The new book Lives and Videotapes: The Inconsistent History of Norwegian Video Art contains six in-depth interviews with artists who contributed in their own right to the establishing of video as an art form in Norway; Marianne Heske, Terje Munthe, Morten Børresen, Kjell Bjørgeengen, Inghild Karlsen and Jeremy Welsh. The book is an integrated part of the archival project Videokunstarkivet, (The Norwegian Video Art Archive), and we have asked author and Head of Research Marit Paasche about their ambitious plan to preserve and make accessible a part of Norwegian art history threatened with oblivion.
Nina Strand: I have heard lovely stories on artists bringing in boxes of old VHS-cassettes and trying, together with you, Per Platou and Ida Lykken Ghosh, to find the exact sequence they want to show you. For the past two years you have registered around 1700 works to find the right material and actually save it for history. What was the greatest challenge working with this material, and what has been most surprising?
Marit Paasche: Yes, there has been a lot of material to work with – some of the greatest challenges are the lack of information and facts related to the tapes. What do you do when nobody remembers when the tape was made, where it was shown or when it was made? The vast amount of tapes, the range of different formats and often the condition of the tapes has also proved to be challenging –some of the tapes even came with mould! But all in all this has been a great dive into recent history and a very rewarding experience. The most surprising is maybe how rich and multifaceted this material is and how closely it is intertwined with the broad national and international art scene.
Strand: In an interview from our 4th issue of Objektiv Marte Vold claims that the video medium is still in its teens here in Norway. Having gone through the history, do you agree?
Paasche: Not quite. Video in Norway is more like a newly deceased relative, your eccentric aunt that no one quite understood while she was alive, but in retrospect turns out to be a much more intriguing personality than you thought. In other words video as a specific medium is history.
Strand: The preface is written by former assistant director at LUX, Mike Sperlinger. What was his impression of Norwegian video art?
Paasche: He mentions one thing that is quite important, which he noticed after reading the interview with Jeremy Welsh. One of the most noticeable differences between the Norwegian scene and those of the U.S., Britain and the Netherlands was that we did not have any non-commercial “distributors” of video art. This was certainly part of the reason why he states that “Norway was a black hole" in the early 90s.
Strand: The international launch of Lives and Videotapes… will take place during the New York Art Book Fair, at MoMA PS1 September 26-28 and be followed by a presentation by you and a lecture on new media preservation by Jon Ippolito, former curator at The Guggenheim Museum, now professor at the University of Maine. What are your hopes for this book – what could it do for Norwegian video art? And could you tell us about the work you and Videokunstarkivet will continue to do, you will present your final result soon?
Paasche: There were two main reasons for writing this book: Firstly, to provide greater insight into the context and the historical conditions for the creation of early Norwegian video art. This insight is particularly relevant to the archive’s function for scholars, curators, and other interested parties outside of Norway. The other reason has to do with complementing the technical and conservational work. To understand what makes a work meaningful is as important as working out the technical formats. So, one could say that the larger context surrounding early video work is what this book is mainly about. Lives and Videotapes… attempts to reveal how, why, and under what circumstances many of the early video works made in Norway came about—and what makes them important for posterity. How did these artists perceive video as a medium? What were their references? What conceptions of art were they challenging, and how was the medium of video involved in influencing the general perception of art?
This is a three-year pilot project, so the final result (summer 2015) will be a model for a future video art archive. One of the major, practical results of our work––in addition to digging up tapes and contextualizing them––is the construction of a comprehensive database tool (DAM = Digital Asset Management). Through this open source tool we are able to combine the past, present and future for artists, curators and researchers alike. For a more detailed explanation of this work, see this interview from June 2014.
We are convinced that the Art Council Norway will understand the importance of our efforts, and that the archive will expand during the years to come. As for now we have made an archival tool, and filled the database with information and a certain number of actual video works. However, in the future it will be the next generation of artists, curators, researchers and eventually the general audience who will benefit by better understanding how this particular technological medium came into being, and how it has influenced the art world so significantly.