Video Art in the Netherlands (E)

From Agora to Montevideo


Conclusions from the present have the tendency to turn rapidly into history. In 1990 the Amsterdam Boekman Foundation commissioned Volkskrant journalist Pauline Terreehorst to conduct an inquiry into ‘how national and local government, the advisory boards and the institutions have reacted to the phenomenon of video art’.1 The result was published in the following year in Kunst en beleid in Nederland 5 [Art and policy in the Netherlands 5]. Although the article is sometimes confused and bitty, the conclusions leave little scope for interpretation: ‘The enthusiasm of the basis could not be communicated to the remote national administrators. That is one of the reasons for the disappearance of a video culture.’2 And: ‘[…] the government has had great difficulty with the phenomenon of video. Decisions were postponed time and again. But no policy is also policy. The permanent delaying tactic, whether deliberately intended as such or not, has left institutions and artists dependent on those institutions – because of the particular properties of video art – completely out in the cold. […] We have to conclude that it is above all national government that is responsible for the stagnation in the development of video art and has failed to see how important the institutions were for the phenomenon to flourish. […] Local government proved to be better informed and much better able to respond adequately to the new trends than national government. It fulfilled a reconnaissance role. That role is not appreciated by national government. In fact, it was up to local government to clear up the mess after the heavy-handed decisions.’3
I think that today, in 2002, Terreehorst would have written a different text. Video culture has not disappeared. On the contrary, video and photography are the most widely used media among artists at the moment. It is debatable whether those government bodies, advisory boards and institutions have played a part in this. At any rate, the link that once existed between video institutions and artists has disappeared, the inconstancy of national government seems to a large extent to have been kept under control by a system of long-term subsidies, and the specialised advisory boards of the past have now been incorporated in the Council for Culture. Video has become one of the means of artistic expression, video art no longer exists as such, and institutions exclusively devoted to video have disappeared or changed their format.
Video has become both outdated and up to date. That is the paradox within which the story of the different video institutes is situated.

Open studios

Wim Beeren organised the exhibition ‘Sonsbeek buiten de perken’ [Sonsbeek off limits] in 1971. Until then, Sonsbeek had been an interesting but rather conventional and low-threshold sculptural exhibition. That conventionality changed drastically under the responsibility of Beeren. He invited a group of international conceptual artists who, in the words of Ger van Elk, wanted to break with ‘that dismal beret art of the Fifties’.4 Most of them made works in situ that were related to the landscape. One of the features of the exhibition was a tent in which videos were shown and where it was also possible to make videos. Philips had provided the equipment free of charge for this improvised studio. Entirely in the democratic spirit of the time, the cameras were available not only for the artists (who included Shinkichi Tajiri, Nam June Paik and Stanley Brouwn), but also for the public. The basic idea behind it was setting up communication, a form of idealism that had not yet earned the label ‘naive’. Although not a lot came of it (and a lot of what did come out of it has been lost), for many this introduction to the new medium was an exciting and stimulating experience. That excitement led to a number of initiatives that marked the start of a notable development.

In the year after Sonsbeek, Theo van der Aa and Ger van Dyck set up the Maastricht Agora Studio (renamed Agora Foundation in 1978 when it received a subsidy). Beeren had provided the final push. They wanted a sort of open studio for artists with ideas. Precise definitions of the objectives were out of the question: whatever happens happens. It is not the institution that determines the art, but the artist. Agora Studio was also an information centre. International contacts played an important role in it, not only with artists but also with comparable centres in Paris, San Francisco, Buenos Aires and elsewhere. Van der Aa and Van Dyck no longer regarded art as tied to a location; the video tape, book, cable, satellite, telephone and magazine made it possible to transcend every boundary. There were close contacts with the Bonnefantenmuseum and with the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht, which was well equipped. So the use of (video) equipment rarely created problems. Theo van der Aa and Raul Marroquin founded the periodical Fandangos, and there were mass media projects with Ulises Carrión, Servie Jansen, Michael Gibbs, Martha Hawley and many others. The exhibitions followed one another in rapid succession in the exhibition space. Multimedia, a concept that had not yet been invented, was already being implemented in Agora.
Although Agora still exists, it has not had the function of a gallery and open studio since 1986. It has undoubtedly played a role in the careers of various (video) artists.

