u-matic, Video still
The VJ occupies an ill-defined position, somewhere between DJ, video artist, promo director and interior designer, often an afterthought and invariably amongst the first expenses to be cut when the fortunes of the nightclub fade. There was, however, a time and a place where the contribution of the VJ was seen as far more integral to the clubbing experience.
Billed as the first retrospective of 90’s Berlin club visuals, Screendancing features video by Visomat inc., Lillevan, monitor.automatique, u-matic, Pfadfinderei, Jörg X. Franzmann, Daniel Pflumm and JUTOJO. What their work has in common is an emphatic rejection of narrative in favour of an alienated, retro-futuristic pop minimalism and a fascination with the (then) relatively new possibilities afforded by editing and live mixing video using computers.
Perhaps befitting the nature of the work, its modest presentation (eight identical cube projectors placed facing each other in rows of four and tucked away in a dark corner) is somewhat upstaged by the noisy and fashionable venue. A series of live events featuring Kotai, Errorsmith and Bass Dee & Feed amongst others see the music and visuals getting equal billing.
Daniel Pflumm, Video still
With the exception of Jörg X. Franzmann’s contribution, the editing remains inevitably subservient to the shiny relentless metronome of techno but this forward march into a bright new future seems curiously old fashioned.
Shorn of its context (as much chemical as socio-historical) the work featured in Screendancing seems heavily indebted to the flicker films of the 60’s and the structuralist dogma of the 70’s.
Lillevan’s use of a found forensic image captioned “bullet wound damage to the right motor area,” signals the ego death of the dancefloor, the darker more nihilistic aspect of dancing till you drop, whilst in contrast JUTOJO’s sepia and blue palette seems wistful and slightly melancholic, no doubt a consequence of their collective fascination with Super-8 and its pseudo daguerreotype grain.
Although the nature of the loop predisposes itself toward the abjuration of narrative and heralds the micro-attention span of a post MTV generation, the theoretical distinctions between art film and film as art had already become an irrelevance by the late 90’s, with the growing ubiquity of the technology admitting enthusiastic and innovative practioners who had no allegiance to either (or perhaps any) discourse.
The most effective piece here is the most brutally reductive and least infatuated by either the technology or the medium. Pflumm’s flash card sarcasm has corporate logos dissolving one into another before culminating in an endlessly blinking “.com” (a bubble that had still yet to burst). Visomat and u-matic are similarly uncompromising although, along with Pfadfinderei and Franzmann, their atmospheric footage evokes the neon dystopia of a city still ambivalent about its future and more in thrall to the past than it imagined.