25 YEARS OF VIDEOMEDEJA
It is very ungrateful to give judgment or try to explain the evolutionary course of any phenomenon, even a festival like Videomedeja. Formed back in 1996 in Novi Sad in a very specific environment, which today, it seems, only the individuals that used to live in this land called Yugoslavia can actually realize (and visualize). Yet this text will offer an unpretentious view on the event from 1996 to today, and point out some of the facts that may answer the question – why is the Videomedeja festival so important to the citizens of Novi Sad, Vojvodina and Serbia.
Since the aforementioned year of 1996 till this year of 2021, the country of Serbia has changed its name, its borders and socio-political arrangement a couple of times, but beside the transitions on the social and economical levels, a digital transformation of reality also took place. This changed the global movements in art, especially visual art, in an incredible way. But, let us start from the beginning.
The initial International video summit Videomedeja was held in the Ben Akiba club of the Novi Sad theatre, on the 20th and 21st of December 1996, where works were shown mostly from the former country of Yugoslavia, and with a few select works from Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic and Poland. However, the festival reached its full scope the following year, in 1997, when the program was expanded to three days and showed works not only from Eastern Europe, but from the USA, Great Britain, Japan, and twenty one other countries in total. Also, it is important to outline that, at that point, Videomedeja was a festival in whose competition only women were allowed to participate. The concept made sense at the time, and for good reason.
Until the year 1999, there was a clear distinction between a video, which was in lower resolution and had poor representation of color, and film which allowed higher resolution, a uniform and lavish quality of colors and contrast, i.e. quality that could be compared to what the human eye sees. In the first years of the development of video art, women would often choose video as a main form of expression, primarily because of the confrontational nature of the medium, along with its inferiority, simplicity and cheaper production value compared to expensive film production, and very fast, almost instant results which (compared to film) could be easily reviewed.
Video offered better control during the creative process; privacy which often led to an introspective approach of the female artists, even revealing the intimate. Above all, video was never burdened with the load of long-lasting history like many traditional arts such as painting, sculpting or architecture, in which males were more dominant through each period. In a sense, certain video works of feminists in the 60’s and 70’s accelerated the transition towards post-modernism, i.e. in their essence they presented the critical understanding of the fundamental values of modernism.
Keeping in mind that at the end of 1996, and the start of 1997 the citizenship rose up once again against Slobodan Milošević, that you could clearly feel the anger of the people, after all the wars, sanctions, unimaginable hyperinflation, election fraud and unbelievable media manipulation, the idea of a festival that opposed this patriarchal worldview from which these problems stemmed, was completely justified. In other words, the idea of promoting video works created by female artists, interwoven with the poetics of a woman’s language, cyber-feminist and anthropologist language, overall different rebellious discourse, seemed and appropriate answer to this confusing, and above all, tragic reality.
On the other hand, before Videomedeja, Novi Sad already had a rich neo-avant-garde tradition. Even mainstream cinematography, in its short, documentary and long forms, promoted radical and experimental approaches (Neoplanta film). In addition to this, the works of Bogdanka Poznanović made choosing Novi Sad as the venue for a very specific type of festival more than expected.
In the late 90’s, a very intense technological transformation of reality occurred, the era of the internet had begun, and in the year 1999 a definitive change to digital recording was announced in the world of cinematography. That same year of 1999, George Lucas, in a similar fashion to when he first moved the technological barriers with Star Wars in 1977, filmed a sequel to this space-opera, but this time using exclusively digital recording of high resolution and a plethora of computer generated imagery.
The era of spectacle went on, and with it as if overnight, the borders between film genre and type were erased. It became clear that in this digital environment all creative processes, all the features of film practice (animation, image observed through camera lens, computer generated imagery) were all equal. The borders between film and video were no longer visible.
During these circumstances, that same year of 1999 (when we spent a couple of months in the shade of NATO bombings), the program editor of Videomedeja changed the concept of the festival and allowed men to participate in the competitive part of the festival. Along with this change, the director of the festival and president of the Yugoslovenian association for video art Videomedeja at the time, Vera Kopicl, stepped down from her function and selects the young Ivana Sremčević as her successor. From 2001 (soon after the final fall of Slobodan Milošević) to this day, Ivana Sremčević is the president of the association, the director of the festival, and with her work has given an outsanding contribution and identity to the Videomedeja festival.
In the early years of the 21st century, digital video recording available to the average artist was still inferior compared to digital recording of big film productions, however that was soon changing. Piotr Kajewski, the director of WRO International Media Art Biennala and a member of the jury for Videomedeja in 2004, stated that what he primarily saw on the festival was the different possiblities of using video and new technology, and that these differences point out the fact that the basic fundamental preocupation of artist in the 21st century is the answer to the question: „What is the role of technology in our reality?“. In other words, this big media synthesis in our digital environment and the aforementioned question in contemporary visual arts no longer offered much space for emphasizing native or any other differences in creativity. Priorities were changing.
