Van Gogh TV - âPiazza Virtualeâ, The audience is the artist.
Q: How has Interactive TV changed since your first television experiments as Van Gogh TV, and especially Piazza Virtuale in 1992?Â What do you think is the significance of your early pioneering work?
A: Interactive TV, like we introduced working as Van Gogh TV, has not been adopted by mainstream television. The iTV projects of the entertainment industry are torn between viewer numbers, production costs, legal obstacles, and therefore commercial viability. In my view, iTV lost out on the potential to give a whole new role to TV
audiences, to participate and contribute to an ongoing process of developing the media, and to create real community media. Today iTV is more or less video and advertising on demand, and appears to be waiting for the next technological generation of the internet(iptv), as well as hoping for significant hardware and software developments.
The project âPiazza Virtualeâ exhausted the technical and experimental interactive media possibilities which existed in 1992, and which have not changed much even now. Yes, one huge advance is that we now have mobile phones which can create video sequences, and they can be sent directly to a broadcaster and seen immediately on TV.Â But, the variety of modules which Van Gogh TV developed, like chat systems, video and ISDN phones, and cameras in public entry points have only partially found their way into commercial broadcasting shows of today.
Van Gogh TV âs most important development was its radical multi-framing of images, and the multi-layering of inputs (including sound and text) which is a significant marker historically, and the inspiration for research and understanding about how multiple screen information can be read and consumed by viewers.Â The Piazza Virtuale broadcast was a patchwork of incoming information:Â faxes, text messages, videos, pictures, sounds, noises and voices which created a vivid surface, one that clearly visualized an invisible cloud of information and the massive amount of content and information which surrounds us all, permanently.Â Someone referred to this broadcast cacophony as electronic wallpaper. The segmented screen design made only a slight impact on broadcast formats, but was quickly absorbed by early internet applications, in the 1990s.
Q: Do you think that audiences are as integral to the concept of “Van Gogh TV - Piazza Virtuale” today as they were when you first created the programme? And, has the publicâs perceptions of the work changed since then?
A: The idea of âuser generated contentâ was first introduced extensively by Van Gogh TV in Piazza Virtuale. A logical step in the process and progress of mediaâs rapidly changing landscape, the developments of Piazza Virtuale are ongoing, and today they continue on the net with communities like You Tube, Facebook, MySpace and beyond. One difference is that Van Gogh TV did not censor content but completely handed over the censorship to the audience. This responsibility of censoring was outsourced to the viewers, and honesty was credited to the viewers.Â The television viewer numbers, by the way, hit the 1 million mark.Â And, visitors came from all over Germany to visit Piazza Virtuale in person, to experience the place of action, like visiting a zoo (but being allowed to make a campfire and to roast sausages). The participating viewers also felt, for the first time, the burden of television, and were sometimes literarily thrown into the anticipation of falling in to a black hole (real and live) of unedited and non accelerated television.Â Sometimes, the viewers were known to cry out to others, asking for help, âHalloo, hallo ist da jemandâ (hallo is there someone?). The programme segments had no sound or visual layers mixed in, which would have helped out the viewerâs experience to make the program more entertaining (and cover up his or her amateurism). There were moments where the loneliness of the person who connected to the programme, was surrounded by fear, of the many âdigital nowhereâ.
It was always important that we did not betray the audience with shiny and glossy artificial dream worlds.Â We did not promote the desire of industrially produced entertainment, which could have lead to an “accelerated, and exiting live” Piazza Virtuale.Â The broadcasts were as live as they could get, but to make it clear all media needs an audience, and are produced for audiences, or they do not make sense. The question remains: for what reason are you using the chance to reach out via Television.
Q: Do you think that the artistic intentions of “Van Gogh TV - Piazza Virtuale” were specific to the time when it was created? And was the concept of the work reliant on this period of time?
A: There were many intentions for Piazza Virtuale driven out of technical and electronic curiosity and questions about how far the technical and practical boundaries could be pushed. Making television in those times (as well today) was highly monopolized, and was either a government or commercial business. Unless you were not part of the âpower-eco-systemâ of TV, it would be impossible to get a program on air. There were political intentions as well, which came out of our aversion to, and against mainstream TV, which basically brainwashes itâs audience, serving up âcontentâ as a drug to keep the population quiet. We were inspired by the Austrian philosopher GĂźnther Anders and his âthe theory of guiltâ. There were also aesthetic intentions. We were concerned with the challenge to design a screen surface which could accommodate the fast changing input of images and sounds, as well as network feeds from many places, sources and countries. Van Gogh TVâs - Piazza Virtualeâs intentions were always clear:Â the audience is the artist.
The Ponton Euroepean Media Art Lab produced other Van Gogh TV projects, where the artistic concern was played out differently than Piazza Virtuale. There were TV projects like Hotel Pompino (Linz, Ars Electronica 1990) which integrated live performance, but less the live audience.Â But finally, which in my opinion was the most sophisticated project, Ballroom TV (Berlin 1994),Â was completely composed of live performances from both the location and via phone, internet and video phones, set up specifically for audience participation. The live mix combined all the live audio and video feeds from local cameras, video tapes, live music, and it was mixed together into a composite signal and broadcast live on Berlinâs Cable TV.
There have been many social intentions in Van Gogh TV projects, to enable the viewer a digital stage and allow for some type of barter, on the screen. I am not sure if Piazza Virtuale could be repeated in these times.Â It would need an office full of solicitors, to avoid ending up either in jail, bankrupt, or both.
To make it clear, any technical evolution also needs a cultural, economic, social and political one; it makes little sense to have all the mobility, input - output and editing power when basically TV distribution and access is kept in similar isolation and under censorship. Yes, also in 2008 and beyond, the world needs Piazza VirtualeÂ as a feature which is embedded in the available media broadcasting infrastructure. There is no need to change everythingÂ about television, but one –out of more than a hundred channels– should be similarly structured, free of the influenza of Hollywood and the commercial broadcast industry.
The ecology of today is not only regarding the glaciers which are melting down and the air pollution which is dangerous, we also need to acknowledge that the mental environment is similarly full of garbage and has been poisoned for ages with a purely profit oriented media industry, one that makes its audience dumb and stupid.
QÂ How can you relate the interactive live work you did in the 1990s, to the Internet today?
YouTube is good. The difference is, that Van Gogh TV / Piazza Virtuale was live and instant, it was free TV, which so far no one else has achieved. You Tube is basically the same pre-digested content in a 2.0 can, like video was. The only difference now is, that video is available on-line, as video on demand.
The technical developments today are pushing the envelope further and further, but with only a disconnected sense, as a solution for details.Â The process to develop a Gesamtkunstwerk such as Piazza Virtuale was, involved assembling and connecting all the available possibilities.Â This is barely done anymore by anybody.
None of us knew what would come out of the Van Gogh TV / Piazza Virtuale experiment when we first proposed the concept to the broadcasters, and even when we gained access to satellite transmission. When we signed the contract, the television director had a question: ââŚwhat happens if no one participates?âÂ Someone of the VGTV team answered, than the screen will remain black.Â We looked in his face and pure fear rose out of this answer.
âHardware, software, nowhereâ.Â Shutting off and starting your own system, that is what makes the difference.