Remember when everyone was a DJ? For a while there you couldn’t leave your house without a buddy handing you a flier for their new night and wanking on about “beat matching”. Then it was street photographers; any dropped burger wrapper was instantly mistaken for a portrait opportunity.
We’re halfway though 2013 and it looks like this is shaping up to be the year of the video artist. If there is one thing that’s more ambiguous than beat matching and street shots, it has to be video art.
Lucky for us Benjamin Ducroz is a video artist who can actually explain what it is he does. He shed some much-needed light on the favourite art form of the Internet age.
VICE: For you what’s the divide between a film, an art film, and a video art piece?
I guess it’s probably about how the usual narrative structure of films is: A, B and C. Where as video art can explore the other subconscious and conscious things in a completely different approach. In films, even art films, we’re used to the narrative structure; it’s an easy thing to follow—where as video art is probably more of an active viewing. The meaning has to be interpreted or put together by the viewer. It’s not a black and white thing.
Considering how hazy the definition is, I find there are a lot of people who call themselves video artists who I wouldn’t award that title.
It’s true, it’s prolific; in the last three to four years the amount of people making films and videos has blown up. I’ve been making one-minute films for the past 13 years, and the amount of people who are doing that now are huge. There is so much out there compared to what there was.
Do you think they all fall under your definition of video art?
You think about video art and you think of Nam June Paik in the late 70s and the 80s video artists. I think the landscape is completely different now. I think they can be considered video art; they are valid forms of video art because they use video as a medium to investigating different things. Whether it is good video art or bad video art, that’s for the audience to decide.
In your opinion when was video art really defined? Looking at early film experiments at the turn of the century in the US and France, surely that is video art.
I reckon that is video art, there were people picking up cameras and making things. In terms of video art as a medium, it probably came up with the portapak and people going around and shooting all the mundane things. That kind of distorted meeting became art. But I definitely think there were people who picked up the camera right at the start, saw the new potential, and started making art.
It’s interesting in terms of media, film was the only one that was adapted as an art form as quickly as it was adapted as a science or lifestyle tool.
Yeah, it just wasn’t as accessible at the beginning but as soon as video became more accessible people were pointing and shooting. It’s also about the mode to view a film, film is a more community-orientated medium where as video is a more one-on-one thing. Although it can be used in the same film context, I find it’s more personalised.
With the explosion of VHS video art really turned a corner, but has the digital access we have today created a golden age for video art in terms of how easy it is to make and distribute?
Yeah totally, absolutely, it’s crazy. It’s so much more accessible. Everybody knows these things; I think more the question is actually what you do with the medium? There is so much saturation with so many things, and I guess an artist can’t please everybody. They’ve got to do their own thing and find their voice and their audience amongst all of the video noise.
When you make your work how focused are you on being aesthetically pleasing versus making something new?
Someone once told me aesthetics are boring, I totally beg to differ. My artwork is all about the form of things. I find there is beauty in both the jarring and easy to look at stuff. Mostly I am interested in the form of things—I’m a formalist I guess. There’s beauty in both.
Is it hard to find balance between the two?
No, because usually once you finish something that is quite intentional, you want to go ahead and make something really loud and destructive and then it goes back into another cycle. There’s a time for both.
Do you have a favourite thing you like to shoot that you go back to again and again?
When I’m out walking I take a lot of photos of stop signs. I like the idea of there being a mass produced object that’s in many, many different places. Stop signs are everywhere, all over the world and usually they’re the same in every country so I photograph them a lot. I haven’t actually made anything out of them yet. That and malls, I like shooting a lot of mass-produced objects that have repetition in our environment.
I never thought of stop signs like that. You’ve bulked out my art knowledge a lot.
That’s funny because I feel like I don’t know much; I’m always making and not looking. That’s kind of a bad thing I guess. In all honestly I’m trying to think about really great video art that I’ve seen of late and everything is on the Internet. You might bump into something in a gallery by some old guy, but the generation thing makes a difference with video art.
I think there are people who are maybe five or 10 years older than me that are represented by galleries, but that whole model of galleries representing video artists is different now. I don’t know one young person that is between the ages of 20 and 30 that is represented by those private galleries. Sorry I’m continuing the interview.
No this is good stuff, I mean it’s like what we were saying: it’s the most modern art form. I guess it’s kind of the art form for the Internet generation.
Yeah, there are a lot of interactions in terms of the web stuff. It’s really weird, people used to make websites that were art pieces—it was a huge thing in the late 90s and early 2000s. Now you still find websites that are video art pieces, but they’re much harder to find now than 10 years ago. The video is still alive and kicking, it’s just to a different audience. It’s kind of gone supersized I guess.
What do you think about the Web 1.0 stuff?
Well I don’t know much about it but it’s good seeing people doing more of that kind of stuff. It’s good to see people pushing the boundaries of interactivities since everybody is so much more into touching buttons and touching screens than actually watching anything. Even in video, people are only half watching. That’s why my things go for a minute, because people have such short attention spans and things are moving so fast you have to try and get as much as you can in half a minute so people can get on with their Internet, clicking, multitasking life.
Ben will be showings his work as part of the Channels Festival.
For more art: