Image: The First Wave
Elen Řádová: Magnets (1994)

The First Wave

27. 9. – 10. 10. 2021
Niké Papadopulosová, Ondřej Anděra, Jan Zajíček, Elen Řádová, Janka Vidová, Markéta Baňková, Marek Mařan, Naďa Slováková, Zdeněk Mezihorák, Filip Cenek. Curated by: Tomáš Pospiszyl

 

Art of the moving image is usually not created in isolation, without the assistance and interest of others. For its development and existence, an institutional foundation and affiliated community are essential. Given its technical demands and particular modes of distribution, it cannot exist without a broader foundation in the form of available materials, adequately equipped workplaces, suitable screening rooms or galleries, and theoretical and critical platforms in the form of books, magazines, and live debates. An ideal space in which all these conditions can be met is the art university. If the 1990s saw a boom in Czech video art, experimental film, and new media art, we must also add that in many cases, this was linked – both in terms of personnel and technology – with developments in art education.

The first study courses focused on video art and new media at art schools in Czechoslovakia (and later the Czech Republic) were established soon after 1989. The first wave saw the establishment, in 1990, of the Department of Animation and Video at the Film and Television Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU), followed a year later by the New Media Studio at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague (AVU). In 1993, the Faculty of Fine Arts (FaVU) at the Brno University of Technology was established, along with a specialised study course focused on electronic multimedia art. These were the three essential departments at which a new generation of art of the moving image in the Czech Republic was formed before the year 2000.

David Burk: Stereo (video, 1995). Photo: Media Archiv, Faculty of Fine Arts at the Brno University of Technology.

Video was introduced to FAMU by Radek Pilař, who, after his premature death in 1993, bequeathed leadership to Petr Vrána, Lucie Svobodová, and, primarily, Tomáš Kepka. In its outputs, this school is closest to classical audiovisual production in the world of film and television. The new media studio at AVU was founded and led by Michael Bielický. The relaxed atmosphere he cultivated in his studio led to the creation of highly original image poetry, spatial and psychological studies, and the first hypertext art in the environment of the internet. The video–multimedia–performance studio at Brno’s FaVU was highly influenced by Tomáš Ruller, with later studio leaders including Miloš Vojtěchovský and Keiko Sei. Students experimented more freely with the technology available, discovering in their own ways principles that had appeared in other forms in the history of experimental film and video.

The first generation of students who studied video art and related fields at Czech art universities had to try everything out for themselves. Their lecturers supplied them with information and technology that were often new not only to the students but also to the pedagogues. In the early 1990s, all three schools purchased powerful silicon computers and made the leap from analogue video editing rooms to digital, non-linear editing. Each of the three institutions had its own teaching methods, pedagogical procedures, and practical exercises, all of which influenced the character of the students’ works.

Alexander Lauf: Culex (video, 1998). Photo: FAMU

At Radek Pilař’s FAMU, the students used classical art techniques: they drew, painted, modelled, and learned all forms of animation. Pilař’s successors, after 1993, emphasised the potential of computer technology, as well as traditional cinematic language and narration. Students of video and multimedia – along with students from all the other departments at FAMU – attended practical exercises whose effectiveness had been tested for decades, introducing them to the individual professions in a classic cinematic crew.

At AVU, Michael Bielický did not develop any practical exercises and avoided joint assignments. He approached the students individually, encouraging them to try new paths, particularly in relation to technological advancements and their reflection in the social sciences. His students thus used video cameras, image and sound post-production, but also the possibilities of the web and elements of virtual reality and artificial intelligence.

In the first decade at FaVU, there was a system of compulsory semestral works. This followed the line of the classical genres of art, such as the still-life, but reworked through means such as performance or video. Over time, students mastered the computers and other technology available at the school and, with their aid, searched for their own individual paths into (and not only) the world of art.

The later development of the students of the first wave varies. Some are still working to audiovisual art in the context of fine art, others have found their place in the television and film industries. Still others have built careers in game development, DJing, or literature. Their pieces, over twenty years old, are not merely historical documents on the creation of new fields of study – they still speak to audiences today in their authorial testimony.

