoke could have escaped, but in the closed glass tube of his own television set, getting foggier and foggier. As with a fish tank you were only separated from “reality“ by the pane of glass and the casing. You experienced death at home instead of in the studio, which shocked you much more immediately. So the directed deception of our perception of a TV-presenter entering another level of reality was impressively staged. The question of the “reality“ of television reality was emphatically asked, and the constructional principles, the potential for manipulation, and the self-interest of governmental controllers were all discussed.

Matthias Michalka

Translation O. L.

See also The Karst.

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