Commentary Johannes Gfeller

At the beginning of the video movement, video was advertised as a medium that was easy to use. And this it was, of course, but only conditionally. When you wanted to edit video, which was to transfer the signals from one reel to the other, it became complicated. Especially amateurs had to rely on the help of specialists. In the video collective Container TV in Bern, Johannes Gfeller was the nerd and inventor. In the interview he made it clear that he was fascinated by technology from early on: ‘I was born with a screwdriver in my hand, grew up with a soldering iron, and came of age with a camera. As a child I was convinced that I would become an inventor. This meant that I launched a handicraft career when I was twelve’.  (see Johannes Gfeller, Video 01.45: Interest in atomatic machines)

In Hyper-TV, the first video art project funded by the Canton of Bern, the talent and know-how of Johannes Gfeller was put to the test: ‘This video from 1981 is an experimental collage about television culture with many fragments and snippets from TV shows, news, movies and commercials. I delivered the special effects. We video recorded, modified television sets, fabricated masks for die-cutting and added a few delays. I built a new deflexion spool into a television set so that we could distort the image straight from the audio track. That wasn’t new, but doing it ourselves was exciting’. (see Johannes Gfeller, Video 10.17: Hyper TV)

Was this obsession with video technology one of the reasons why women didn’t stay long in Container TV? Johannes Gfeller: ‘You needed a lot of curiosity for new things, and to get to grips with frustrations when something didn’t work. Women had less access to this kind of technology. I hope this is different today, and that film technology is less of an obstacle to overcome. Back then the equipment was bulky indeed, and many men got out of video as well because they felt discouraged’. (see Johannes Gfeller, Video 13.33: Women and men)

Wishing you an inspiring viewing session,

Heinz Nigg

P.S. If you want to learn more about Johannes Gfeller’s present role as professor for digital archiving at the Stuttgart State Academy of Art and Design read his text in the book Rebel Video: Saving Videos. Memories of Analog Media Technology.

In the 1970s and 1980s, young activists discovered video as a new medium and used moving images in their struggle for access to cultural expression for the many, not the few. They were researching and developing new forms of independent and participatory media work. This was an important step towards realizing the utopian promises of the digital age.