Exposing the enslaver machine
  On Video Art

by Benna, 3 April 2012

Benna, “skopèin: beato carlo liviero”, 2010
Audio-visual, SD 4:3 Stereo, 5’10” (cyclic loop)

A consequence of being video artists may be that to become slaves.
Video artists need video technology to speak, to express their minds, their vision. Technology is a golem: you can either take advantage of it or subdue to its strength.

These words are not merely a way to impress the reader: I see indeed many video artworks, especially by young artists, who are worriedly trying to flaunt how they can master the machine, or how much their style can be trendy. Most of the times they are technology slaves, always playing with the ultimate gadget tool.
Someone will agree that many video artists are interested only in being skilled, manifesting meanings that are just pretexts to show their assumed talent, gimmicks concealing their unconditional devotion to technology. Thats virtuosismo, a very bad habit that we may find in every kind of art. (1) Nothing to blame if they enjoy that, but deep inside their own the need to prove they can accomplish a good job is breeding.
Worst of all are those who use technology and special effects to fill an expressive vacuity. All these artists-technicians may eventually end up to become artisans of some cutting-edge production factories, silently making cars and perfumes ads, or processing bits of the latest 3D thing.
Art is not a profession, you don’t have to accomplish a job; indeed you are here to tell, no matter how you do it: just tell. (2)
Don’t care about the tool or the technique, and express your thoughts, since our world needs new ideas, and not to put another slave into overfilled cages: the word art has its etymology in the Sanskritic root ar, which means to go, figuratively as starting an action.

Benna, “nothing happened archetype”, 2012
Performance and drawing, video recording SD 3:4 Stereo, 32’36”, india ink on spolvero paper, 210 x 85 cm and four mobile parts

Personally, I don’t tell my thoughts only through Video Art, that would be too boring. I practice several art disciplines. Painting is much less technological than video, if not at all: a brush, some coloured powders, a medium and a surface. The brush is nothing more than an extension of the tool I am. I, as a tool, change the reality around me, transforming it into a painting. So drawing and graphics are, and performance too, et cetera. Even photography can be less technological: build a stenopeic cardboard box, put some emulsion paper in it and expose; the result is a “transmutation” of light into a sheet of paper, which then I can enjoy with the eyes and touch.
On the contrary, electronic video exists only inside the machine, it can be generated and viewed only through the machine. You are an external operator of a black box, which is needed to keep your immaterial artwork alive. (3) You rely on the black box.

So what?
I don’t want to depend on anybody, figure out of any box: I use video, but don’t care to be considered a good technician. False modesty apart, I am skilled indeed, and I could show my best awareness on the ultimate lure of the actual charming style and cool fashion to which people cyclically stick, or simply make the picture to look better with that magic undertone, but I don’t care.
Instead I often use improper devices that could produce video noise, mangled audio, low resolution. But again that’s not a choice of look and style.
Then, why? Because I wish to “expose the machine”, and maybe eventually get rid of it. This is a process of deconstruction from the inside, I want to use the very same tool to make people aware of it.
In fact, one of my concerns when I create a video, is to make the beholder aware that the video motion pictures are not the reality, but just an interpretation of it through a sensor, through a lens, through data encoding.
I need to put a veil on the picture, a “layer of abstraction”, as a tag exposing the device’s invisible presence. Actually I do that using colouring, video noise and vignetting: they remind me old vintage photography, which I appreciate very much for its innate layer of abstraction made of technological immaturity.

Benna, “lost civilization of the vessels”, 2009
Audio-visual, SD 4:3 Stereo, 5’10”

I had in good esteem the Dogme 95 movement, at least to a certain degree since I don’t like to have any rules at all. I like the degrading of the picture due to the hand-held shooting and the refusal of additional lighting in the set.
I have always gone in the opposite direction of the endless run for lifelikeness and picture perfection.

Benna, “topic #6”, 2010-2011
Audio-visual, SD 4:3 Stereo, 15’33”

But there’s another substantial point: as I said before, video pictures are not the reality. Here we can find an important concept: in our times the most of us are hopelessly accustomed with the comfortable mental laziness for which what we see is what it is. Since Surrealism, Magritte warned us that is not so, and this applies to video, photography, painting (and even our eyesight, but my interest is now focused on humans dealing with machines). This is virtual reality. (4)
The more lifelike picture, the better illusion. Images are deceiving us, they are a parallel reality, a pataphysical dimension, people tend to forget that, so there’s the need to denounce its mystifyingly power of persuasion again and again.
For its persuasiveness, a perfect lifelike picture is the best mean to deliberately cheat and change people’s mind, and build false proofs which create false beliefs, in order to change the vision of true reality. (5) That’s what especially commercial ads are pursuing.
Video is not the reality and must not even be our perceptive reality.

