READING THE END OF THE MESSAGE

Leonda Kovac



As I leaf through the pages of this publication I respect the sequence on its pages and allow them to determine the sequence of my notes. I follow the representation of what its author Darko Fritz calls phases in a project entitled End of the Message. I receive the message at the end.

The table of contents tells me that the End of the Message prolongs its own ending. Why? Is there a message behind that standard phrase used in telecommunications? If there is, where does it end? In the act of exhibiting in a public place, or in the form of this publication, which, as a recapitulation of the stages of the end, could be called a methodological manual of the archaeology of the message? Both of those, or neither?

It is necessary to talk about form.

The first phase of the End of the Message exhibits original paintings - works of art that were defined as such by the scholarly discipline called art history, which specified and evaluated them because they are the object of its interest. Chronologically, the paintings belong to the last decades of centuries, and this time determinant defines their set up in the spatial installation End of the Message, which also takes place in the last decade of a century which is also the last decade of a millennium. During this exposition of ends of centuries (every picture is a metonym for the period it represents, so they represent a liner historical sequence: 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th century, and this periodization is one of the preconditions for evaluation) in the same physical space (the room of the gallery) typographical pictures appear in the form of telefax printouts that bear three messages simultaneously transmitted from some other place. These messages are: NO VALUE, VALUE ON, END OF THE MESSAGE. The content of each of the message is at the same time the visible motif on the typographical picture. To what do the messages, Le. the typographical pictures, refer? To the works of art exhibited? To the process of their exhibiting? To the periodization system that connotes evaluation? To themselves? Whose are these statements, the contents of the three messages? They are unsigned, unlike the works of art that are signed and dated. There is a distinguishing element that sets the typographical pictures apart from the painted ones, an element that does not come to expression at once but in the time of exhibiting. That is to say, the texts of the telefax messages visibly pale in the time of exhibiting, they become illegible, while the paintings with the character of museum exhibits remain continuously legible. The permanence of the message? Or the permanence of the work of art? The medium establishes the difference.

The painted and the typographical pictures can be seen simultaneously only in a convex mirror placed on the gallery ceiling. However, can we credit what we see in this way? We know that convex mirrors distort an image. What is the meaning of the distorted image, and why is distortion emphasized. In this publication the author explains his work, and he says that he was inspired by the work of Parmigiani no and Van Eyck. I find the author's verbal explanation of his work more interesting than discussing the function and meaning of the convex mirror, as a motif in the period art history calls mannerism. Can the explanation procedure be considered equivalent to painting a self-portrait in a convex mirror? At the end of the message.

Under the mirror a security camera that constantly recorded during the exhibition, and a video screen that showed what the camera was recording, were placed side by side. With no time delay. In the exhibition area a sign was placed saying that the camera was recording, made to look like a traffic sign indicating danger. Is this traffic? What is circulating, and where is the danger? In the explanation of his work Fritz said that the "visitors are an important and active part of the installation. It does not matter whether they accept this suggested re-evaluation of the medium, or not. The electronic picture of an individual's body in space is tele-presented in space by the security camera as it builds the virtual memory of the installation". Is there any danger from that virtual memory which, obviously, manipulates human bodies turning them into a media image? Regardless of whether they accept this or do not, the rules of the game have been set forth.

Art history, which is sometimes called a scholarly discipline, has its own rules of the game. Its activities result in a system of inventories, periodization, description, evaluation and so on, which is called the history of art. Essentially, this system functions as an image of the world built on the basis of memory. Whose memory, and furthermore, can this memory, whose immanent imperative is to be remembered, be called virtual?

In the second phase of the project, called the End of the Message Security Camera, the author determines a video, i.e., a TV program, consisting of a sixty-minute long selection of what the security camera recorded during the exhibiting of the spatial installation End of the Message in the Rijksmuseum Twenthe in Enschede. In this stage consumers receive the End of the Message without the presence of a security camera recording the process of reception. Unlike the preceding stage, here the message is received exclusively through an electronic media space in which condensation of time becomes possible. A question forces itself on me here, is periodization and classification in art history also a kind of time condensing?

