Hartmut Zänder
»The frameset of art«



Good evening, friends of all kind of pictures!

English isn't my native language (that's german of course), so I've got a natural problem in expressing myself in a way, that is differenciated enough to formulate the various thoughts about themes, that could be from a certain value for you.
But the same problem is up to the very most of you, I think.
This little handycap should not be regarded as a simple apology for talking nonsense, since it points directly into the midth of all topics, I'm busy with for more than twenty years. The fact, that I'm standing here as a painting, drawing, writing and even sometimes composing artist, who never did any real comics in his life amongst an international pile of professional comic-artists and friends of this art is a weird challenge for me.
But the motto of this biennal is the influence of the new medias on the various forms of art, zapping through numerous TV-channels, working with a computer, being interconnected via Internet, dealing with new languages like HTML, that "HYPERTEXT-MARK-UP-LANGUAGE", JAVA and all the other program-languages or those rather conventional languages of friends and business-partners in very distant countries. And all that are conditions, which aren't private anymore, but worldwide really public and common to all of us.
So, here and now I'm dealing with a non-native language in Brasil, for me a new and exciting, but nevertheless a foreign land in the foreign world of comics, although of course one of my cultural neighbourhoods.
What I would like to talk about now is the difference, which is dividing us into classes of different nations, ages and socialisations, and which at the same time puts us together and holds us in a new human condition, which for the first time in history has a real global aspect as a unifying metaform. I think, this both connecting and dividing difference could be called "FRAMESET".
Who is a bit familiar with the new describing and programming languages like HTML and JAVA, will have remarked, that I'm already using some terms, which belong to those, as there are CLASS, FRAME and FRAMESET, METAFORM, VALUE, LANGUAGE and as very important expressions in this listing, the distinction into PUBLIC and PRIVATE.
All art ever had to do with forms and we always distinguished public from private pieces, simply said, things, which are meant to be published and others, who are very personal and intimate. So, none of these terms are really new ones, but there function has radically changed and enables all possible users in the world-wide-web to interact on the same common level, to start with the same conditions all net-activities, to live in the same conception, the same frameset of a playing or working ground.
The term PUBLIC in JAVA means a general order to let any browser on this planet perform the same function or operation, installing a GIF-animation, turning around an image or calculating ones body temperature or the number of visitors on a private homepage. On the other hand, the user's content, his personal datas or just individual application is called PRIVATE.
What has this to do with the expectation of a normal user for a bit fun in the net or what has it to do with art? I believe, really a lot.
It was the french painter Eugène Delacroix, who first formulated the important challenge for any artist, namely to be always contemporary, what means nothing else but to be up-to-date.
There is another expression, which is meanwhile occupied by the digital, telematic world, and it's name is UPDATE. Everybody, who is trying with a computer, will probably sigh emphatically, because no one can avoid for a longer period this annoying screw of looking for new updates, of getting bigger memories, a faster disk, a newer sytem. And that not only costs money and endless time, but first of all a lot of nervs.
But, and that seems to be the general rool nowadays , if you are capable to look after updates, you're hired, if not, you're fired. Probably it's no longer a question of living in a certain country to be estimated as a member of the first, the second or the third world, because in the near future there will be only two worlds, the one of the busy interconnected people, who have a good job and the sad and hungry world of those, who have nothing. And this separation, I think, will go through all countries and it will certainly last for a good while.
According to the motto of this biennal I would like to describe the developement of some mental UPDATES in my artistic life, looking both for their public and private component. For years I feel a certain duty to look after the general updates and levels in my society and to comment and formulate their features, as long, as I can percieve them. This feeling results from my personal generation pressure and it's due to the fact, that I, concerning my age belong to those, who grew up with no books, no television, no computer, but had to learn and handle by and by all these arousing new metalevels, which means in total that form or structure, we call culture in general. It is really a chance, being part of a learning and developing generation, being on the edge, because all man before didn't know anything about computers, all those following after us will have no distance toward this technology. They just grow up with it and it's perfectly natural like floating water. My son now is nineteen and he took television for granted in his childhood. He was eleven, when he started with a computer. I got a secondhand Atari, bought a Notator-music-program, so we could compose and play both with it. My daughter on the other hand, who is three years old now, already paints on a Mac and she enjoys a lot of throwing something into the trash. Things are a changing very fast.
