In Spain, work in video has had a long and hard road to travel since the late 1960s before managing to visibly establish itself as an artistic form. Its historical development has unfolded against the background of the political and economic conditions of the Franco era as well as the interplay between various institutions, such as museums, cultural centres, art fairs, galleries, festivals and television programmes. In recent years, artistic work in video has experienced a resurgence in step with advances in information technology, but there is still no stable economic and organizational structure for video in which the market would be prepared to invest.
Due to economic factors and above all to the well-known political situation, which we need not delve into any further here, cultural development during the years of Franco’s dictatorship was slow, difficult and, in the case of the more political or experimental projects, impossible. This applies especially to video art, which had to cope with a scarcity of resources and the high costs of the necessary equipment. Even though this material is widely available in countries such as the USA and Japan, the situation was quite different in Spain.
1960s: The early days of Spanish video art in the diaspora
Unfavourable conditions at home meant that the first generation of artists working in video in Spain all had one thing in common: they left Spain and studied in the USA. When they returned, they brought back both knowledge and tools that had previously been hard to come by in Spain. Among these artists were Antoni Muntadas, Eugenia Balcells, Antoni Miralda and Francesc Torres, all of them pioneers in the field of video art in Spain.
This first generation began to work in video in the early 1970s. Torres and Muntadas founded the collective “Grupo de Treball” in 1973, a project that integrated political interests and social issues in its work ethic and was therefore close to the US concept of guerrilla video. All of these pioneers worked during these years in an adverse environment, in which funding was scarce and few venues were daring enough to show their work. Thus, part of their activities took place outside of Spain for a long time, in countries where their work was widely known and appreciated.
1970s and 80s: The second, transitional, generation
In the mid-1970s a second generation of artist working in video came to the fore. In contrast to the previous generation, these artists took the mass media as their reference point, especially the new formats such as television, music video, etc. Among the major works produced during this decade are those of Xavier Villaverde, Pedro Garhel, Video-Nou and Javier Codesal. This transitional generation witnessed the emergence of a number of festivals that would prove vital to the distribution and normalization of the production and reception of video art in Spain. The growing reputation of festivals such as those in Madrid and San Sebastián during the 1980s was in this sense fundamental to the further expansion of the use of video as artistic medium. These festivals, which were later organized in cities such as Vitoria, Zaragoza or Oviedo as well, created an economic market niche which, albeit incapable of sustaining all of the activity, did provide some financial assistance.
In the 1980s the use of video as artistic medium widened considerably, due both to the establishment of special video art festivals and the creation of autonomous regions in Spain, each with its own culture budget and television programming. Performance began to be combined with video – such as in the work of the collective Zaj, active since the 1960s. This opened the door for performative experimentation in the audiovisual medium. On the other hand, political preoccupations continued to play a prominent role in the medium, as in the case of the Catalan collective Video-Nou, who managed to keep the critical spirit of video alive with their parodies of news programmes and their ongoing interest in documenting strikes and social conflicts.
Other artists such as Julián Alvareu, José Ramón de la Cruz, Vidío Doméstico and Isabel Herguera explored new possibilities in video and introduced more formally oriented guidelines in their practice. Experimentation with digital formats in video emerged in this decade in the work of authors such as Ignacio Pardo, one of the pioneers in this field.
At the same time, in the mid-80s, the first theoretical texts in Spanish began to appear. Artists such as Eugeni Bonet, Antoni Mercader, Joaquim Dols and Josu Rekalde slowly put together a discursive framework within which to understand emerging video practices. This helped promote the medium, which up to this point had not yet entered the world of art galleries and to which the market was still oblivious. Despite this situation, television programmes such as Metrópolis on TVE or Arsenal on TV3 started showing video and experimental works.
1990s – Video as artistic discipline
During the 1990s, art fairs in Spain achieved an international reputation. The most representative case is that of ARCO, an international trade fair for contemporary art. The end of the 1980s also saw a boom in art galleries, which for the most part affected traditional genres such as painting and sculpture, but also made room for video as an artistic discipline. This had a direct effect on the field: On the one hand, galleries as new economic channel helped sustain video production, but on the other, festivals for the promotion of video work gradually disappeared.
Artists such as Eulalia Valldosera, Pedro Ortu?a, Sally Gutierrez and Pilar Albarracón maintained close relations with the gallery world while their conceptual preoccupations distanced them considerably from the political practices characteristic of the early Spanish video pioneers.
