According to Dalibor Martinis (b. 1947), “DM/1978 talks to DM/2010 is a time-travel and data recovery project that spans thirty one years." \ In 1978, while working in Vancouver on a grant from the Canada Council, the artist created a live performance of a TV interview in which he posed questions to himself with the intention of having them answered in the year 2000. The questions were recorded on videotape, and the artist eventually answered them, not in 2000, but in 2010 on the TV show Another Format, broadcast by Croatian Television, thus creating a technologically mediated dialogue between his past and present selves. The event, as Leonida Kovač has pointed out, used the familiar media format of a video link, but instead of connecting two distinct bodies not present in the same space, it connected a single, “same but non-identical . . . body” across time. Kovač suggests that “the conversation, articulated in the format of a temporally unbounded (trans)media performance, . . . implicitly engages . . . the relation between the bodily and the linguistic, [and it raises] the possibility of existence in a state of not having a (biological) body.” Kovač also seems to see Martinis’ work as a futuristic prototype for artificial intelligence, since his “initial performance in 1978 generated a disembodied being of sorts, manifesting itself in the form of an electronically modulated voice."
DM1978 Talks to DM2010
Dalibor Martinis, Croatia, 1978/2010, digital file from VHS, 13 minutes
Still from DM1978 Talks to DM2010, courtesy Dalibor Martinis
Martinis himself subtly stresses this point by equating the fragility of his physical self with that of his virtual one: the first question that DM1978 asks is whether DM2010 is still alive, while the first answer DM2010 gives is that he is, indeed, alive but that DM1978 almost did not make it owing to the difficulties of preserving the original PAL TV signal on ever-changing technological carriers. Beyond suggesting a sci-fi-inspired future (as Martinis did in the dystopian Image Is Virus), however, DM1978 Talks to DM2010 also seems interested in the age-old question of the nature of personal identity, which, the video suggests, is an unfolding, unpredictable, and un-locatable entity. In their dialogue, Martinis’ two hypostases compete with each other for the intellectual upper hand and address each other in ways that distance the artist from “himself.” The young Martinis ask his future self, “What do you think of me?” The older artist offers mild criticism but concludes his assessment of his young self with, “Who am I to criticize?” “I am neither here nor there, as are you,” he ultimately concludes. The video performance thus both imagines a future where stories can exist independent of bodies and suggests that the technology may not be able to get around the fact that a cohesive self associated with a single body was always virtual and imagined—a fact that here is merely highlighted by technological means. — Ksenya Gurshtein
Goran Trbuljak, Croatia, 1976, digital file from open reel video, 31 seconds
Still from Cut, courtesy Galerija Gregor Podnar
In this short, whimsical video, the conceptual artist Goran Trbuljak (b. 1948) shows himself cutting magnetic tape with scissors while filming this action onto the tape he is cutting. Seen today, the piece exposes the workings of the earliest, now archaic, video technology that became available to artists in the late 1960s and 1970s, though it remained less accessible in Eastern Europe. Here we see an open-reel tape (used before the introduction of sealed cassettes) running through a machine that records onto it the sound and image from an invisible camera, a Sony Portapak hooked up by a cable.
In a gesture typical of his larger body of work, Trbuljak comments in the 30-second piece on a long-standing tenet of Western culture—namely, that art transcends death. Trbuljak seems fascinated, instead, by the fact that video can be a witness to its own death, revealing itself as an imperfect tool of representation. The artist also seems to reveal here the apparent arbitrariness of the decision—when to cut the tape—that he must make when faced with a glut of images that contemporary technology makes possible. Trbuljak’s own answer to a new technology of representation in this piece is to point to its limitations and destroy it.
Like Dalibor Martinis and Sanja Iveković, Trbuljak was educated as a visual artist in Zagreb before briefly exploring video as a medium in the 1970s. According to the art critic and curator Branka Stipančić, Trbuljak “was the first artist in Croatia to question the meaning of exhibiting work within the gallery system, and the status of an artist as part of this, integrating such questions into his art. Every new step in art was always an ethical issue for Trbuljak.” The questions he posed about the nature of art and its function in society resulted in such minimal works as a poster with a self-portrait and the caption, “I do not wish to show anything new and original.” [Another work showed a picture of the gallery where he had been given an exhibition along with the statement, “The fact that someone has a chance to hold a show matters more than what will be in that show.' In yet another famous work, from 1972, Trbuljak polled Zagreb passersby whether he is an artist. (Additional images of his works can be seen here.) Though his career was brief, Trbuljak’s work from the 1970s was part of a larger, worldwide moment of questioning by artists of their social role and purpose. As this piece demonstrates, the advent of video allowed them to work out such questions in real time while also exploring the peculiar properties of this new medium. — Ksenya Gurshtein