My first touch with that metaform "culture" was a comic-series named AKIM, a Tarzan-clone by the italian drawer Pedrazza, which was also published in the german fifties in a very small and cheap Piccolo-version and had been continued by the german Hans-Rudi Wäscher. Since there were no other books and pictures in our workers-class-household, I had no choice than to collect, what ever was collectible, not only the obligate stamps and coins, but really all things, where there were pictures upon, matchboxes, package-papers for oranges, beer-mats and all that commercial picture-material, you can find between cornflakes, chewing-gum and margarine.
Years later, in a very serious period, I formulated one of several mottos for my work, which could be read: "Collect the scattered, what else!" That's a motto, which still functions in the ORBIS TELEVISION PICTUS drawings, I even call the collected pile of videos "splinters" or "fragments".
Probably the early attempts to get a bit of order, structure and shape into a chaotic world of scattered things were privately motivated, but later on it wasn't longer ignorable, that my private condition of course had a public aspect. Seeking for such a form, powerfull enough to put all disparate structures together in an understandable way therefore was the main bootdriver in my work.
This form can be called FRAMESET.
The very large house of art has a lot of stores and numerous rooms. Each artist, living in another corner feels the responsability to look for an own frameset in his work, for his own individual conception. It's rather banal to mention, that most artists always go for the same theme, just varifying and changing a little bit, thus increasing the amount of strategies and competence. But it seems to be right according to the special kind of adaption, one develops, being more meditative or playful, looking for quick gags or tending for selfperformance, prefering more an intense expressiveness or a calm researching practice. The modus of looking, working and understanding seems to keep rather constant. So none will be astonished, when I tell the title of my examen paintings in 1976, namely: Pictures in pictures (that was a series of 5 large screens), long before I knew this function as one of a remote-control or had put an eye on that window-surface of a Mac or a PC.
Before I talk a little bit about those windows, set in frames, how they are embedded in the history of european theories of perception, I would like to mention the sort of focus, who directed my interest before dealing with windows.
One of the most astonishing and motivating questions for me always had been the uncertainty, wether there is a valid iconography in modern life, comparable to the one of the middle-ages, which could be of a public value or not.
So I went for formulations in painting, which could be good metaphers for the contemporary handling of nature, of instructions, how this world has to be taken and understood. Petrol-canisters, tea-bags, egg-cartonages and tinned vegetables became favorite motives for several series. The main irritation was a contrary of form, the enclosure of two totally different things, a natural living being and a cultural container, which functions as a frame. This relation you can see easily, when you regard a simple flowerpot or bowl as a cultural metapher. There are two things, the living flower, torn out from her natural surroundings, the existing context of her relatives and a form, we invented, that container-pot, which isolates the flower and makes her both available and mobile.
In former times there were only a few possible contexts, a flowerpot could be put in and it had always to do with a sort of border. They mostly stood aside an altar, at the threshold of a door, a big portal or on a windowsill. Regarding this relationship or perhaps even meditating over it in a church, you could easily recognize yourself in your own human condition, being alive, wild and connected with all other living beings and at once captured and hold in various frames of family, church, law and science. The elder named this ontologic difference natura naturans and natura naturata, to show also the dependance. But they meant God to be the active part of that naturans to look for the form, the shape and mould of all the existing live and that relationship has totally changed.
Today it's clear, that men are controlling all frames, that we are programming their setting, that there is no longer use of meditating over a border between culture and nature. Flower-bowls are standing today also in the middle of a shopping passage, on little traffic islands or on a parking space.
To say it a bit in JAVA:
main string=frameset
border=zero

For me the question arose, which historical background enabled this separation and I came up to the renaissance theory of perception called perspective theory, a term token from prospectiva naturalis and prospectiva pingendi. That usually seems to be regarded as a simple technique for artists, architects and perhaps for sailors, but from the very beginning I had been fascinated by all the consequences, this construction bears. It looks very clear and cristalline and is completely estimated as a natural thing and it's said, that this is just the way, we use to look upon things.
