Torben Soeborg, Denmark: My Involvement with Video and Video Art
Interview to English magazine, 2001-2002 (not published)
My involvement with video started as an art teacher with a general interest in the audio visual field. When I got a job at a college in the mid 60s I became director of the media department and in 1968 created the very first video workshop in Denmark.
The workshop served the college teachers and students but also offered courses for people outside the college. In the early 70s we were inspired very much by the community video experiments in the UK. We ran courses for people wanting to use video for political and social reasons in their local communities.
Before I came to the college I had been an art teacher. Around 1980-81 I began to get fed up with teaching others video skills while not doing any video work myself. In 1982 I signed up for a video art course at the Scandinavian Summer Academy in Sweden with Madelon Hooykaas & Elsa Stansfield from Netherlands and Marianne Heske from Norway as teachers. I had a great time and decided that video, as a medium for artistic creation was just right for me.
I was also editor of a small magazine, Dansk Video Tidskrift (Danish Video Magazine). I had published a couple of articles by the Danish video art pioneer Niels Lomholt. Back from Sweden Niels and I organized the First Danish Symposium about Video Art with some 20 people participating in November 1982, followed up by a Second seminar in 1984. One result of the symposiums was that I collected and published Katalog over dansk videokunst /Catalogue of Danish video Art (with support from the Danish ministry of Culture) in 1984 In 11986 I organized in cooperation with Huset in Copenhagen a Nordic Video Art Seminar. One of the results of the seminar was that I organized summer screening at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum in Copenhagen in 1986-87-88-89 and at Vejle Art Museum in 1988.
At that time it was difficult for Danish artists working with video to get their work distributed. I was lucky to have my video (tapes and installations) work shown in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Germany, France, Austria and Switzerland. I also little by little collected information about and contacts with video artists and festivals in other countries. So we decided in connection with the workshop to create a non-profit agency for promoting and distributing Danish video art. We called it rather presumptuously THE DANISH VIDEO ART DATA BANK.
When I left the college and the video workshop in 1996-97 the Data Bank was separated from the workshop and I stayed on as director of the Data Bank.
I had published information about festivals and activities in a small newsletter. When the possibilities came in around 1995 to work with the Internet, I started to publish the information on a web site: www.videoart.suite.dk/videofestivals. This web site has escalated ever since and now(in 2001) contains information about close to 1.400 video and media festivals, exhibitions, screenings and activities all over the world.
The web site is frequently updated and takes too much of my time! I dont know why I always seem to end up with organizing things for the benefit of others which takes time away from my own creative work.
The Data Bank represents around 30-35 Danish artists at the moment (2001) some with many videos and others with just one or two videos in the Data Bank Archive. The Data Bank is often contacted by a festival or venue about the possibility of showing Danish video art but the Data Bank often makes contact with the organizers of a festival or activity. In both cases we discuss the length of the program and the conditions. The Data Bank then decides which video art works to present and puts together a compilation specific for that festival/venue. Up to now the Data Bank has arranged screenings of Danish video art in 42 countries all over the world. In 1988 the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked me to participate in a campaign for Danish culture in France. The compilation Art Video Danois was screened four different places in France.
One aspect that fascinated me and still fascinates me - with video is the possibility to include the dimension of time in the artwork. Another aspect was the same as Ulrike Rosenbach described in 1982: video es war die totale autonomie für mich. It gives complete freedom in the way you can control all parts in the process to the final product which you instantly can present. Yet another aspect was that you - as Ulrike Rosenbach pointed out could call video a blank medium: unstrained and relative free from prejudiced interpretations an open, spacious field for experiments.
(Ulrike Rosenbach is quoted from Wulf Hezognrath: Videokunst in Deutschland 1963-1982, Stuttgart 1982)
My work with video seems to follow two lines: my videotapes I would describe as inspired by surrealism and my installations were in the beginning rather minimalistic / concrete abstract and except for the last two water has always been a part of the installations.
If we take a video like Vidéo: Ceci est la Coleur from 1985 I wrote the following text to describe the video:
We live in a world, feeling surrounded by video: music video clips on every TV-channel almost. Some nights two or three channels have MTV (Music television) at the same time or just following each other. You see part of a video on one channel, flip to the next and see the beginning of that same video and get the end on a third channel. All these videos melt together in your mind: make their own story, get their own life, a meta life of video what is life? what is video? Is it real or surreal?
