Excerpt: Jaime Davidovich in conversation with Daniel R. QuilesFriday, September 27, 2019
The following text is an excerpt from the book Jaime Davidovich in conversation with Daniel R. Quiles, published by Fundación Cisneros/Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros in 2017. Jaime Davidovich (1936–2016) was an Argentine-American video/television-art pioneer and conceptual artist who was at the very forefront of many innovations that we now, through the lens of history, recognize as well-established forms in art and mass media. As a fixture of the SoHo-based experimental art scene of the 1970s and 1980s, Davidovich worked in a broad variety of media throughout his long career, including video, painting, and installation, while also establishing himself as an activist and public-access television producer.
Jaime Davidovich: I didn't think television's possibilities for art were limited to spreading information. It was not just a press release of art activities. No, it was something that had strong political content; it could do things that I felt were very subversive, like taking experimental work and putting it in the context of a home. Very few other artists I knew were doing that. Conceptually, it was a new approach to art discourse. When I showed my video in a bar, for me, the work looked fresher. I loved having this quiet, minimal work—which consisted of a camera exploring a room—in the context of a noisy social space with lots of liquor and people talking. One idea that stuck with me at that time was George Brecht's event score Keyhole Event, 1962, which reads, "through either side / one event"; you are looking inside and seeing what's going on. I was unsatisfied with the way video was shown in alternative spaces like The Kitchen, MoMA's Project Room, or the Whitney. Those, for me, were theater contexts. What was unique about television was that you could go directly to the home. That's why I got more and more involved in television as the 1970s went on.
When we started the Artists' Television Network, I wanted to have different types of programming: conversations and special video works created for television. The goal was not just to be a showcase of my work, but to create an alternative television network of the most avant-garde art and have it on a regular schedule on cable television. That was the project: to collaborate with many different groups with the objective of establishing ourselves in this new medium. So I produced a series of Conversations with the people I felt should be on television talking about its possibilities: Eric Bogosian, John Cage, Annette Michelson, and others.
Daniel R. Quiles: How did you structure the interviews? In the ones I have seen, the interviewer is always someone other than yourself, although your voice is periodically heard from behind the camera.
Jaime Davidovich: This is because I was doing the camerawork. The interviewer was Steven Poser. He was a graduate student, working at the Whitney. I haven't seen him in a long time. He was a very smart young scholar, and then he left the art world and became a psychotherapist.
I was very specific about the kind of art and movements that I wanted to include. At that time in SoHo, there was a lot of pressure from different groups that wanted to get on television. They were alternative, but they were not—again, maybe it's not the correct term to say—visual artists. All the people that we interviewed were visual artists. They were not musicians. They were not people from CBGB. They were not doing video documentaries or video dance. The majority were not even video artists.
Daniel R. Quiles: One exception, perhaps, is Annette Michelson, who had founded October a year or two before her interview. Were you aware of Rosalind Krauss's essay that identifies video art as narcissistic?
Jaime Davidovich: Yes. It was also the time of David Antin, who argued that the artist should be as far away from television as possible. And actually I included David Antin in a show when I did this live transmission to 300 stations; he was one of the invited guests. He was very strong in his belief that there was not a general consensus among artists about television. They—Krauss and Antin—were against that. For them, they made video art because they didn't want television and they didn't want television time. You know, "this is a wasteland, entertainment for the masses, we don't even own a TV," this sort of thing. So, the avant-garde community did not accept my concept at that time.
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Daniel R. Quiles: Your experiments in television, like QUBE project, 1980, anticipate technologies of mass interactivity and mass dissemination for video in platforms like YouTube and Vimeo. Was all of that apparent in the moment when this technology first became available, that it was going to become quite as big as it has?
Jaime Davidovich: I've always been interested in how technology affects media, and tried to use it from a critical, sometimes satirical point of view. I always ask, from my perspective, how will these changes affect our lives, art, and the way we communicate with each other?
Image: Portrait of the artist in his studio in 2015. Photograph by Julio Grinblatt