There was another initiative that followed directly from Sonsbeek. The designer Rien Hagen had been commissioned by Wim Beeren to make a visual record of the exhibition (though the result has been lost). Hagen had been fed up with the ‘advertising kids’ for some time and the commission went very well, so he decided to stop with his Checkpoint design agency in The Hague and in 1972 founded Meatball (the name is borrowed from a cartoon by Robert Crump).5 Meatball aimed at audiovisual productions intended to bring about social change. It wanted to investigate new forms of communication and to ensure that non-commercial productions got a showing via presentations and distribution (the later Kijkhuis). There was no money – it was only years later that a structural subsidy freed their regular girl friends from the obligation to fund it -, no bureaucracy, and no shortage of ideals. Meatball made a name for itself above all with social documentaries and programmes (for the VPRO broadcasting company) like Ik ben even weg, Tuig, Huilend Beton, Koninkrijk voor een huis, which were made on the initiative of Meatball itself or were commissioned. All the same, there were always links with art and artists. Meatball was responsible, for instance, for the performances organised by De Appel. To celebrate its tenth anniversary, four artists (including Marie-Jo Lafontaine and Lydia Schouten) were commissioned to make a video work. Individual artists (such as Ineke Smits) made use of their facilities. In addition, Meatball helped to organise exhibitions with the Rotterdam Art Foundation. For years it maintained close links with Het Kijkhuis, and the first World Wide Video Festival would never have been held without the initiatives and efforts of Rien Hagen and his team. In the last resort, although Meatball probably contributed more to video and the documentary as media (with their documentary dramas, for instance), it deserves a place in the history of video art.
Meatball went bankrupt in 1992. Rien Hagen got a job at the Haagse Filmhuis, and eventually became director of the Amsterdam Film Museum.

Videoheads (1971, Amsterdam) was primarily aimed at artists. The founder and director was the US artist Jack Moore. In the early years he was assisted by the Canadian engineer David Jones, who was later to become a sort of inventor in the field of electronics (the Jones Colorizer is a household name to insiders). Moore was also involved with Sonsbeek, where he had helped to devise and set up the video tent. Videoheads started life in the premises of The Milky Way, primarily to create video productions. The ideas for them came from the artists themselves in almost every case. Moore was not concerned about the content, nor did he have a clear policy. His main criteria were what and who appealed to him, and he displayed a measure of unpredictability in his choices. The main task of Videoheads was to provide the necessary equipment for each plan. In 1980 Moore wanted to expand his activities with presentations and exhibitions. The Bank Foundation was set up for this purpose. It was in a large building in the Haarlemmerstraat in Amsterdam that the pretentious, rather ridiculous sounding ambition was to be achieved: ‘[…] a social video concentration for breaking through the anti-social homecentred effect of monolithic mass-communication’.6 The plans received the backing of a government grant.
Three years later The Bank went bankrupt. The board members were held personally liable for the debts it had run up, and Jack Moore disappeared abroad. It is difficult to tell what importance Videoheads has had. Video artists from the first generation (Raul Marroquin and Nan Hoover) often used the facilities. Others of those involved react with amusement when the name Videoheads is mentioned. Probably Jack Moore’s unorthodox way of working was not Dutch enough to be taken completely seriously.

Although the Open Studio opened its basement doors in Amsterdam one year after Sonsbeek too, there is no need to seek a causal connection. Its origins clearly lie in social ideals. The objectives were unambiguous on this score. Open Studio wanted to make audiovisual resources accessible to people who worked with communicational, educational and informative projects. The ability of the video makers to work on their own and their creativity had to be encouraged.7 The aim was to advise institutes on acquisition, use and maintenance, as well as facilitating documentary productions or creating them itself. Open Studio’s broadly defined purpose made it difficult for subsidising bodies to place it – a welcome obstacle that they cleverly exploited by means of the well-known system of passing the buck. The result was that it had to make do with small, one-off subsidies, so that most of the personnel were volunteers. Open Studio occasionally worked with artists. Stansfield/Hooijkaas and Ulay/Abramovic, for example, have made videos with Van der Bergh or in her studio.
In 1985 Open Studio became a commercial production company that also started to offer courses and workshops. That was when Lily van den Bergh decided to become an independent maker of documentaries and programs.

