by Johannes Stahl
Communication is one of those notions one can expect will eventually be added as an attribute of our epoch. As early as in childhood people are made familiar with the model of "sender - canal - receiver", a process that almost touches upon associations with religious education.
The word "communication" is, according to its meaning, quite stretchable. Statements of estimated costs for projects, for instance, are labeled communication costs, and a trade magazine for advertisement professionals calls itself clearly and truthfully "Communication. " The latter fact is quite intricate: Advertising especially aims at conviction without contradiction; the feed-back of the "communicative" proceedings is mostly just the control of its success rate - if the advertisement campaign shows up on the balance sheet at all.
The idea to have communication with everyone at all times is a popular concept that often times is assessed in a too ideal manner. Basic mechanical-physical ideas are helping to bring into being the forming of a theory of communication. The law of communicating tubes claims that there is a direct reciprocal action of liquids in connection. If the level of one tube is rising, given the same amount of liquid, the level of the second will fall. If there is a bigger amount of liquid available altogether, the levels rise to the same height.Scientific laws are instructive but seldom are they applicable to society's conditions in a simple way. Communication processes are actions which philosophers approach with the uttermost caution, if not skepticism. "Thou must not confuse me through contradiction! As soon as one speaks, one takes an erroneous direction." 1
In the Age of its Technicalness
Paddling amidst a whirlpool of self unleashed discussions, Documenta curator Jan Hoet falls back onto a rather archaic world of communication. "I doubt at times if I want people at all to read my thoughts? To me it seems more appropriate to talk. More important than the constant self-centered sorting of things is the dialogue." 2 Hoet is in line with numerous predecessors who were suspicious of the written transmit. For Joseph Beuys for instance it was nothing less than a credo to actualize his thoughts all over in each newly emerging conversational situation rather than compiling them in a systematic concept in book form.3 He would use the typewriter and the telephone but his devotion was revolving round conversation and handwritten letters.
and Diversity in Technological Communication
The specific determinability of technological communication is rather untouched in the artistic domaine. The telephone conversation techniques may reflect - as being the older technology - what is to be expected in the future. There are seminars available training phone conversation conduct: "Please state your name and your telephone number clearly. We will call you back. "In this, the discrepancy between accoustical closeness and optical absence plays itself out as Jean Cocteau has exhausted it in his play "Beloved Voice." This classical one person theatre piece not without a medial reason - is feeding off the discrepancy between that what is been said over the phone and the action not being visible for the partner.
Business conduct of partners who once trusted one another has decisively changed. First the fax seemed to promise that one would not need to write time delayed letters or need not phone for a few business agreements. Nowadays one knows that for a couple of agreements, one should not call but instead put them into writing. Despite all real relief of the new communication facilities, pressure is put on its users. 4(4)
Transmission losses are common. The reproduction via fax of a playcard-style woodcut blocked the communication equipment for a quarter of an hour. It is a pity when the transmitted product does not feature a new reality but rather illustrates the losses when compared to the original material. Often enough letterheads collide optically with the status line of the fax. The solution to this proplem is not only to be found in layout but also in fundamental communication approaches.
as Condition tor Artistic Production
Art history knows of numerous communicative attempts by several artists to share in the creative phase of production and mutual information. Be it the social gatherings in the age of the Renaissance where artists produced carcicatures of one another on table cloth and thus encountered one another via the classic artistic medium of drawing ideas. Be it the debates in Rubens' office propably led like a general staff meeting when a commission by the state should transform into an oil painting. Or be it the exchange of postcards and letters by the German Expressionists in which artistic communication was conveyed via sketches, a fact that by now has gained quite an honorable notoriety amongst art history researchers.
Create a Piece ot Work in Joint Action
It suggests itself that such rather theoretical relations have brought about some solid works of art. In this context the so-ca lied friendship paintings are a conspicuous example. Two painters would each use half of the canvas to paint their friend's portrait; by this joint effort not only an image of the friends themselves came into being but also the representation of their friendship. The joint painterly decoration of studio spaces belongs in this context as weil since the site of artistic production evolved simultaneously into its theme and its result. It also deserves mention that the joint installation of comprehensive art exhibitions and the development of their artistic and theoretical programs had emerged not later than the beginning of our century.
in Regard to Communication
Worldwide Communication is repeatedIy conveyed wish regarding artistic production. Yet few corresponding structured art movements can be made out, and one can hardly fixate their underlying communicative structures. Two ideal-typal approaches come to mind: The concept of the International Movement of the Surrealists and (besides "Fluxus", of course) the concept of the Global Groove. "
Viewed in this context a fax project of the Eighties is a logical continuation of such approaches. Yet, the altered conditions of communication, .and the altered consciousness for communication, have a bigger impact than desirable in the realm of calmly evolving art historical writing.
First, the distance between sites like New York, Düsseldorf, Chicago, Karlsruhe and Leipzig, entails more than technical transmission problems: The probable mentality differences, the gap between cultures, and lastly, the age of the participants present hurdles for an uninhibited exchange in a strongly pre-structured medium. What in former times seemed to be linked tagether by the authority of literally experienced world travelers like Marcel Duchamp, Wassily Kandinsky or Theo van Doesburg, nowadays must resu/t in a problem due to an approach that stresses the equality of all participants.
Kind of Communication Would Allow the Production of a Work of Art Via Fax?
The technical feature of the transmission equipment fax machine permits a good reproduction of sketches. Texts can be transmitted even better whereas materials or three dimensional objects cannot be faxed. More often than not, the result of this is most communication will be carried out in a rather abstract fashion. On the other hand, differing from verbal negotiations, a document is produced recording the actual status of the endeavor. This can be a text as weil as a drawing. Record keeping seems to be an important characteristic of fax machines that not only records twice the content of t[ansmitted messages but also the addresses: each evening they inform their users to whom the faxes have been sent.
For the purpose of artistic communication this entails some unhabitual features: Conversations clearly evolve more connected to a structural form than would occur during a creative "Kaffeeklatsch" (tea party). On the other hand, a tendency toward the meta level of communication will form since communication is strongly standardized by this device. The feature of constant recording - usually not habitual to artists - is part of the creative process. The quantity of records creates simultaneously a documentation reflective and thorough in detail of various stages of conceptual development. One might ask if these documentative records may possibly correspond to the preparatory sketches which in formertimes, at the academies, were taught as mandatory to the development of artistic thought.
Fax machines are very fast in transmitting documents. The process of conceiving and drafting ideas can develop astoundingly fast if this is desirable and bearable. Often times, the speed obscures the concept. This way, too speedy communication experiences a need for dozens of corrections - a fact that in the production of texts, has produced an astounding amount of change. In short, it has to be seen how the advantages and disadvantages of these dynamics reflect upon a work of art.
Can such a Project Be Visualized?
It's an old song and well known from the presentational desires of each new artistic means of expression, but new means almost regularly require a new form of presentation. The graphie arts created the cabinets. Conceptual art required foremost a new understanding of exhibition sites in general. Film created movie houses, panorama painting circular buildings. Video tapes were struggling for a long time, and more offen than not unsuccessfully, for presentation on commercial TV channels, and almost every promoter lacks the conclusive idea where to stage a performance - for heaven's sake not in the community's theatre.
Will the animation techniques ofter a way to create a trick-film out of the various stages of a fax project and whose sound tracks could harbor the inscribed texts? Up to now, next to the traditional folder filing system there is lacking an archival system dedicated to fax papers, similar to the compact disc for video tapes and external memory for software. And as important as all the archival systems may be for the conversation of electronic material, they are of little help in the search for a presentation appropriate to the art context. A fax issuing set where a visitor could call up at any given time the respective stages of a fax project may be the form of presentation most congenial to this medium, although it seems to be a little "cold." In video art - where not everyone happens to agree with the design by Firm NY - the video installation has evolved to be the bridge between the old and the new media whereas Copy Art often times applies its mass production pieces in a wall paper manner to create comprehensive wall designs. Whatever way of presentation one chooses, a fax project most likely will remain a sketch for communication and subsequently would be best presented in the most congenial media to it: in printed form as arecord of an even visual - conversation, of thought matter, and lastly, as a material pile of paper which is a supporting material of mat shine, slightly undulating to the outside, and on which signs appear.
The majority of fax projects aim for display in an art exhibition besides intending communication. Therefore in more than just the formal aspect they are finding themselves at a bifurcation of artistic avenues. If one wouldyirtually consider fax communication as a sketching procedure of artistic work in general, one would notice that the communicative part of faxing and the meticulously recorded interactive process stress one condition in particular: the need in all times of redefining the aim targeted by a work of art so that artistic personality, formal transfer, and the dose weave of contents all correspond with one another.
text was published in: Connecting things. Ed. by. Uta Grundmann. Leipzig 1993.
Translated by Catharina Cosin.
1Goethe's poetry. Leipzig (Reclam), p. 119. At this point, an excursion about authentic quotations and proof of text passages as a scientifie problem has been consciously omitted.
2Printed in: Catalog documenta 9, Kassel 1992, Vol. 1, p.21.
3Joseph Beuys in an (unpublished) interview with the author, August 1981.
4Comparable is the look of the standarized desktop publishing letterheads that almost all over have replaced stationary designed by professional graphic artists as well as the traditional "tame" bureaucratic letterheads.