As the End of the Message video tape is broadcasted by the TV transmitter the project's system of references, which was transparent in the first stage, becomes obscured. This does not imply that it changed. This is the presentation of a narrowed context (the word context here means the category of the historical), which functions as a different context. The context of the first phase still exists somewhere, but the context of the second phase, making the first context obscure, essentially changes the addressee-message relationship. While in the gallery set up viewers have the status of active participants in the generation of the work, in the second phase they are only used as receivers. Their presence in the time and space of the presentation does not alter the form of the work which, as broadcasted by the television, is the message. Here reception is reduced to passive consumption. Of what? Of something whose original references are in the space-off, invisible on the screen of the electronic receiver that ensures the work the status of video-art. A category defined by the methodology of the scholarly discipline called art history. An art medium. In the first phase the system of connotations makes the viewers aware that they are looking at work of art, however in the second phase they are watching a TV program. Two questions can be asked here: does a TV program have the status of a work of art, and is there equivalence on the relation work of art - program? To be more precise, can every work of art be considered a program? If the answer is yes, to what system of transmission does it belong?

The publication's table of contents informs us about the third phase of the project called End of the Message (archives), which took place in the form of a gallery set up of a series of photographs: video-stills at a problem exhibition. Besides the visible frames, there are other elements here that cannot be neglected, and whose character is not primarily visual. They are concepts incorporated in the title and the basic data about the work, which are called the caption or legend in the practice of gallery-catalogue presentation. I do not intend to repeat Derrida's discussion about the parergon [1] here to conclude that the name of a work is its integral, even its constitutive part. I am more interested in the extension of concepts the caption mentions: archives, video-still and of course message.

Let us start with "archives". Dictionaries define it as the place where public documents and the like are kept, or a collection of historical documents about an institution or a community. The name comes from the Greek work arkheia, meaning public documents. Fritz's series of photographs satisfies conditions for calling something archive material: the snapshots were made in a public place, what is more, in an institution (in an art gallery - the location as an institution; the act of exhibiting - the event as an institution; art - a category as an institution), within a specific community (the gallery public), and as documents intended for public presentation, i.e. use. The criterion of historical authenticity is satisfied because the video recorder's time code is visible in the bottom right-hand corner of each photograph. The problem here is how the documents are used, to be more exact the way and purpose of their presentation. The way history is used?

The archive concept connotes Deleuze's words calling Foucault a new archivist.[2] "The new archivist," wrote Deleuze, "proclaimed that he will from now on consider only statements. He will not concern himself with what was the concern of earlier archivists in thousands of different ways: judgments and sentences... statements cannot be divorced from a space of rarities in which they are distributed on the principle of avarice or even poverty. The possible or potential do not exist in the realm of the statement, there everything is real and complete reality is expressed: only what is formulated is important, what is here, at this moment, and with existing vacancies and blank areas. It is obviously possible to mutually confront statements and hierarchize them according to levels. But in two chapters Foucault strictly shows that contradiction between statements exists on only one positive distance, measurable in rarefied space, and that statements are rarefied through a mobile diagonal that makes it possible to directly encompass the same whole at different levels in that space, but also to directly select specific wholes on the same level, without considering other wholes that belong to the same level (and assume a different diagonal)".

In the gallery set up at the problem exhibition Radical Images eight photographs by Fritz, video-stills, act as a whole. As a whole, that sequence questions the very concept of the whole on several levels. The appearance of the work at the exhibition called Radical Images gives the sequence of frames the attribute of radical images. What makes them radical? The dictionary shows that the adjective radical exists on several levels. On one it means: of the root, fundamental, basic, far-reaching, thorough; on the other resolute, seeking complete reforms, thoroughness in holding an opinion; there are also the grammatical, mathematical, chemical and other levels. On which to read the radicalism of pictures from the third phase of the End of the Message?

Let us return to the concept of the whole. Each of the eight frames exhibited is the mediated printout of an electronic image of a detail of part of the human body. The technique of transferring images to photographic paper is specified by the term video-still that implies the procedure of stopping a moving picture. Here the words of Dietmar Kamper come to mind, about it being impossible to visually identify objects without first bringing them to a standstill.[3] What kind of visual identification is this? Visibility, more precisely the intelligibility of what is visible, is proportional to distance from the lens of the security camera at the moment of recording - surveillance. The'greater the distance, the clearer it becomes which part of the human body is shown. And vice-versa. In the bottom right-hand corner, where pictures that we usually call works of art have the signature of the artist and the date, is the time code of the video recorder. Read as a date, it shows that all the stills were made on 5 November 1995, between 3:21:13 p.m. and 3:51:41 p.m. These pictures present the efficiency of the security camera during thirty minutes. If this is an archive, as the title of this stage of the work implies, it should be possible to reconstruct the event on the basis of documents. Let us provisionally call the event a whole. But, what whole do the photographs indicate? A time segment of thirty minutes as a whole; the human body as a whole; the whole in which that body exists; the space of the work the End of the Message? Space or spaces? The wholeness of the message?