A special place was occupied among these early initiatives by the In/Out/Center. Michel Cardena, a Colombian who had lived in the Netherlands for a number of years and had already built up something of a reputation as an artist, founded the centre in 1972. Raul Marroquin, Ulises Carrión, a number of Icelandic artists (including Gudmundsson) and a few Dutch ones (including Hetty Huisman) were also involved. With a high frequency they presented work in a small venue in the centre of Amsterdam that did not stand much of a chance in the regular circuit, so that meant a lot of video work. They may have only reached a limited audience, but what is more important is that they represented a growing group of foreign artists who felt drawn to Amsterdam for its tolerant, artistic and grant-friendly climate, and whose innovative and refreshing presence had a stimulating effect on developments, particularly in Dutch video art.
The In/Out/Center lasted little more than a year. It was closed down in 1974, though for no apparent reason. Probably the artists’ own work was demanding more attention. The arrival of De Appel in Amsterdam in 1975 was of great importance for the artists who presented or were presented. De Appel was clearly inspired by Cardena’s initiative.8

The role of the government

All of these institutions were the result of private initiative, the idealism of a few. The Lijnbaancentrum in Rotterdam, that was founded as early as December 1970, was an initiative of the local authority. The advantage of this is that, since the city assumes responsibility, it is in principle prepared to provide funds and an infrastructure. The disadvantage is that the bureaucratic road has to be followed. It is not only by definition long and wearisome, but it also lacks the unpredictability or the unorthodoxy that make institutions interesting. The Lijnbaancentrum was set up as a low-threshold exhibition space in the centre of the city, so that shoppers would feel free to come and go. It was run by the Exhibitions Department of the Rotterdam Arts Foundation. The video sections limited itself to including exhibitions, interviewing artists, and assisting artists who wanted to show videos in exhibitions. This limited use of video was not so much ideological as it was the result of the absence of an ideology. A video working group set up by the local authority tried to draw up a video policy for years – in vain, because the aim was to arrive at an overarching policy. This was unrealistic, because the social function of the medium in a slum neighbourhood cannot be weighed up against the importance of the individual artist looking for opportunities to make his or her own work. The setting up of the Video Centre in 1976, which was primarily concerned with the making of productions for neighbourhoods, education and art, and that was able to offer a studio facility, was unable to break the impasse. Even the plans for an international video festival as an extension of the Film Festival and Poetry International – an initiative of Tom van Vliet, researched by Rien Hagen – failed to come off; it was successfully pulled off in The Hague in 1982.
These gloomy developments do not imply that the Lijnbaancentrum has not played a role at all. It was one of the first places where video equipment was available (free of charge). Various artists have made welcome use of it over the years. A number of foreign artists who had taken part in ‘Sonsbeek buiten de perken’ stayed on in the Netherlands and made new work in Rotterdam. In 1973 the Lijnbaancentrum organised an important video exhibition, showing not only documentaries but also video works by Livinus van de Bundt, Dennis Oppenheim, Henk Tas and others. In addition, the exhibition charted all of the video and cable activities in the Netherlands.
The Lijnbaancentrum disappeared long ago. Low-threshold exhibition spaces are out of fashion. In 1988 the Rotterdam Arts Foundation released a report recommending that video presentations should be linked to existing institutes (for example, theatre-like video works in Lantaren/Venster). The video and film showings in De Unie appear to be the only surviving result of that.9

