The exhibition MindFrames celebrates a unique context, specifically a geographic and time-bound situation within which a mixture of brilliant avant-garde film makers and video artists, under the leadership of a media visionary, found themselves together in one place, where for the first time a department of media art was created within a university setting.
During a period when there was not yet any university which was explicitly devoted to media art, at the same time as making its theoretical analysis a component of the curriculum, Gerald O'Grady founded the Department of Media Study at the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1973. The entire spectrum of media art—ranging from photographic images to slide installations, from music to film and video performances, from film to film installations, from videotape to video environments, and from computer graphics to interactive installations—was investigated, made a reality, and taught about in the 1970s and 80s, by the structuralist avant-garde film makers Hollis Frampton, Tony Conrad, and Paul Sharits; the documentary film maker James Blue; and the legendary video artists Steina and Woody Vasulka, as well as Peter Weibel—all of whom have subsequently been canonized. In the course of this process, media’s role in society [especially that of television] and their participatory possibilities were recognized and used for artistic, and also partly politically democratic, projects. All Buffalo faculty members were not only practicing artists, but also capable of theoretically accompanying the development of and issues around their media, in lectures, essays, and publications. The Department of Media Study’s significance for the media era is therefore comparable to that of other historical art schools such as the Bauhaus, WChUTEMAS in Moscow, and Black Mountain College in North Carolina. The title MindFrames indicates that during this time [the 1970s and 80s] and in this place [Buffalo], a frame of reference for media art was established. During that period, masterpieces were produced—from perceptual issues to machine aesthetics, from word games to mathematical structures—which provided the horizon and set the standards for media discourse’s visual codes.
The triumph of video installation art during the 1990s, with its multiple projection, would not be imaginable without the preconditions established by avant-garde film in the 1960s and 70s. Certainly those—that is, making the formal and material structure of the cinematic apparatus evident, the medium’s self-reflexivity and the expansion of film that was derived from this, and the exploration of the electronic image's characteristics—were accomplishments of that film and video avant-garde, which had been overlooked because of Neo-Expressionism's marketability. In all respects, not only have these pioneers of projection art now been rediscovered by art history, but also by the market.
This exhibition does not only fulfill the classic mission of the museum, to act as a cultural memory, but offers at the same time an outlook. The current debate about art and the academy, thus the founding of new art academies, teaches us to be somewhat uncertain about how art should be proceeding into the future. In this discussion, academies receive a new prominence, not only as places where artists are trained, but also as places where art is produced. We recognize that the art history of the twentieth century is not just a history of individuals, but also one of institutions. Academies have made history in as much as they have produced historically effective artists within the framework of their teaching.
The teachings, ideas, and concepts of that time are made accessible via the studio laboratory conceived just for this exhibition, which makes it possible to study and experience the time-based art of the moving image in a novel fashion. Access is provided in the form of a digital archive, making it possible for artists to study numerous artistic productions, theoretical texts, letters, photographs, documents, and so forth. This archive is the foundation for a new orientation at present, when the Web 2.0 revolution has formulated the media question anew. It is intended to ascertain the foundations upon which media art is based, before it is decided how it will continue from here. This exhibition at the ZKM will for the first time provide a comprehensive overview from the 1960s to the 1980s, a time which was so decisive for the development of media art and is still influential today.