Or levels, perhaps. On the level of authorship, the work is attributed to cooperation between the lens of the security camera and its virtual memory. This, too, is a whole: input - memory -printout. In the area of the video-still neither the possible nor the potential exist, everything is real and complete reality is expressed: only what has been registered here is important, what is here, at this moment, and with existing vacancies and blank areas. Foucault says that it is true that statements are rare, but there is no need for us to be original to produce them. The statement is always a transmission of uniqueness, of unique points distributed in the corresponding space. The formations and transformations of these spaces represent topological problems that are difficult to express in the terms of creativity, beginnings or foundations.[4] Can we, therefore, confront the expression "end of the message" by something like "beginning of the message", which would imply not only a chronological, but also a topological beginning? The possibility of locating the place from which the process of transmitting the message began.

The fourth phase of the End of the Message (archives -live!) was in the form of a presentation with the characteristics of a spectacle. The video tape of the End of the Message was projected in a drive-in cinema simultaneously with the video-stills from that tape, and the sound (recorded during the exhibiting in Enschede) was transmitted via radio waves. The format of the moving picture frame was identical and parallel with that of the videostills. Although both images are re-presentation of the same event (the appearance of the End of the Message in the Rijksmuseum Twenthe in Enschede), and were made with the same security camera, they are different. On several levels. It is quite clear that what we call difference, which is the basic determinant of the work in all its phases, and of all the images that appear during the phases, proceeded from editing. Therefore, editing is a precondition for the existence of the wholes. Yes, of the wholes as a multitude, because the End of the Message proves that there is no whole that could be grammatically denoted in the singular. The video-film and video-still construct virtual time in different ways; the videofilm by compression, the video-still by stopping, i.e., by the cut. Compressed time and stopped (cut) time are credible only from the perspective of history as a discipline, not from the historical situation. The perspective of history is socially real and legitimate, and its use is legalized. However, the drive-in spectacle of the End of the Message shows that what is the same is not identical. There are thus many historical perspectives, and each gives a different picture, equally real, equally legitimate. This brings us to the problem of identity. Whose? And at which level?

The fifth phase of the End of the Message - Security Camera is Recording Now took place in a bank. There, in a function of decoration of the public space, exists an original sculpture from 1917 that national art history defined as an anthological work of art. On the floor, along the back side of the pedestal that emphasizes the statue's status of a monument, a video screen was placed showing the video program End of the Message - Security Camera, the edited recording used in the second and the fourth phases of the project. The screen, as usual in museum and gallery presentations of works of art, had a caption with the name of Darko Fritz, the name of the sculptor, the name and date of the sculpture which in the bank serves as a decoration, the text "Security Camera Recording", and the name of the video work that was showing on the screen. The bank itself, of course, had its own recording security camera. In this case the warning that recording was taking place, which was addressed to the clients of the bank, in this case also the exhibition public, was part of the legend, the caption of the work. So what is the work, i.e. the work of art? And who is its author? Can we speak about the identity of the author, furthermore about the identity of what we call the work of art? Yes, if we do not consider identity as something fixed, but something that is constituted at different levels: spatial and temporal, where the process of constituting identity incorporates a parallel process of deconstructing the basic concepts of the discipline that we call art history. The concept of the work of art, the concept of the artist, the concept of creation, the concept of form, the concept of meaning, the concept of value, the concept of permanence... and finally, the very concept of art.

Let us return again to the question of whether this work contains a message, a work signed by a person whom the social inventory and classification (of people) identifies as an artist, and which uses the standard telecommunications phrase "end of the message" as an object (of interest) trouve in the function of a title? At what level is the message? Perhaps in the seventh phase that is called End of the Message (Edit Value)? In messages printed by twenty-one telefax machines in the form of typographical pictures, saying: NO VALUE, VALUE ON, END OF THE MESSAGE. Is choice really possible?
Let us file this question in the total archives, too.

Zagreb, October 1996
Leonida Kovac

[1] Jacques Derrida, La verite en peinture, Flaumarian, Paris, 1978.
[2] Gilles Deleuze, Foucault, Les Editions de Minuit, Paris, 1986.
[3] Dietmar Kamper, The Four Boundaries of Seeing, catalogue to the Metropolis exhibition, Berlin, 1991.
[4] Deleuze, op.cit.


published at End of the Message - works 1995 - 1996, editor Darko Fritz, ex pose verlag Hansgert Lambers, Berlin, 1996



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