Soon after its launching in 1975, De Appel became one of the most important art institutions in the Netherlands. An initiative of Wies Smals, this location beside the Brouwersgracht was the international centre for those forms of art that knocked on the doors of the museums in vain: ‘performances, environments and situation art’, as they were called in the objectives.10 De Appel is the first location on the track lists of a respectable number of major international artists, such as Laurie Anderson, Charlemagne Palestine, Jenny Holzer, Nan Hoover, Marina Abramovic, Ben and d’Armagnac. As Marga van Mechelen shows in more detail in her contribution to this volume, however, the significance of the Amsterdam foundation for video art was ambiguous. On the one hand, video functioned primarily as a supporting medium: performances, lectures and exhibitions were recorded by it. Smals deliberately aimed at forming the largest possible collection of this kind of documentary material. On the other hand, in a number of cases video was a part of the performance (as in the work of Nan Hoover). On the public evenings, independent video productions were shown by artists like Ulrike Rosenbach, Michel Cardena and Tony Morgan, but they only accounted for a small percentage of the total number of presentations. Video gradually came to occupy a larger place, but that trend was deliberately called to a halt. In 1980 Wies Smals took the initiative of setting up an independent institute for video. This eventually became Time Based Art, which took over the video collection of De Appel.

The year in which De Appel was founded, 1975, was also the year in which Het Kijkhuis commenced operations in The Hague. It was eventually to become one of the three main institutes for video art. Together with MonteVideo and Time Based Arts in Amsterdam, it also (especially later on) became the international point of contact for interested viewers, artists, producers and exhibition curators. The policy of the various government bodies was to target these three institutions above all.
Het Kijkhuis occupied premises in Noordeinde that a private individual made available free of charge. At first it concentrated on distribution, presentation and the forming of a collection. During the first few years it focused on social documentaries that set out to improve the world and were produced by people with more idealism than money. The neighbouring Meatball was the main supplier, so the presentations consisted largely of socially engaged tapes and documentaries broadcast (usually by the VPRO) on television. However, quality film, photography and musical performances also formed an important part of its activities. In addition, visitors could request tapes from the video library and view them by themselves. From 1977 to 1982 the activities were accompanied by a monthly magazine with background information on the programme and announcements or discussions of the new acquisitions. Entirely in accordance with the Zeitgeist, Het Kijkhuis also organised political evenings, for example on atomic energy. There was little scope for art in them.
The first, rather hesitant and tentative article on video art appeared in the magazine for the first time in 1981. The same issue announced a video festival. It took place in the following year, gradually bringing about a sea-change in the nature and structure of Het Kijkhuis. Video art really appeared on the scene at the World Wide Video Festival, although many of the tapes shown there still had a strong social component. The term ‘independent video’ enabled the organisers to present a wide range of tapes. Director Tom van Vliet stated in an interview with Johan Pijnappel that it was particularly the light that he found so exciting in video as a medium, but in all of his other replies there was no mistaking the importance that he attached to social commitment in video art.11 With the arrival of the festival, Het Kijkhuis increasingly interpreted its role as that of facilitating video productions (often in collaboration with Meatball). There was an attempt at market research on the interest in independent productions, and writing about video was encouraged. It also mediated in the lending of equipment. The first festivals were already marked by cooperation with other institutions, such as the Haags Gemeentemuseum. This was to happen more and more in the later period, when Het Kijkhuis had disappeared as a physical institution.
When the government suddenly came up in 1986 with the idea of a national video institute, designated Time Based Arts as such in principle, and closed the subsidies to the others, Het Kijkhuis managed to survive thanks to the relatively high level of funding it received from the local authority in The Hague and the growing success of the festival. Plans were even being made for a new building at the time. Videoline (video tapes broadcast on the cable in The Hague) was set up, and the ideas about a regular programming of exhibitions took on a more specific shape. The publication of a new video catalogue supported the task of distribution. It showed, incidentally, that Het Kijkhuis began the European distribution of the collection of its big brother in New York, Electronic Art Intermix.
Things went wrong when the local authority in The Hague breathed new life into the Haagse Filmhuis. The new building in Spui, the World Wide Video Center, which was so enthusiastically occupied in 1993 and which at last provided the sorely needed space for a regular programming of installations and other activities (Dan Graham was the first artist to make use of it), suddenly had to be shared with that Filmhuis. In the end a large portion of the subsidy went to it as well. At this, Tom van Vliet and his team decided to leave The Hague, to move their festival to Amsterdam, and to drop their other activities. Moving had become a realistic option now that the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam was prepared to accommodate the festival. When that cooperation came to an end after three years, as had been agreed, the organisation intensified its links with all kinds of other institutes in Amsterdam to enable its wide range of programmes to be accommodated somewhere. The switch to Amsterdam increased the numbers of visitors significantly.
Het Kijkhuis/World Wide Video Festival has certainly had an influence on the interest in video art. At first the festivals had a high in-crowd component and appeared more of a meeting place for artists and others directly involved, but later on they became more open and attracted a growing audience. Moreover, the festival has always had an international allure and attempts to bring new (technical) developments to the public eye. As a result of the festival practice, the unambiguous concept of video became outdated long ago. Although Het Kijkhuis has disappeared as an institute, the WWVF has become one. Incidentally, Dutch video artists never played a major role in the presentations or programming. ‘Sooner an unknown Chinese than a well-known Dutch artist’, as one frustrated Dutch artist once put it.
Het Kijkhuis was a model of how a local authority can contribute to the promotion of art and culture. It was able to function for years thanks to the generous support that it received from the local authority of The Hague, making it less vulnerable to the unpredictable and arbitrary policy of the national government.12


