The video "Cloud Cuckoo Land" by New York artist duo Erik Moskowitz and Amanda Trager looks like a mix between opera and a music video. A father and mother, played by the artists themselves, have a singing discussion on camera about raising kids and an upcoming move.
The film has hit screens at numerous festivals and exhibitions. Now it can be seen on Souvenirs by Earth.TV, a cable channel and website that has made the presentation of art films its sole goal.
A dream on screen
Alec Crichton, a video artist in his early 30s, selects videos at the headquarters of Souvenirs from Earth.TV, a spartan room in a courtyard in Cologne, Germany. For his work, the curator needs little more than a fast Internet connection. He spends time scouring the web for interesting material, corresponding with artists and watching films, he said, while clicking through a long list of emails.
Souvenirs from Earth.TV was founded by another video artist, Marcus Kreiss. His vision was to create a channel that would be a way for him to present his own works while making the world of art films more accessible to the public.
Finding an audience and production niche for these often avant-garde productions remains difficult. There's little room in the commercial film world for artists like Kreiss or Crichton. At bigger exhibitions, there is scarcely a visitor who spends long enough - i.e. minutes or even hours - in front of a monitor or film screen when there are hundreds of other pieces beckoning for attention. Video art is also difficult to sell.
With those problems in mind, Souvenirs from Earth.TV launched as an attempt to create a channel that shows art films seven days a week, 24 hours a day, in their complete length.
The channel has existed for four years on cable TV including in Germany and in France. Now, its creators have taken it to the Internet as a livestream.
The Internet makes video art more accessible than ever before. There's an unending amount of material available, but it's difficult to navigate the sea of films and videos that make their way each day online. Heading to YouTube is sufficient to uncover arty treasures - that is, if you know what you're looking for.
But young artists that put their films online have to face the prospect of never even being watched by the anonymous masses. That's why Kreiss and Crichton went out in search of an alternative. As opposed to YouTube, users of Souvenirs from Earth.TV don't need to worry about losing their orientation in a sea of possibilities.
The video art channel takes the user by the hand, leading him through a virtual exhibition without turning preachy. Alec Crichton's job is to make sure that not just anything flows across the screen.
"I try to focus less on my own artistic taste and look instead for people who have done something interesting and timely that expands our perceptions," he said.
The program consists of art films, music videos and documentaries of installations or performances. Some 1,500 videos have been streamed in the last four years, including productions by stars like Julian Opie, Harun Farocki, Bill Viola and James Turrell, a light artist who produced a 24-hour video in which gentle shades of pink and violet shift to blue and red.
But it's not all that easy to get famous artists interested in the project. Putting their films online is less attractive than selling them for a lot of money to museums or collectors.
Souvenirs from Earth.TV tries to persuade artists by way of creating a number of venues for publication and coordinating regular screening events dedicated to video art. Their films are shown online, on cable TV and in museums for contemporary art - for instance, in the Jeu de Paume in Paris, and, starting in 2012, in the Nam Jun Paik Center in Korea. By creating more and more channels for showing a work, it becomes more visible, which increases its value.
In Nam Jun Paik's footsteps
Rounding out the video "Cloud Cuckoo Land" is a quote from artist Nam Jun Paik: "Television has attacked us for our entire lives, and now we are fighting back. Now we are going to make our television ourselves."
The Korean pioneer of medial art is a bit of a spiritual father for the Internet channel. In the 1960s, Paik began showing TV screens that he distorted with a magnet to create bizarre and fascinating forms. And he dreamed of a TV channel that only showed art.
The "video paintings" on Souvenirs from Earth.TV, as Kreiss and Crichton dub their favorite format, more strongly resemble works on a digital canvas than classic, plot-driven films.
Among other things, the Souvenirs from Earth.TV program includes an animated film: Balls float across the screen and transform into plants. The forms begin to overlap as electronic music sounds; the images remain abstract and mysterious. There's no plot, and no beginning or end. No moderator explains what just happened on screen.
Those who love art now have the chance to use Souvenirs from Earth.TV to take in art works at home - or just let them run in the background, letting their monitors become a personal screen for contemporary art.
Author: Sabine Oelze / gsw
Editor: Kate Bowen