Ghosts off the Shelf

Organised in the frame of the Berlin-based electronic music festival CTM, Ghosts off the Shelf displayed more than 40 videos made by photographers, painters, sculptors, performance artists… It was an attempt to reveal a never seen archive, to bring a different audience to new media art exhibitions and to play with the aesthetic of VHS and other videos on magnetic tape.

How many ghost movies does Hollywood produce every year? How many books with mystical apparitions become summer bestsellers? How many people try to communicate with the beyond by using old techniques or new technologies? But if we really want to search for ghosts nowadays, we could simply look inside some small black plastic boxes that sit quietly on our shelves

The economy of technology is based on quick obsolescence. The dead battery in the digital camera that we had ten years ago can’t be charged or replaced, and so the machine is definitely unusable. Software we operated every day hasn’t worked ever since we updated our computer operating system. A VHS tape on which we recorded images from the TV has lost its content for no apparent reason. Even finding a simple cable to connect two machines can become a problem.

Ghosts Off The Shelf is about the slow disappearance of VHS, S-VHS, VHS-C, Video 8, Hi-8, Betamax, Betacam and other lesser-known analog video formats that use magnetic tape. We all still possess a few of those objects, and because we no longer have the relevant equipment, we can’t see (or even know) what’s on those recordings.

New media artists have for years confronted the question of digitization and preservation of their works. Instead, the participants here are visual artists who produced, in the last decades, some forgotten (i.e. invisible and perhaps never-seen) video pieces. For whatever reasons, they produced analog video, then decided to leave the work behind, moving on to another medium or technique. They share in common a critical point of view with regard to the use of tools, an inventive relationship to their media, or a strong connection with the uncanny in art. Each of the invited artists deliver a tape, we digitize it and create an ‘archive’ of about 30 videos. Having a slight memory of these things that they did years ago — and probably haven’t seen for a while — we ask them to give us ‘ghosts’, pieces that exist only in their memories but which find a new (digital) existence through the exhibition.

The exhibition is not about technological nostalgia, but about the aesthetic that can be found in certain techniques — the grain of Ilford HP5 photographic film, the blurred and saturated colors of VHS, the compression of MP3 files — and how these aesthetics will be loved, forgotten, and then once again become fashionable. It is also about the disappearance of our own memories and data, things that we wanted to keep forever but which will, because of technological progress, the aging of a technique, or the self-destruction of a supporting system, soon no longer exist.

Yokna Patofa, The East is Red (2008)

Ghosts off the Shelf
Kunstraum Kreuzberg-Bethanien, Berlin (Germany)
January 27 — February 19, 2012

Curated by Thibaut de Ruyter
Exhibition architecture: Thibaut de Ruyter

Artists: Theo Altenberg, La Boîte à Gants Productions (Gilles Berquet & Mirka Lugosi), Barbara Breitenfellner, Martin Dammann, Valerie Favre, Jason Forrest, Christian Gfeller, Richard Grayson, Graf Haufen, Elke Silvia Krystufek, Joep van Liefland, Ingrid Luche, Jacek Niegoda, Yokna Patofa, Jorge Queiroz, Monica Ross, Christian Vialard, Alexandra Vogt, Canine Pyromania selected video art and detritus from the transmediale archive curated by Ruth Kemper & Baruch Gottlieb, RVB-Transfert (redukt) curated by Pierre Beloüin-Optical Sound, Emissions from Anarchives (Lilli Maxine Ebert & Jan Rohlf)
With the kind support of ConceptAV and Safy Etiel