 

FAMU

Niké Papadopulosová: The Well
Studna, 1996, 4.5 min.
For some students at FAMU, the music video was a popular format for visual experimentation. The existing sound track defined a basic ground plan within which various methods could be developed. Niké Papadopulosulová chose the song Studna (The Well) by the popular funk group J.A.R., inspired by the normalisation-era TV show Třicet případů majora Zeman (The Thirty Cases of Major Zeman). As is typical of the music video genre, the work is marked by a high frequency of cuts. The artist developed the stylised acting through the use of grotesque masks, combining it with graphically simplified animation making use of shots from the TV show mentioned above. The handcrafted character of the animation and sensitive work with colour make this work stand out in the context of other music videos made at this time, providing the resultant form with a strongly original form of expression.

Ondřej Anděra: Behind the Screen
Behind the Screen, 1994, 9 min.
This assignment, on the subject of “my day”, was treated in a highly subjective manner by Ondřej Anděra. Catching one’s eye at first sight is the complex and yet highly meaningful visual component: underwater filming, the generation of abstract computer ornaments, inversion of the image into its negative, essential adjustments to the colour grading, solarisation, chroma keying several shots over each other, and, primarily, the dominant use of a fish-eye lens. Thanks to these techniques, the director succeeded in creating the illusion of a highly personal other world. Although we repeatedly encounter a narrator, we are also constantly reminded of his isolation from the world of the spectators. The end credits reveal that a film crew of considerable size worked on the project, with post-production taking place at a professional level.

Jan Zajíček: Caramel Is Sugar That Won’t Heal
Karamel je cukr, co se neuzdraví, 1999, 5 min.
Another music video created in the environment of the Department of Animation and Multimedia at FAMU is Jan Zajíček’s rendition of a song by the alt-rap group WWW, of which he was a member at the time. The video does not illustrate the lyrics by Lubomír Typlt, instead creating two independent narratives. As with other works made at this department, the resultant piece is created through the considered composition of various elements. The film is created in a computer environment from shots of stylised action in front of a blue screen, details of the human body, and 3D computer animation. Zajíček uses post-production to create the impossible: moving a little boy onto the skin of a woman in a sunbed or lighting up the figures of two lovers as if they were lightbulbs. He thus uses visual means to interpret the story of energy bringing irreversible transformation.

AVU

Elen Řádová: Magnets
Magnety, 1994, 3 min.
The selected video by Elen Řádová is part of a larger group of works. At first, it seems like documentation of a performance, which it is, to an extent. A man and a woman stand across from each other (the video features Krištof Kintera and Andrea Cihlářová, students of AVU at the time) and respond to the other moving their heads, as if they were repelling magnets. After some time, this effective – though ambiguous – metaphor of interpersonal relationships begins making us uneasy in its mechanicalness. The spectator begins considering the extent to which the coordination of movements has been rehearsed or whether it is effected by editing the video recording. An interest in capturing interpersonal relations by elementary means such as mutual closeness later led Řádová to experiment with interactive installations.

Markéta Baňková: mesto.html
1997, www stránka
When Markéta Baňková transferred from studying graphic arts to the New Media Studio, her motivation was practical. She considered her employment options after graduation and decided to learn to use a computer, which she did not have her at her disposal back then. The website mesto.html was originally conceived as an exercise; a fictional girlish homepage. It developed, however, into a hypertext literary work making use of text, animation, and sound, not dissimilar to Shelley Jackson’s breakthrough Patchwork Girl, made only two years before mesto.html. In this piece, Baňková made use of her experiences travelling and communicating over chat. Primarily, however, she reflected the possibilities for the transformation of human identity in the environment of online communication. She followed this inaugural work of Czech net art with an internationally successful emotional guide to New York, New York City Map.
Go to Website: https://www.bankova.cz/mesto

