Some of the most radical questionings of reality arise from the culture of images. Others are a result of simulation mechanisms. Others come from the expansion of a dominant reality that threatens the fabric of other realities; that threaten to erase forms of knowledge, landscapes, people, ways of life, feelings. Others persist through a kind of autosuggestion, which stems from the dense network of desires and fears, false identifications, actions and reactions, in an experience not too distant from a dream. – OVNI
The 2011 edition of OVNI (Observatory de Vìdeo no Identificat: Unidentified Video Observatory) was dedicated, the last 22-27 of February 2011 at CCCB-Barcelona, to the concept of dis-reality. In an age where the show business, too many times mistaken for the culture world, has risen as model of real life, where fiction and reality melt into one solution and where physic and mental solidity dissolve into a constant flow of images and appearances, in this intricate and complex mutation of reality the OVNI work showed itself as an antidote to the poison of contemporary information and communication.
A “pirate channel”, an arrow shot to hit the international audiovisual supremacy, a “Temporary Self-governed Area” – as Hakim Bey himself, collaborator of this OVNI edition, would say – presenting from almost twenty years, within the areas of CCCB of Barcelona and not only, an intense program of visual art, independent documentary and mass media archeology.
The deep work by OVNI showed clearly how the audiovisual independent productions are getting more and more visibility and international fame and how, at the same time, they represents a highly critical instrument of our time culture and society.
I spoke about this and other topics with Toni Serra, an OVNI team member whose availability I really appreciated.
Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio: Thirteen editions and almost twenty years of experience. How did the OVNI project be born and develop during the years?
Toni Serra: OVNI is born out of the need of a strict number of people who were once part of Doce Visual Association. Some years ago a group of them began to reunite there. Some were coming from the world of video, others were returning in Spain after many experiences in different countries – France, USA, Germany – and some others had stayed here. Teresa Picazo reunited us on the basis of a necessity: producing and recording in Spain was nearly impossible in that very period, and video editing and exposing was even worse.
Those who had been abroad, in other countries and contexts, and viewed other interesting works and materials, soon acknowledged the difficulties in making such works arrive here in Spain, and in illustrating what we knew it was valuable. Therefore OVNI began as a necessity to reflect on the principle of video itself, and made its members aware that in such concept lied a mix of languages, intentions and strategies which in a way or in the other reflect this means’ vitality and capability of overcoming every genre barrier. A hybrid language without a format, but characterized by a superb flexibility and work capability.
Here comes the OVNI name (Observatory de Vìdeo no Identificat), which testifies our purpose of passing through genres with no worries and putting the emphasis mostly on our intentions. OVNI was meant to widen the field expression, which in our environment had shrink – above all, if compared to the works we saw outside of our country – and to retrieve the freshness, the hybrid character of video and use it.
The first editions of OVNI followed this guideline, then the event began to turn slowly, on one side into a research process of the topics we were interested in, and on the other, thanks to all the material we received, into a sort of scanner of a determined situation. The works were coming from all around the world and had different characteristics, thus requiring an important reflection on their contents.
Rather than on the selection, it was necessary to spend a lot of time on the lecture of intentions, of what was happening, of what the artists were caring about. Little by little we recognized we were having access to the dreams and nightmares of our time and we were not observing them through corporative means, mass media or “audiovisual fast foods”, but rather through hundreds or even thousands of tiny eyes.
This way we discovered some important questions, such as the research of community forms and the relation between identity and mass media. Around the end of the Nineties, in the works there were traces of the events that were happening. The terms globalization and New World Order began to spread around; the concept of Rhizome became clearer, as well as 9/11 2001 did. OVNI passed through the end of this millennium and plunge right into this new panorama that led us to a sort of global coup d’état, under the guise of need to control a terror danger threatening frontiers and cultures as well.
We were watching it very clearly through the videos we received. In 2005, for instance, we were thinking about a precise topic for the festival, when we suddenly recognized that in a huge number of works sent to us – very interesting works in both contents and forms – the term “resistances” was recurring many times.
In that very moment we said to ourselves: “We must mix what we see, what we are interested in, with all that it is happening and link it to the people’s need to access to different ways to view the world”. From that day on, a reflection about the special relation between magic, image, imagination and reality started.