I believe on the contrary, that this is a very technical and historical construct and it's really worth to be investigated. I don't want to go here for too much details, but a brief description must be allowed. The most of you will remember the theory of perspective from school-lessons, when you were perhaps twelve or thirteen years old and it was rather boring most of the time, often only a question of discipline and the effort to handle a ruler in a correct way. There was no space for imagination, fantasy or expressiveness. I don't know the practice in the different countries, but in Germany for instance the beginning of perspective drawing means in general the end of that unreflected and only joyful painting of all children. After it there are some shy attempts to go for art history, but art generally becomes a resting place between the more important subjects.
Since the art of comic-strips, as it arose in this century, works very often with simulations of film-functions such as cuts and shots, zooms and especially that perspective architectural background, the reflection of that theory could be of a certain value for you.
What are the main features of that perspective construction?
You have a symmetric rhombic form, you get, when you put two long pyramids together. On one side there is an isolated eye, the subject, which is regarding, on the other side is the regarded object. Between those two points are unnumerous rays, cut through in the middle section, a sort of interface, to have a frame, wherein one can handle all proportional things as a representation of the real world in digital points. This construction can only function, if both the eye of the viewer and the regarded object are fixed and made immobile.
This renaissance invention is highly important, because without it there wouldn't have been any other following inventions like camera obscura, panorama buildings, fotography, film, comic-strip, detective-novel, television, peep-show, psychoanalysis, cruise-missiles, endoscopic operations, computertomography, concentration-camps, video-games or WINDOWS '95.
This arrangement sounds a bit weird perhaps, but there are features and logical structures, which are equal for all of them and this is due to the fact, that the perspective construction puts an unbridgeable gap between subject an object, that makes it impossible for the subject to look furthermore directly on the object without an interface between and without the chance, that the regarded object could look back. In this construction there is no interaction, because the looking subject can peep and shoot to his heart's content, without the risk, that anything can look or shoot back, but at the same time he looses all connection with the object.
You have to imagine this in its historical freshness.
Most of the theoretical components had been there for more than two thousand years, when the italian artists and architects invented this very important window-frame, but their greek ancestors still had a mythological background, which prohibited the total separation of subject and object. They already had that pyramide with the isolated eye behind its end, so all proportions could be put into practible mathematical operations, but they still worked with a theory of rays, which included an emanation of psychic powers through the eye. If a Greek talked about reflection, he didn't think in rays of light, based upon an outer source. His starting-point was the eye itself and he just followed the looking rays, till they became reflected by the things, before they turned back and he still had to reckon on the presence of forbidden beings like a genius loci or a demon or a god or a married woman, no man should ever dare to look upon. That open situation, things can look back, still included a value like respect or to say it in a JAVA-term: VALUE=RESPECT.
<!...Leonardo: Holy communion>
When the greek theory came to the mediaval Europe, imported by arabian scientists and merchants, this respect turned into a prospect. The new spirit of pioneering let the young individual selfconsciousness look forward, right into a successful future. Therefor they named that new theory "Prospectiva". The main innovation was the cut through the pyramide of horizontal rays or beams, which installed that window-frame, all things appeared upon proportionally. The italian architect Alberti demanded, that a painting should function like a window, we look through on a part or a detail of the world. This looking-through is like peeping or hunting out of an ambush, it means seeing and shooting, without being seen or hitted himself.
<!...J.Jarmush, DOWN BY LAW>
So, in a world of computer-windows there is no longer the possibility of looking through, what meant the prefix PER of the expression PERSPECTIVE, but we now only look at the world. Therefor we should, being always correctly, change this name from PROSPECTIVA into ADSPECTIVA, or as a short-cut in english "aspect". Dealing with cameras (fotography or film) or working with a computer show the different levels of looking through or looking at something. What's in any case out of business, is the value=respect.
<!...Lady Di and the paparazzi.>
When I'll be back in Cologne, there will start a symposion titled "Indra's net", organized by the japanese culture institute, discussing possible ethics in the immensly growing web. It seems, that the great demand for some understanding and order puts a lot of people together. No one can exactly know, what is coming up to us and we all made the experience, that things are changing faster than we can expect, but perhaps some features are yet in sight.