MonteVideo, the second major player in the Dutch video field, started up in 1978. Its founder, René Coëlho, had worked as a cameraman for years and had received the necessary impulses from his mentor Livinus van de Bundt: the latter’s ideas and his videos had made such an impression that they were to be a permanent source of inspiration. Coëlho was never very keen on theory. In one of his many interviews he said: ‘Feeling is more important than theory. You read a lot of bla-bla in art criticism. You write in pompous terms about what you ought to judge intuitively.’13 In the initial stage, MonteVideo was no more than a private studio that had got out of hand: just some equipment, a space to show work, and a little documentation. Coëlho’s aim was equally modest: ‘To contribute something to video art’.14 He was already in contact with artists like Bert Schutter and Servaas, and others were soon to follow. In the next few years, as a tutor at the AKI in Enschede, Coëlho had at his disposal an arsenal of potential video artists. That direct link with the academy provoked a lot of criticism. He was accused of assuming too much of the role of a paternalistic tutor towards ‘his’ artists, which made it difficult for them to evade his control. Moreover, it was alleged, the large influx from Enschede led to the creation of a one-sided picture. However, criticisms of this kind often arose from the animosity between the different institutes, which clouded awareness of the fact that the link between MonteVideo and the AKI was a logical one.
MonteVideo was soon able to rent out many works by artists. It was also not long before it felt the need for financial support. This materialised in 1983, at which the video centre moved to North Amsterdam, where there was enough space to put on regular presentations (accompanied by a bulletin). Artists were invited from abroad as well as from the Netherlands to show their videos or installations. The space and the resources were also sufficient to expand the production facilities and to run them more effectively. The particular relation with Sony was very important in that process. Coëlho had personal contacts with Sony Nederland (represented by Brandsteder), which for years provided him with inexpensive equipment of the latest kind.