One year later, instead of following the same path we took with “resistances”, we developed a more refined and less popular OVNI. There was the necessity to see what had happened. Was colonialism really dead? What did the word colonialism mean now? What does colonialism need? It needs the other. When the other comes in, here comes a space, a space to be occupied. Is this space only a physical one? No, it’s not: it is a linguistic and cognitive space and knowledge always occupies the space of what is yet to know, it enters it to stay. All these matters forced us digging deeper and deeper into our reflection.
Two other OVNI research works – Exodus and Rhizomes – comes directly from this guideline: a mix of what we were receiving from the artists and what we were meant to meet but we could not.
Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio: This year’s edition is dedicated to dis-reality. Can you explain to us what does it mean please?
Toni Serra:The Dis-reality is a reality that dis-realizes us as people, communities, landscapes, contexts, cities. Do we have to call it reality even when it dis-realizes us? It is rather a dis-reality. Moreover, this is a reality we clearly recognize as something built by the great powers of image and communication, creative imagination and industry of culture. People must understand that just as such dis-reality unites us on one hand as goods, consumers, labels, on the other it divides us as labels, names, races, ideologies and different traditions.
This dis-reality is then both physical (it can materialize in a frontier, on a wall, within a fence or building, and even in the destruction of a building) and metaphysical (such as virtuality, where the use of dis-reality is effective – for it requires a very strong materiality, like for instance time spending – but at the same time has not a physicalness of its own).
These two worlds are linked many times to each other, as it happens in “Gold Farmers”, an online multiplayer videogame (http://www.chinesegoldfarmers.com/) that shows hundreds of factories in China where thousands of young people play World of Warcraft, Second Life, and other games. The game is their job and they are paid with a virtual currency, convertible into real one. These people work 12-14-16 hours per day, they sleep in the factory and their eyes are often reddened…
The Dubai in Me, Rendering the World, a video by Christian Von Borries, is an excellent work as well. It is a biopolitical analysis putting into relation Dubai’s real architectures – made possible thanks to hundreds of thousands workers of the Indian subcontinent – with Second Life’s virtual architectures. Another particular video concerns a Second Life advertisement, showing the beginnings of this virtual project.
Born as a virtual isle filled with virtual trees, Second Life was soon inhabited by virtual people who built their houses, residences, cutting the trees to do that. This fact shows that even in the virtual world the trees have to be cut, that not even in the virtual world there is room for ecologist utopia. This example leads to a somewhat political concept: we cannot take for real a reality that dis-realizes us!
This denial establishes a paradoxical relationship with a thought coming from mystique, Hinduism, Christian Gnosticism, Islamic Sufism and India’s Advaita Vedanta school. Reality itself is an illusion. We can access to its real aspect only in so far as we investigate our own being, in search of our own nature. In other words, all of this means to stop pursuing our own desires and to stop running away for our fears.
Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio: OVNI contains video art, documentary and independent audiovisual productions and mass media archaeology works. What criteria and methodologies do you use to find and select these works?
Toni Serra: The latest edition required us to make a huge work of research. The topic defined itself slowly and it took much time to make it concrete. We had a lot of trouble finding the material too. This OVNI project forced every member of the team to work on the research part, and the collaborations with Havi Hurtado, Lewanne Jones by Autonomedia, and most of all José Luìs de Vicente have been fundamental. The criterion was to establish a constructive dialogue among them. .
Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio: The critical, analytical and reflective aspect on contemporary culture – particularly on mass media – is one of OVNI starting point. In the actuality there is a perverse relation concerning the use of mass media in our society. What does OVNI think about that?
Toni Serra:We have always been fascinated by the beginnings of TV, the times when characters likes Ernie Kovacs, fleeing from McCarthyism and hiding in television, could exist. They create TV programs along with Stockhausen’s musical covers, with a completely experimental conception of scene space, influenced by Dadaism and Surrealism. All of this not only worked, but also succeeded in taking a large piece of share a few times.
Years after they discovered the great potential of TV, which was then the younger brother of cinema: economic and political questions, capability of production and emission began to appear. This year the focus is mostly on two Italian videos: the first is Videocracy by Erik Gandini, the latter is Il corpo delle donne (the body of women) by Lorella Zanardo. This one in particular is an outcry about the horrible way the body of women has been exploited and made public during the years.
From a feminine perspective, the work arise many questions: what is happening? Why we women are not reacting? Why are we just passively witnessing to our identity’s seizure, our body’s sale and our image’s violation?
Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio: OVNI is a transversal project, containing videos from all around the world and dealing with mystic, spiritual, political, social, economical and artistic matters. What are the connections OVNI is looking for?
Toni Serra: OVNI is an Observatory of Unidentified Videos. We do not care about genres, origins, or production systems of the videos. And no matter if the author is famous or unknown. We work in a total freedom which allows us to make a reflection on our time and our roots. A reflection born out of the language that we, as contemporary human beings, are more used to (we grew up with TV and computers).
Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio: Can independent videos, compared to the TV and cinema industry, be useful tools of counter- information or is their vision limited to a small group of spectators only?
Toni Serra:I often ask this question to myself. For instance, TV share ratings are rather esoteric when one tries to understand how they actually work. It is fundamental to be aware that spreading a message worldwide requires a clear thing: it cannot be deprived of which it needs to be sent, nor of which it implies, for an individual, to receive something coming from a massive information system.
In other words, when we see a bus reporting an advertisement imitating the symbol of a bank – and so it is not a symbol, but an advertisement – we have a completely different reaction, for we know what all of this means and we know what lies behind to made it possible. In this sense, the information conveys rhizomatically and it is difficult to quantify, but it seems it works well, judging from what it is happening in North Africa.
There are limited production videos that now are circulating very much. I do not know the real dimension of all of this, but I believe it is more than we can imagine.
Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio: In the exposition introduction you affirm that it: “Comes from digital technology: videogames, simulation, virtual image, augmented reality, applied to so different fields such as leisure, military training, communication, industrial process, leisure administration…becoming the psychical and emotional habitat of a large part of the population. A fictional whole.” In the metamorphosis between real world and image, don’t you think technology made us lose our contact with reality?
Toni Serra:Technology is a reality per se. It contains a reality in itself. This is so obvious sometimes we forget about it, for we consider it a simple means. But it is not only a means, it is a reality too. And at the same time it clearly represents a mediation. Such mediation, often made possible by a technological/economical giant whose origins are military as well, adds a number of values and distances. In this sense, taking into consideration Hakim Bey‘s thoughts, this notion of mediation representing a distance is revealed.
Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio: Speaking of Hakim Bey. He is an OVNI collaborator in this year’s edition. How did this relation start?
Toni Serra: All became true thanks to the collaboration with one of his editors, Intermedia, New York. Our intent was to provide Hakim Bey with some texts, to make him reflecting about this year’s edition. Hakim has been very direct, sending us a long work focused on the dis-reality matter, along with a 5 minutes video intervention where he made a reflection on three forms to view reality: 1) Everything is real. A sort of shamanic vision. 2) Nothing is real.
Reality lies beyond, invisible, inaccessible, and we can only see a glimpse of it. 3) The world is real and unreal at the same time. It is real as a manifestation of a principle of universal conscience, yet it is unreal for there are names and forms that appear and disappear and have not a substrate of their own.
Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio: OVNI also owns a wide online archive, a rich set of collaborations, many itinerant exhibitions, and so on. What are the intentions of the group beyond what will be exposed in this week’s public program?
Toni Serra: Actually this week will be presented an output of the whole work of the last year and a half. The archives and the programs coming out from them represent no doubt the main core of our group. These programs are exposed during museum exhibitions, shows, reflection days, social events, occupations, etc. Lately we have been working hard to this purpose, particularly on our web site and online archives, increasing the number of videos (from 400 to 700) and reaching a higher resolution. The quality is currently so high that our users can watch the videos on their computers, and this increase in autonomy could one day lead to the disappearance of OVNI as intermediate.
Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio: How did you insert the independent nature of OVNI projects into the collaboration with a public center like CCCB?
Toni Serra: First of all, at a certain point our skepticism towards the institutions began to finish. This break has occurred because of some cracks that opened at the birth of the culture industry: a non-existing industry in Spain until a few years ago, yet expanding rapidly and leaving huge empty spaces after it. Moreover, despite our skepticism, new characters we could dialogue with and reflect on appeared.
Yet now all of this means a constant discussion on many aspects for us: for instance, one the most important is that our work must remain free for we receive public money and we work in public spaces, like CCCB. But it is not easy to make institutions understand that. In fact we base our work on total independence, in relation with the way we handle OVNI and deal with its matters. In this sense, we do not allow institutions to influence us…