It is strange, but all sponsored projects in the moment, dealing with art, expect from the artist almost as a character feature INTERACTIVITY, the keyword in the net. I can't understand that, because art hasn't become better in no time ever, when there are too many cooks to spoil the broth.
INTERACTIVITY rose up as a value in television times. There is an important difference between german and brasilian television, I think, because we learned to know TV by public channel television with a lot of pedagogic components, very clean and correct with some selected drops of entertainment, but Brasil started, as far as I know, directly with private TV, which means, the main things right from the beginning are the commercial spots and that for two good reasons. First of all, what is arranged around the spots, must fit to the commercial background, must draw enough attention to bind people to a certain channel and a certain time. But second, what is perhaps even more important is the fact, that spots are teaching us. We learn, how things look like and move, how they can fly and explode, how they can morph and vanish, how they have to be drunk and eaten in the right way, in summon, how we have to accept and understand the world. In this function television replaced all the previous forms like schoolbooks and encyclopedias. I collected a lot of this encyclopedic stuff like illustrated dictionaries, because they are very funny and a good material to work with. They fed me with many motives for my large screens.
But TV is better, espacially when it's private. The first time I could notice this effect, I was in Sicilia in 1983 and had the opportunity to zap through more than twenty channels. It was a silly strip-quiz-show, which animated me to draw right in front of the TV. Each time the candidate couldn't answer, a masked housewife had to strip on a couch. At that very moment the idea of a whole series of TV-pictures arose, but I had to wait, until Germany installed private-TV. That simply could only function for me on the background of that gigantic floating multiple channelsystem, which penetrates one eye and leaves the other, without saturating us. It's like fastfood. It's commercial, nothing in special, but always the same, because it comes out of a factory. It's reversible like that very important button on our remote control. You can record all, bring it back as often, as you like, it will always be the same.
Real life is of another kind, it's irreversible and must end inescabally. What was fascinating for me, was the challenge to detect rules and thematic lines in this virtual chaos of television and to formulate and comment them.
<!...DESERT STORM>
Returning to the theme of this biennal I would like to summarize now to come to an end. The most important question for all of us, whether artist or not, is, what will happen to us in that virtual field of TV- and internet-illusions, can we take enough influence on it and how far it is changing and shaping ourselfs.
I got the impression, that the demand for interactivity for instance points out the problem, because it attacks a value like "authorship", which was essentially for all history of men. It is uncertain, on which level this development will shoot us, but it seems, that artists have to accept the fact, that in an increasing surrounding of connected apparates they are nothing more than a kind of MODUS, a mode of working, playing, understanding, handling, changing, morphing and building. We came into competition with our own inventions, our monitors and functions and they are in advantage, because they are faster, public and completely reversible.
But the concurrence doesn't sleep.
Conquering new territories of liberty for the last hundred years the house of art gave away a lot of rooms, a lot of functions, which once belonged to the area of their responsability. They gave it away to photography, to film, to the comic-strips, to designers and web-designers. In reaction to this we got a bunch of wonderful abstract paintings in this century, but now painters are performing rather wild and sometimes helpless and we look upon very different groups of artists.
There are those, who are not yet well in sight, who themself seem to vanish in enterprises, looking for a good sponsoring, or in sciences, working on a computer.
On the other side there are those, who want to remind us of the vanishing space, who go for room-installations, wall-simulations, landart and so on and thus fulfill a rather religious function. They remind us of the lost space.
In many science-fiction comics and films there is a topic named "Lost-in-space", which formulates very old fears. But I think, that in the moment the space itself is in danger like all the other real stuff. We are dealing with virtual things, like we ever did in history, let it be cave-paintings or dreamtimes of aborigines, let it be religion or scientific theories like the one of the "BIG BANG".
No, virtuality itself is not the danger, because we are originally full of it. But what is questionable, is the fact, that there is an opening scissor, that we look upon documentary films of people and animals and landscapes, which are dead or gone and out of congruency. The danger is, that we loose the interest in reality and that is, what we have to care for.

H. Zänder 10. 1997
Conference in Belo Horizonte, Bras.

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