Changing Channels: Media Arts in the '90S
Otto, Susan, Afterimage
a roundtable series of "Scratching the Belly of the Beast: Cutting Edge Media in Los Angeles, 1922-1994" organized by Film Forum Los Angeles, CA February 23, March 9, 23
In her introductory essay in the catalog for the festival "Scratching the Belly of the Beast," Holly Willis defines transgression as a moment of excess, when an outside or beyond can be seen from within a particular boundary. In Los Angeles, the city of commodified excess, it is a challenging task to determine what could possibly lie beyond the swelled boundaries of the entertainment industry and the consumption that sustains it. Due in large part to its ethnic diversity and opposition to the entertainment industry L.A.'s alternative media scene is a model of multiple fronts, a multiplicity of efforts, and a continuous ad hoc community.
Three roundtable discussions were held to explore the future of alternative media in L.A. Entitled "Changing Channels: Media Arts in the `90s," the series served as a reunion of longtime participants in the media arts community who have seen their already tight budgets stretched to the limit. It also included individuals who are developing new strategies in order to gain access to and maximize existing access to new technologies.
The roundtable discussions provided a glimpse of what the future 6f alternative media might hold and also a wake up call for artists and filmmakers to recognize that public policy can influence who has access to new technologies. The catalog for the festival describes sponsor Film Forum's interest in creating a broad dialogue about both theoretical and practical issues. "It is our hope that such conversations will encourage the development of new coalitions and strategies to sustain and advance the region's rich media legacy." The catalog also raised questions such as: What will happen to the avant-garde in a historical moment that threatens to completely swallow it? What will the new developing technologies hold for artists? How can artists have/demand access to said technologies?
The first roundtable panel entitled "Questioning on/the Cutting-edge" consisted of David Ehrenstein, John Goss, William Jones, and Erika Suderburg. Film critic Ehrenstein's remarks underscored the importance of the press as a sustaining element of avant-garde practice. More specifically, he discussed its role in creating interest in and publicity about film and video events. Ehrenstein argued that critical writing about the avant-garde is especially important because screenings are so limited that published writing about the films is far more likely to reach a larger audience.
Goss, a painter turned media artist, discussed the collapse of support for alternative media arts practice. He expressed the desire of artists for larger budgets, and more access to equipment and distribution, especially in the context of Hollywood's co-option of avant-garde strategies. Filmmaker Jones, whose independent feature Massillon (1991) was shown at last year's Whitney Biennial, discussed the importance of making films you yourself would see. Jones argued that the monolithic avant-garde canon has ended and that there is now a multiplicity of avant-gardes and avant-garde practices, each with its own conflicting demands. Jones felt that the one thing that sustained all these practices as avant-garde was a notion of resistance.
As the discussion turned from artist's practice to artists access there seemed to be a note of emergency and panic in the room. Given the current economic climate new strategies for the `90s need to be addressed. Multi-media artist and writer Suderburg asked "What would the new sites [of avant-garde practice! be?" She noted that they seem not to be sites of exhibition. Some examples that were suggested were electronic bulletin boards and community organizations such as Film Forum. Jones discussed the value of being satisfied with a small, more intimate audience, which could provide a more meaningful connection between the filmmaker and the viewer. …