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Most of us are perfectly aware that the revolution has not been televised, and were it to occur it would be videotaped—then uploaded onto Youtube—then critiqued by the net multitude in (LOL) . It was only a few decades ago that many radicals felt that popping a video cassette into a player was itself a revolutionary act.

The black oblong block has been all but replaced by the wafer-thin DVD, and we don’t pop, but slide them into whatever digital receptacle we’re using. As the ‘digital heritage’ subtitle to 40 Years Videoart.de—PART 1 indicates, video is a term rapidly outpacing all previous definitions. Accordingly, this compendious catalogue to the exhibition of the same name comes with a DVD Rom strapped to its back cover. Piece by piece, 40 Years videoart.de charts the development of German video art since 1963, with the aim to preserve the most ‘seminal’ works from the media apocalypse envisioned by editor Wulf Herzogenrath—‘If we do not think of a better way of handling videotapes, all we will have left of video art soon is white noise’.
For the most part this is a thought provoking progress through the many phases and faces of the video artist, a change charted by contributor Dieter Daniels from ‘socially anchored identity’ to a ‘technical description’. Some of the texts are hobbled by their own linguistic contortions and the usual losses in translation. Another problem is that the whole ethos of video art—at least, in its pre-1990s form—was characterised by a wide range of practices that went out of their way to resist categorisation and the dictates of the institute. So, what happens to those works that resisted most successfully? What counts as ‘seminal’—that is, who makes it into the bunker and who is, for want of a better word, disposable?

For example, 1980s experimentalist Otto Gunther is not disposable—but his contemporary Llurex is. Also in the bunker are Samuel Beckett, who produced his televisual work Eh Joe in Germany, Nam June Paik and Jan Verbeek—and these are only three in the putative canon being created here. But Herzogenrath’s confident assertion that ‘Institutions are never the beginning, rather they always start with the artists!’ still left me with an uneasy feeling. If such artists are the beginning, then what are new institutions such as ‘Digital Heritage’ other than an end?

Mitch Miller is editor of the Drouth