The first exhibitions devoted entirely to video took place, such as the extremely well-known “Señales de Vídeo”, curated by Eugeni Bonet in 1995. At the end of the decade, a new group of video artists especially inclined towards politically involved work began to emerge: Gabriel Villota, Marcelo Expósito and, from a feminist perspective, Virginia Villaplana, María Ruido and Est«baliz S«bada. These artists aimed to restore the legacy of the video pioneers to their work. Video art began to gain wider acceptance by institutions, which helped to finance the production of many of the works that were screened. Despite this, the market still showed reluctance to invest in such an intangible medium, something that made it very difficult for the field to establish itself firmly.
Towards the end of the 1990s, a slight change took place as a generation of artists began to create works whose vocabulary had less to do with video and that could be better understood within the contemporary art context. Of note among these artists are Joan Morey, Carles Congost, Julia Montilla, Sergio Prego, Tere Recarens, Jon Mikel Euba and Cabello/Carceller. The documentary and experimental formats dwindled in significance while other formats such as the video installation and the music video rose to prominence.
Today: hybridization and differentiation of forms
With the new millennium, the clear lines of demarcation between the different working methods have now collapsed and more hybrid practices have emerged that share both exhibition space and resources. Some art centres have begun to include video programmes and audiovisual departments in their agendas, as in the case of the MNCARS (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia) in Madrid and the MACBA (Museo d’Arte Contemporani) in Barcelona. More modest art centres, which opened up all over the country at the end of the 1990s, have helped to create more specific exhibition circuits, and their programmes have generated some income for artists working in the field.
On the other hand, certain festivals that sprang up spontaneously without contrived hegemonial ambition or a big budget have become important points of reference for video art. Such is the case with Zemos98, 143 and Doméstico, or more institutionally linked festivals such as OVNI, all of which have helped guarantee exhibition continuity for audiovisual works.
Nevertheless, the proliferation of different practices, such as digital animation, the documentary, experimental video, the artist’s film, video as documentation, video-dance or video-performance, have made it difficult to generate a solid economy around video. The lack of mediators, such as distributors, has made the situation even more complex.
Lack of mediating agency creates obstacles
Up until now, Spain has not had a video art distributor. To promote this important production field – both from the historical point of view and from that of contemporary artistic trends – an intermediary is necessary in order to administer the circulation of the work in a quicker and more efficient way and to act as a central platform for the most important productions, and to distribute works on video according to the special needs and features of each field.
Organizing a video programme in Spain involves several tasks for the institutions involved (museum, cultural centre, school, radio station) including: contacting each author, negotiating a rental fee for each piece and, in most cases, receiving the works in different – in some cases impractical – formats and then going to the trouble required to screen them. The lack of an appropriate distribution channel to regulate and normalize this situation forms a significant hindrance to the circulation of these types of productions in Spain, as well as an obstacle to their promotion at an international level.
Apart from private video art collections, there is no institution in Spain that, similar to the Filmoteca Espa?ola, the national film archive for film, is devoted to archiving video art and conserving the cultural videographic legacy.
The lack of a distribution organization or central archive has thus created a substantial structural deficit for the entire sector. The existence of a distributor is key in the effort to promote general and public access to these works. Only now is this situation finally changing!
Founding of the HAMACA video art platform
In order to address previous shortcomings and to close the gaps in this sector, the video art distributor HAMACA (“hammock”) was recently established on the initiative of the Visual Artists’ Association of Catalunya (AAVC) and under the management of YProductions in Barcelona. In the first stage of the project, the initiators were able to gain the support of public institutions and sponsors. A great deal of assistance was forthcoming from the Entitat Autí²noma de difusió cultural del Departament de Cultura i Mitjans de Comunicació de la Generalitat de Catalunya . In addition, the Spanish Ministry of Culture also lent considerable support via grants from the Dirección General de Bellas Artes y Bienes Culturales. Early in 2007 HAMACA also received some funding from the Office of Foreign Affairs as well as the Spanish Agency for International Co-operation.
Following a long preparatory phase, HAMACA moved into its home at the Hangar Centre for Audiovisual Production in the Poblenou district of Barcelona and opened to the public this year. The non-commercial distributor and intermediary for video art will at first limit its endeavours to distributing the work of Spanish artists. A group of eight sector professionals – prominent artists and curators – was entrusted with selecting works. To date, agreements have been reached with 80 artists, whose works will be featured in the first edition of the catalogue. Quality guidelines for the repertoire were defined in consultation with the advisory group, as well as determining the geographic scope to be covered by HAMACA. Also discussed were supplementary activities to be undertaken by HAMACA in future.
With HAMACA, Spain finally has its first central platform for the national and international distribution and promotion of Spanish video art.
Philippe Dijon, HAMACA Barcelona
For further information on HAMACA, see News