Year after year processors were getting stronger and so is the performance of graphics cards on easily accessible personal computers, and since 2008, almost every individual was given video recorder of high resolution (minimun 2K). So what was happening was the democratization and demystification of video (and with it film as well), and so the creative processes of the artist have found themselves in the process of convergence (in other words in the process of overtaking, transcoding or assimilation of the languages of other, and until then quite seperate, media. From its starting point in which video represented an „isolated medium“, unfit for TV exploitation and gallery promotion (again, because of small resolution), and thus was primarily used as an experimental artistic practice, after twenty years we have come to another point where video has evolved into a dominant, omnipresent artistic expression, an indispensible part of every gallery space, concert hall etc.
The feminist video artist and writer Catherine Elwes (1952) thought of video in the 70s like so: „I think initially it was an impatience with painting… . I needed a more direct and immediate way of communicating the stories that were in my head and that I was trying to get out… . For me the difference between film and video was like the difference between painting and drawing. What put me off about film, principally, was the fact that I couldn’t see it… I also didn’t like the waiting… Video was a bit like having a pencil with a rubber. I could put something down, and if I didn’t like it I could just rub it out. To me it was much closer to drawing and that’s why I felt an affinity with it“.
This thinking about the differences between film and video are unimaginable today. Digital film and digital video offer instant, visible results, and writing and erasing, commodities and speed depend solely on the budget in the artists’ disposal, or rather on the conditions in which the work is being made. In that sense, several artists even today follow the lines of minimalism, reduction, they create hermetic, introverted realizations that test the boundaries between media or the value of visual “heritage” itself. However there are many video works which are openly communicative, narrative and show all the luxuries of using new technologies. In any case, both operate with a much larger number of details in images, and that fact separates them from the pioneers of video art. Their view of video recording is completely different.
Year in and year out, Videomedeja has promoted pluralism in the field of video art, and with the mandatory addition of installations, has allowed newer generations to get to know the new, and mostly critical, forms of creativity, which are entirely different than the consumerist culture in which we are all sadly completely submerged in.
This edition of Videomedeja 2021 consists of four blocks of video projections lasting 50 minutes (works from China, the USA, Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Finland, Croatia…), a special program called Made in Serbia, a night dedicated to Aleksandar Davić, a prominent director from Novi Sad and long-term selector of Videomedeja and a few installations (one work walks a thin line between a performance and installation). From the Ben Akiba club in the beginning, the location of the festival often changed, from the Cultural centre of Novi Sad, the Museum of contemporary art, all the way to Svilara in which it will take place this year. During this period of 20+ years, Ivana Sremčević guided the publics’ attention toward narrative or abstract projects, avant-garde or experimental practices, but often documentary and feature films, animations (traditional, CGI or combined), media installations and different interactive forms were presented as well on Videomedeja. The festival is still being distributed and promoted in the form of projections, presentations, promotional catalogues, documentary films and DVD editions in Serbia and abroad. And not to mention the enormous archive that Videomedeja offers which will one day be an important guideline in art research.
In the end, it may be possible to anticipate in which direction the interests of video artists will go in the near future. On the one hand, we are talking about interactivity, the need of the viewers to take part in the happening or to even create their own narrative using this open form. In this global society which is oversaturated with (mis)information and different media content, contemporary visual art aims to mobilize the viewers who are mostly bored, mainly due to the abundance of “spectacular” content. On the other hand, newer AI technologies are being reconsidered. One of this year’s registered works shows different frames that were shot by a high resolution camera, which would be suddenly stopped, and its next movements and frames were generated by AI software, which was trying to anticipate every following frame by analysing every previous frame. The result was a deformed, strange image, in which the distortions provoke an anxious feeling. So, artists will always critically examine the advance of new technologies.
The only thing left is to wish Videomedeja good luck in recognizing and promoting these types of artistic practices in the very, very distant future. The next intersection will certainly be made when the festival celebrates its half-century birthday. Good luck!
Author: Srđan Radaković
 “I believe that the choice of video came up because of impatience during painting… I needed a more direct way of communicating, telling stories that were in my head and wanted to come out… For me the difference between film and video is the same as it is between painting and drawing. Film rejected me, generally because u could not see the results… I also didn’t enjoy waiting… Yet video was like a pencil and rubber. I could draw something and if I didn’t like it I could erase it. For me video was akin to drawing and that why I had an affinity toward it.” Chris Meigh-Andrews, A History of Video Art 2nd ed., New York: Bloomsbury, 2014, page 102