On 22 March 1982 the Dutch and foreign video artists living in the Netherlands received a letter from De Appel. It was an invitation to attend a meeting for the setting up of a new institute for video art. It was a known fact that De Appel wanted to drop its video activities because they took up too much time and because the foundation wanted to concentrate more on site-specific projects. All the same, it was a remarkable document, as MonteVideo had already been in existence for four years. It gives the impression that MonteVideo, and in particular its director, were not taken very seriously by the art world. Coëlho described his position: ‘[…] I came from the world of television, which a sizeable proportion of the video artists tend to rebel against’.16 De Appel, on the other hand, was at that time an institute with a very high reputation among artists in the Netherlands and abroad and among a small, élitist public of art-lovers. So some arrogance could be expected from it.
It was at that meeting that the Association of Video Artists was set up, with Madelon Hooykaas as the first chairperson. The main purpose of the association was to set up a foundation ‘for the distribution and promotion of video works’.17 Time Based Arts (TBA), the third of the ‘big three’, was founded for that purpose in April 1983. The extension of the field of operations was noteworthy: according to its statutes, it was not confined to video, but also included ‘film and audio works (and combinations of them)’. Aart van Barneveld was appointed as director of the new institute. Unlike Van Vliet and Coëlho, Van Barneveld had a background in art. Through his friend Ulises Carrión, he had been involved in Other Books and So, a kind of gallery that focused on artists books and other artists publications.
It was unfortunate that TBA was set up as a rival to MonteVideo, but even more unfortunate was its structure. An association of artists, whose number rapidly rose to a few dozen, set up a foundation of which they remained in charge. The practical consequence was that the TBA staff were not free to get on with the job. There was always the threat of conflict situations. That well-intentioned but unworkable construction was eventually to herald the demise of TBA as an independent institute. Many viewed the fact that from now on work would always be based on an artistic perspective in a positive light – there would be no commercial interests in the setting up and implementation of projects, no water with the wine when it came to presenting work. That is also the reason why TBA never paid any attention to technical production and only mediated to facilitate that production. Thinking commercially and basing your policy on it was not done at TBA.
TBA concentrated on the presentations, which took place at least once a month. On Van Barneveld’s initiative a video circuit was set up in 1984 to show videos on a monthly basis in different parts of the country (including Mediamatic in Groningen). Many Dutch video works could be presented abroad thanks to the old contacts with De Appel and Other Books.
TBA initiated and organised a large number of large-scale projects. In ‘Talking Back to the Media’ (1985), an international group of artists responded via various mass media to the images presented by those same media. Aorta, the Rijksacademie, De Appel, Shaffy Theater, the Amsterdam cable and VPRO radio collaborated on the project. A year later ‘The Box’ was organised, a project by the artist Daniel Brun. Artists and others involved debated the new technologies and their consequences live on the cable. ‘Geluid herzien’ [Sound check] (1986) was a large-scale international audio art project, once again involving a number of other institutes too (such as Christofori in Amsterdam and the Apollohuis in Eindhoven). TBA had the lowest threshold of the three. It was easy for the public to walk in and ask something or to view tapes (TBA had an extensive archive). This was because the premises beside the Bloemgracht had always had the atmosphere of a place where all kinds of people could meet, almost a kind of club.
In 1986 TBA received the dubious honour of being elevated to the status of the single institute of the future. In itself this was a compliment, because the decision was taken on the basis of quality of content, but at the same time it set TBA up as a rival to the other institutes, the losers.18 That was not what TBA itself wanted at all. The fact that the new situation would mean the end of subsidies from the Amsterdam local authority and from the national government, which had always been paltry anyway, was an attractive side-effect. The main loser from all this was MonteVideo, which was still a flourishing institute at that time. MonteVideo received a small transitional subsidy, and that was the end of it. The destruction of capital was the least of the damage that this astonishing decision was to cause. René Coëlho showed the determination that is in his nature. First of all he created a big fuss – never has video art received so much coverage in the press – so that everyone knew what the situation meant. Then he went back to the Singel, where he had originally started, and continued his activities on four cramped floors. It continued to function as a vital and affordable production facility for many artists (and was now open to others as well). Distribution, documentation and promotion were simply carried on. In 1987 the front of the premises was turned into a gallery. Nan Hoover was the first artist to show there. Some of the staff continued on their own with Media Art Development, an institute that reacted to the new electronic developments that went beyond video art and brought the wider field of media art closer.
MonteVideo managed to survive on its own income, some money from the Amsterdam local authority, and by setting up large-scale projects that were useful and interesting, as well as having the banal function of keeping the business going. For a time it cooperated with the Amsterdam audio institute Steim. In 1993 Coëlho was given a commission that he had initiated himself: to conserve the total body of Dutch video art on disk.15 In addition he developed and produced ‘Imago’, an exhibition of Dutch video installations that travelled around the world for five years, starting in 1990. These and other projects helped MonteVideo to get through the no subsidy era.
In the meantime its colleague Time Based Arts had got into deeper and deeper trouble because the government went back on its original plans – though only after it had let all the institutes, particularly TBA, plod on for a couple of years and make plans. This gave the unfortunate structure of the institute the chance to play up. It was like an unhappy marriage that runs on the rocks during a recession. The Foundation and the Association did not end up in the street, but only by the skin of their teeth. To make matters worse, Aart van Barneveld, to whom acting as a mediator had become second nature, died in 1990. It became increasingly clear that, now that the TBA had no subsidy and was riven by internal conflicts, it had no chance of survival. Wary approaches were made to MonteVideo, delicately steering clear of old wounds. The first specific joint project was Kanaal Zero, a monthly art programme on the Amsterdam cable, with the artist Claudio Goulart as series editor. With the aid of a project subsidy from the Amsterdam local authority, it was eventually able to transmit seventy-five broadcasts. It provided a venue for many artists, particularly Dutch ones.
In 1993 Time Based Arts was incorporated in MonteVideo. Although it was called a merger, insiders knew how the roles were divided: the TBA collection was transferred to MonteVideo. From then on MonteVideo adopted the name of the Netherlands Institute for Media Art, MonteVideo/Time Based Arts, a tactical and polite mouthful, but the ‘real’ name MonteVideo has never disappeared from popular parlance. As a result of the merger, the national government reopened the flow of subsidy. It was increased in 1997 and, again, in 2001, and was turned into a four-year subsidy. The objectives were wider too: production, presentation, documentation, research, and education. In 1994 MonteVideo moved to Spuistraat, and in 1997 to the present premises beside the Keizersgracht. In January 1998 the artist Heiner Holtappels took over from René Coëlho. The private studio of the past had by now become a large, established institute.