Benna, “skopèin: le tue migliori amiche”, 2009-2010
Audio-visual, SD 4:3 Stereo, 4’12” (cyclic loop)

Finally, video may enslave people, both the artists and the public, also by making them addicted. The run to the perfect virtual reality deception will never end: from SD to HDTV, to stereography, to holography, to mind implants and so on.
If artists follow their own need to be recognized and acclaimed for their technical skills, they will become technology addicted like their audience.
Artists are the ones who speak: they are empowered to tell their thoughts and possibly to guide the others toward freedom and independence; otherwise speakers and listeners will get all caught into that addictive game of relying on machines.
Like old men relying on walking sticks. (6)


(1) Since mankind used to dwell into caves, art has been a way to communicate, to make the others aware of something that needs to be recorded, that deserves attention, that is nice or is a danger: from great hunting scenes to strange happenings like signs in the sky, from the revelation of a beauty to the denounce of a totem.

(2) Nowadays our psyche is literally submerged into visual art: our society has become a visual society and most of the aspects of our life are the issue and the cause of mental contaminations by pictures from - and back to - ads, movies, signals, banners, toons et cetera. Since the cave graffiti, mankind evolved with images side by side: it’s self-evident the reason why our brain performs well in processing visual records. And the reason why many people would like to master the power of images is self-evident too.
It’s not so self-evident the reason why one would like to be considered, or someone consider a person, an artist: indeed the difference between a so called artist and the others is just the role: the first is the one who talks and the others are the audience, at least until the speech takes place, and the roles are not absolute, they may change in time; everyone can be an artist.
Acquainting this, the greatest artists of all times seem to be the politicians; in fact the artist - either visual, musician, writer - is a politician; the word politics have to be meant in its highest meaning: originating from the Greek word politikè, it is related to the participation in public and social matters.
And, well... what we call politicians are indeed party politicians: most of the times they are “humble servants” (e.g.: slaves) making the interests of their own masters, simply working to live into the divine light shed by banks and other powers.
So, the true and supreme politician is the artist, the poet, the prophet and the philosopher; the others are just money gluttons.
All in all, that’s why artists should be concerned firstly for what they express.

(3) Apparently, also the black box is an extension of its operator: it can be used to change the reality as a tool like the brush, but there’s a big difference in the level of dependence: me, the brush and the painting are belonging to the same dimension, that of the human sensory reality, where I can see the artwork with the eyes, and also interchange the brush tool with another thing belonging to this dimension, even the bare fingers. The video artwork is instead a processing of electrons that belong to another dimension, and it can be enjoyed through nothing but an electronic device.
You are depending on the machine: I guess that not much people is capable to build a digital videocam, and also hope that not much people is dreaming to be directly brain connected to a video player or have a SD-Card slot in the back.

(4) Virtual reality is a locution from the ’80s (but originated before) actually seldom used, because this artificial electronic reality is dangerously converging, slipping and merging day by day into our reality, for that same mental laziness.

(5) Yet in the times when it was a rudimentary and experimental technology, photography has been used by world governments to create photomontages to disguise crimes, riots, wars, to manipulate public opinion and to make false proofs against opponents. It’s never too late to stress that images are not the truth: they are indeed simply concepts, thoughts, personal and partial and biased visions of it. They are fables to tell.

(6) Perhaps the destiny of man will be that described in the perpetual myth of the golem: the creator of the machine perishes under its overwhelming power or subdues to its ultimate beauty and perfection; this is caused by a lack of self-esteem: he does not even see anymore his own ability in having created the machine; he is persuaded to have been surpassed and to be outdated, obsolete.
To converge into one man/machine hybrid will not save mankind from vanishing, as awe-struck transhumanist philosophers are hoping, but it will accelerate the process through an exploiting absorption where at last the weakest part will be definitely obliterated and discarded: the stronger prevails, that’s a natural unavoidable rule. The solution would be that to prevent mankind from building its headsman.
Anyway, I don’t believe that mankind will have nothing more to say, although actually trying to stop a suicide jumping man is a desperate mission.

Benna -