Jana Žáčková Vidová: On the Magnitude of Meaning
O velikosti významu, 1998, 4 min.
Jana Žáčková Vidová develops in parallel an introspectively focused video, poetry, and drawing. In the 1990s, video served to capture the images of her everyday life, which she then transformed using simple means (slowing down, changes in colouration) into an abstracted, intimate confession. On the Magnitude of Meaning works with split screens, bringing together historical family films with newly filmed material. Through the use of defocusing, an abstract sound track, and, particularly, by repeating and slowing down seemingly banal shots, the artist works with film as both personal and historical memory. In short, sometimes recurring flashes, we are presented with scraps of a past for whose significance for the present we are still, vainly, searching for.

FaVU

Marek Mařan: The Wheel
Kolo, 1995, 5.5 min.
Marek Mařan was among the first students of video and multimedia art at FaVU in Brno. This motion study draws on the visual effects generated by looking at the lacing of a spinning bicycle wheel. At a certain speed, it can seem like the wheel is turning in the opposite direction. This demonstrates the limited capacity of the human eye to perceive changes, as well as the eye’s ability to connect, at a particular frequency, sequences of static images into continuous movement. This effect, which represents the basis of classical cinematography, is shifted here by Mařan onto the level of a generous abstract film. The negative shot transforms the wires of the lacing into hypnotically pulsating sectors of light. This optically satisfying work, however, also brings us to contemplate the very essence of art of the moving image.
Video courtesy of Faculty of Fine Arts at the Brno University of Technology.

Naďa Slováková: The Look
1997, 2 min.
A verbal description of Naďa Slováková’s piece makes it seem like a simple exercise: The artist placed her camera on a tripod near an escalator at a distance chosen so that she could capture the moment at which some of the passengers notice they are being filmed. A similar principle was used by Jan Ságl in his 1972 film Underground, in which he captured the faces of people alighting from the depths of an underpass on Wenceslas Square in Prague, and we also find it in Standish Lawder’s 1970 experimental film Necrology, when a reversed shot of people descending on an escalator evokes an infinite row of souls entering heaven. Unlike these pioneers of analogue experimental film, however, Slováková works with the possibilities of digital editing: At the point of contact between the human gaze and the lens of the camera, she can slow down or stop time.
Video courtesy of Faculty of Fine Arts at the Brno University of Technology.

Zdeněk Mezihorák: On the Trail of Blood
Po stopách krve, 1998, 2 min.
In 1997, Zdeněk Mezihorák and his schoolmate Filip Cenek made an important discovery: a Videomachine graphic card in one of the school’s computers. It allowed them to manipulate audiovisual material in a way that often led to surprising results. Mezihorák worked with fragments of Czechoslovak films which he disrupted with an unpredictable series of short, repeating loops. The method was developed with a view to Martin Arnold’s experiments, but in its essence, it was closer to the practice of contemporary electronic music. Although Mezihorák rhythmicised the original film extract, the result was more disturbing than entertaining. He opened a new space within the narrative films; a space for a different form of perception of audiovisual material, cinematic time, and the perception of the causes and effects contained therein.
Video courtesy of Faculty of Fine Arts at the Brno University of Technology.

Filip Cenek: After the Assassination (3 Fragments)
Po atentátu (3 fragmenty), 1998, 6 min.
The works of Zdeněk Mezihorák and Filip Cenek that re-edit classic Czech films were not the result of a school assignment to edit an existing work of cinema, as it exists at certain film schools, but the product of the students’ independent experimentation. Filip Cenek used the After Effects programme to “retell” the key scene from Jiří Sequens’s film Atentát (The Assassination, 1964) three times. He used the option of selecting various details from the original wider shot. He then connected these in time, thus creating contexts that suggest an alternative interpretation of and a hidden meaning in the original scene. Experiments with non-linear editing brought Filip Cenek and Zdeněk Mezihorák to an interest in hypertext, interactive narration, and the use of chance in creating structures of meaning.
Video courtesy of the author.