It is impossible in one article to do justice to all the initiatives that have played a role in Dutch video art, but I would still like to mention a few of them. Mediamatic in Groningen, and later in Amsterdam, which was founded in 1983, was important, particularly through its international journal, which made serious attempts to promote theoretical discussion. The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (personified in its curator Dorine Mignot) demonstrated its willingness to take the medium seriously, at a time when colleagues showed a general lack of interest in it, with the exhibitions ‘Het Lumineuze Beeld’ (1983) and ‘Kunst voor tv’ (1987), its one-man exhibitions by Gary Hill and Bill Viola, and its video screen. Without a doubt, the unconventional programmes that Rabotnik TV was transmitting on the cable in the 1980s, ‘postpunk, Dadaist Modernist, from God to trash’19 (with Peter Klashorst, Gerald van der Kaap, Menno Grootveld and others) contributed to a new visual idiom of its own and a different approach to the medium of television. The VPRO tried the same thing with programmes like Tape TV and Neon. The Amsterdam Arts Channel, Amsterdam C, has been presenting weekly programmes on the cable since 1987 (in Rotterdam and The Hague too); intended above all to reflect topical cultural events, they regularly include work by (video) artists. The AVE Festival in Arnhem profiled itself on various occasions in the 1980s as the art academy students’ alternative to the World Wide Video Festival. Finally, the more recent ‘Impakt’ presents itself as the somewhat recalcitrant, unpredictable offspring of the sometimes more settled parent World Wide.