You could say that this video was a surrealist-inspired or -influenced effort to deconstruct the "reality" conjured up by the mass media or, in some other way, to provide a commentary on those media - an utopian critique - and to develop a new poetry from these everyday mass media inputs.
The video was chosen to be screened at "Talking Back to Media", the great manifestation in Amsterdam in November 1985, together with artists as Nam June Paik, Dara Birnbaum, Richard Serra, Klaus Von Bruch and others.
You could say that "Vidéo: Ceci est la Couleur", illustrates "Talking Back because it comments on the perception of reality in the mass media and the way the mass media affects our understanding of time
Måns Wrange wrote about the video:
The effect of the IMPLOSIVE media boom on our grasp of time is reflected in Torben Søborgs VIDEO, CECI EST LA COULEUR, 1985. In a sequence taken in a living room we INDIRECTLY see a film being shown on the television. Gradually the TV screen is zoomed until it covers the whole picture surface. Suddenly the film cuts in DIRECTLY onto the video, and there is a dislocation between two fictive times in a single picture sequence.
Måns Wrange: Notes on Time and Space in SIKSI, Nordic art Review, 4/87
The video was included in the video magazine Video Congress VC 9: Metalanguage II, 1985. The magazine was published by 235 in Cologne, Germany
The video was also chosen as one of 12 by Bettina Hirsch to be screened at Video - Kunst. Eine Auseinandersetzung mit der Tradition at the 2.000 years celebration of Bonn in 1989.
In contrast to this surreal work you could take one of my first video installations, Wave Motion. I would descripe it as a rahter minimalistic or concrete abstract work. Accordingly it was first shown at the New Abstraction artist group show in Copenhagen in 1985 and then later in 1990 at a gallery in Athens.
It consists of at least 8 video monitors connected two and two to at least 4 video cassette players with auto-repeat function with 4 video tapes. The monitors are placed close together on a curved line on the floor, tilting the screen a little forward. In front of the monitors silver plastic foil covered with bits of broken window glass.
The monitors all show running water (Umeaa River). Each tape is made from three sequences: 1. Waves 2. Camera pans over the waves up against the sun and back, 3. Waves. The sequences are repeated and each tape edited to start a bit later than the others do. The sound is electronic music.
The visual image of the monitors changes slowly: Starting from the right and all the way down the raw of monitors from the blue pictures of waves to the waves in backlight with "golden" sparks of sunlight. Then from the right to the left slowly back again to the blue waves - reflecting the monitor pictures in the broken glass in front of the monitors.
In accordance with the gradually visual/colour changes various emotion-charged levels arise which together with the colour tints and the soft electronic music endow the motive with a peculiar surrealistic mood. It turns the attention away from the object/motive itself and towards the spectator's experience of it. The significance is not any longer in the content of the piece but in the comprehension/feelings/sensuality it provokes.
As so many other of the first generation artists working with video I have also myself as main "actor". The video "I Am That I Am" from 1983 I put up a video camera and recorded my face while I moved close to the camera and away from the camera. Because the camera had fixed focus the recorded picture were sometimes in and sometimes out of focus. On the soundtrack I recorded electronic music and recitation from Allan Ginsburg's poem "The Change: Kyoto Tokyo Express". The tape was a surreal interpretation of the question: "Who am I?" and Ginsburg's "answer": "In this dream I am the dreamer I am that I am "
Later a company in 1994 offered me to use a Fairligth Video Syntheziser for a couple of weeks and I used this to preparate the video from 1983 to make I Am That I Am (Version II) and this version received a Special Prize at RETINA 98 Fifth International Film & Video Festival, Szigetvár, Hungary in 1996. I also received the Honourable Prize of the City of Szigitvár in 1996.
Already in 1988 I received Hjerteprisen (The Heart Prize) at1st. Danish Video Festival / 2nd Danish Short Film Festival, Holbaek, Denmark .In 1989 I received Prix Lago Maggiore at VideoArt*89 International Video Art Festival, Locarno, Switzerland. In1989 and in 1998 the DIJ Prize at Retina 98 International Film & Video Festival, Szigetvár, Hungary
Last year I reused the first version of I Am That I Am in a video installation, The sun in my eyes at Kunst 2000 I Vestsjaelland, Knabstrup, Denmark, and in a smaller Version 3 at Open Film Town/Open Screen at Cinama Nova Bioscoop, Brussels, Belgium. This was the first time I did not use tape(s) with water in my installations. At the same time it is an example on how I often reuse old video material in new contexts.
Torben Soeborg, 2002
Note: For a more comprehensive CV go to www.torben-soeborg.dk