Exhibitions Archive

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  • 'Infermental' curated by George Clark and Dan Kidner with James Richards
  • 19 July to 4 September 2010

  • Photo: Zoltán Jancsó © Vera Baksa-Soós Courtesy of ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe

‘Infermental’ curated by George Clark and Dan Kidner, surveys the ‘first international magazine on videocassettes’ initiated by Hungarian Filmmaker, Gábor Bódy in 1981 and is the first significant presentation of the project in a UK gallery. A specially built screening room and three viewing platforms, designed by artist James Richards, host three of the eleven issues of the ‘magazine’ that were produced over a ten year period, between 1981 and 1991. Bódy pitched Infermental – a compound word made up of the words ‘international’, ‘fermentum’ and ‘experimental’ – as a project that would promote ‘new experiments in our information culture’ and build bridges between ‘media islands’. His idea to build an ‘Encyclopaedia of Recorded Imagery’ was realised with boundless energy and a visionary zeal. These qualities lived on in the project long after Bódy’s early death in 1985; his widow, Vera Baksa-Soós continued to manage, promote and distribute the editions until 1991.

The first issue, which had ambitions to be a ‘non-geographical

Bauhaus’, was produced whilst Bódy was on a DAAD residency in Berlin, and each subsequent issue was put together in a different city. Beginning in Europe, and with a distinct focus on connecting video and media artists in the east and the west, Infermental soon became truly international when later editions were produced in North America and Japan. Each edition featured between thirty and one hundred artists contributing complete films, excerpts, trailers, interviews and fragments, and was assembled by a different editorial team, normally consisting of two former contributors, and one supervisor. Over the course of the project’s life, a diverse range of influential figures contributed to the magazine including Margaret Ahwesh, Tony Conrad, Gary Hill, Joan Jonas, Jon Jost, Marcel Odenbach, Amos Poe, Steina Vasulka and Lawrence Weiner. But it is the less familiar names, the editorial rationale, the innovative distribution strategy and presentation that make it such a fascinating and enduring project. Enabled by the newly accessible technology of U-matic video, Infermental collected

together a range of formats including 8mm, 16mm and 35mm as well as video. The editions were sold or hired to institutions with specific instructions for their presentation: the tapes were to be played one after the other for the full duration of the issue. Given the status of video at this time, and broad lack of support from galleries and film festivals, Infermental attempted to find a new way to present and circulate work amongst artists and institutions around the world.

Rather than present the full archive, Clark and Kidner have selected three issues that at once represent the range and ambition of the project, but also narrate the project’s development from a European network to a global community of experimental filmmakers and new media artists. Issue 1 appeared in 1982 and explicitly made the relationship between east and west its overarching theme. There were also six sub themes under which the works were grouped. The first, The Mirror as Motif, included several artists who would go on to be involved in the project as it evolved over the years: Gusztáv Hámos,

Astrid Heibach and Rotraut Pape. The fourth issue was edited by the French artists group FRIGO, and marked a shift in the editorial policy, drawing on the group’s multi-disciplinary activities, collective organisation and experience in pirate radio. Authorship is problematised as amateur footage, highly authored artists’ films, ethnographic documents, video performances and music videos are seamlessly edited together. Issue 8, produced in Tokyo and edited by Keiko Sei and Alfred Birnbaum, is the final edition included in the exhibition. With the title of In the Afterglow of TV-land it signalled the limit of the project’s global ambitions and drew together a diverse range of practitioners in a constant flow of information that resembled an alternative TV broadcast. In addition to these three issues, one monitor will show Cross-Cultural Television by Hank Bull and Antonio Muntadas, a video specially commissioned to conclude Inferemental 6, The New World Edition.

The curators have invited artist James Richards to design an exhibition environment within which to display

the three editions and Cross-Cultural Television. A screening room hosts the three selected editions on rotation, whilst the remaining two editions and special issue are shown on monitors.

The exhibition’s film schedule is as follows:

17 to 30 July Infermental 1, Berlin, 1982, 38 contributions, 8 countries, 4 hours. Editors: Gábor Bódy / Astrid Heibach. Supervisor: Gusztáv Hámos.

31 July to 13 August Infermental 4, Lyon, 1985, 102 contributions, 14 countries, 7 hours. Editors: FRIGO (Gérard Couty, Mike Hentz, Christian Vanderborght). Supervisor: Astrid Heibach.

14 August – 4 September Infermental 8, Tokyo, 1988, 73 contributions, 15 countries, 5 hours. Editors: Keiko Sei / Alfred Birnbaum. Supervisor: Mike Hentz / Hank Bull.

Both the screening room and the monitors, held on platforms, at once emphasise the temporary nature of the presentation and create distinct zones within the exhibition. The screening room is installed at an angle in the corner of the gallery, whilst video platforms create different zones within

the space; this allows for intimate viewing, as well as the possibility of experiencing the environment as a work in itself. The environment foregrounds the tension between Inferemental as a historical archive and a live project. Facsimiles of posters, originally produced to promote the project, line the walls and add another layer of distance to the display. This printed matter has been reproduced on uniformly sized un-cropped satin paper, and signals the distance between the project’s aspirations and what actually lay in wait for it beyond the new media horizon.

Unable to predict the Internet, or the ubiquity of the moving image in the gallery space, Infermental imagined a different future for video, which it saw as the medium with which to harness shared global sensibilities and concerns among artists, and as a forum from which to promote a diverse range of practices. From a contemporary standpoint Infermental imagined a future that didn’t materialise, or at least not in the way that Bódy had imagined it would. When Communism fell at the end of the 1980s, and the countries

that made up the former Eastern Bloc went through hurried and sometimes painful processes of reunification and fragmentation, few in the mainstream media saw the spread of ‘democracy’ as anything other than a cause for celebration. The backdrop of the Cold War fired Infermental’s optimism about the part that new, or alternative, media practices might play in bringing people together. This utopianism may have been misplaced, but the project lives on as a vital challenge to the now standardised forms of moving image presentation and distribution.

An illustrated publication will be launched in 2011. For further details on the project, please see Focal Point Gallery’s website.

For further information on Infermental please visit he following websites:

Infermental

UniversCity TV Network

For further information and images on the exhibition, please contact Laura Bowen, Exhibition and Marketing Officer laurabowen@southend.gov.uk.

‘Infermental’

is generously supported by Arts Council England and Southend-on-Sea Borough Council.