More than thirty years of video institutes, mini institutes or initiatives yield an exciting picture.
It is almost moving to consider the amount of enthusiasm, dedication, idealism and good intentions that went into launching each institute. It was very often a noble sort of craziness. There was no money, and there was not usually a suitable space available either. If the term ‘to do something for love’ had not already been coined, it could have been devised with this situation in mind. It is therefore extremely doubtful whether the inconsistent, ill-conceived and unpredictable subsidy policy of the various levels of government really had much influence on the various activities. MonteVideo has risen from the ashes three times without its content or qualities being impaired. The World Wide Video Festival has survived all the political madness for twenty years. Time Based Arts did not go under from the lack of funds, but from the lack of a strong leadership when the funds were withheld. Other initiatives have been stopped because they had become outdated or because the original energy and motivation had run out. It is perhaps comfortable to work when money does not have to be a cause for concern, but no matter how much of a cliché or conversation-stopper it has become, it does not usually promote creativity.
It is difficult to say whether these institutions have had an influence. There are no criteria by which it can be gauged. If they had made an impact, then it primarily the big three that have done so. And that influence could have been greater if the relations between them had been better. Although those directly involved do not have much to say on this score or, in the case of TBA, have lost their voice, it was a public secret that Coëlho from MonteVideo and Van Barneveld from TBA were not on speaking terms. This was due to huge differences in character, but also to differences in background, perspective and the frustrations connected with the emergence of TBA. The third, Tom van Vliet, always kept his distance, refused to take sides, and kept out of reach, which made him a force to be reckoned with. Besides, he operated (for a long time) in The Hague, and there is a tendency in Amsterdam to regard everything outside Amsterdam as inconsequential. Neither MonteVideo nor TBA took him very seriously. Those poor personal relations meant that there was very little or no cooperation, not even at times, as in 1986, when there clearly was a common ‘foe’: the government. There was no effective division of labour at all. Neither was there a healthy competition because of the lack of mutual respect.
But these considerations and judgements become less significant when set against the turbulent developments of video as a medium since the mid-1990s. What had proved impossible after years of struggle suddenly succeeded without any effort. Among art academy students and young artists video grew to become one of the most popular media. They had no links with video or media institutes, and knew nothing about their less successful predecessors. Unfettered by any past, short films were made (a term that was taboo during the emancipation era of the medium). Galleries and museums were not slow to jump onto the bandwagon. Artists of the first hour, many of whom had already given up the struggle, now saw ‘kids’ making a name for themselves without much difficulty with a medium whose qualities they, the older generation, had had to demonstrate time and again. It would take another article to explain this sudden miracle. I can only note with an undertone of bitterness that there is no room for video institutes in this perspective.
It will be unnecessary and impossible to write another article like this one in thirty years’ time.

1. Kunst en beleid in Nederland 5, p. 12. This article, the result of extensive research among video institutes, is an important source of information for the history of video art in the Netherlands. I have made grateful and critical use of it.
2. Ibidem, p. 31.
3. Ibidem, pp. 64-65.
4. Interview with Van Elk by Hans den Hartog Jager, NRC Handelsblad, 3 September 1999.
5. Interview with Rien Hagen by the author, July 2002.
6. International Media Meeting, report of a media conference held at the University of Maastricht from 19 to 24 April 1982 on the initiative of the Agora Foundation in collaboration with the General Studies Department of the University of Maastricht.
7. From the folder that was published immediately after the foundation.
8. See too Ulises Carrión, exh. cat. Museum Fodor, Amsterdam 1992.
9. From ‘Notitie over Film en Video in Rotterdam’, Rotterdamse Kunststichting, May 1988.
10. From a report by the Amsterdam Art Council on De Appel, drawn up in 1977 and published in 1978, compiled by Walter Barten, Antje von Graevenitz, Frans Haks, Rob Huisman and Rob van Tour.
11. Art & Design, London 1993 (profile on video).
12. Discussions that I had with Tom van Vliet and Rien Hagen in July 2002 provided a large part of the information about Het Kijkhuis and the WWVF.
13. From an interview in xxxx.
14. From an e-mail interview with René Coëlho by the author in July 2002.
15. Ibidem
16. Cited from the charter.
17. What exactly was meant by ‘quality of content’ was not spelled out in more detail. It was and still is unclear why preference was given to TBA. Perhaps the choice was motivated by the emphasis that the institute put on its presentations and on providing information to the public.
18. This proved to be a brainwave in more than one respect. The rise of digital technologies constantly makes the existing equipment redundant. Transferring the existing video material to disk was a forward-looking and natural step that activated and encouraged thinking about ‘what next?’.
19. Mediamatic, 1988, vol. 2, no. 3 (March), p. 138.

Introduction from the book ‘The Magnetic Era. Video Art in the Netherlands 1970-1985’. NAi Publishers Rotterdam 2003.