Video ergo cogito

Video is a minor art. Historically and aesthetically wedged between cinema and digital art, it can thus play the role of a bridge between the two, and more than that. In a long work offering a fine panorama of the question, Philippe Dubois never tackles his subject from the unique perspective of the image. Whilst video is certainly a question of the image, it is not only that. It is also a device. It is a whole, an ensemble, a state which thinks and makes one think about the world and the image in general. It provokes and jostles the all-powerful cinema, television and art in general.

Dubois-vidéo-COUVThe book La question vidéo, entre cinéma et art contemporain (The Video Question, between Cinema and Contemporary Art) (1) can be seen as a journey, an itinerary which is not constrained or bound by a pathway, but which wanders in a free space play area and thinking zone, with in the distance a horizon which is assumed to be unattainable; ‘what is video?’ Unattainable because video, according to the axiom offered by Philippe Dubois, a Professor at the University of Liège’s Department of Communication Arts and Sciences, is neither an object, nor a verb (video in Latin means ‘I see’), not a term, not an image, not a device or a technology; it is a whole, a new state, a never before seen relationship between things. It asks questions, interrogates, jolts the state of affairs, but does not offer answers. It is an ambiguous and hybrid state, a minor art historically caught between two giants, cinema and digital art. A mode of thinking through and interrogating that which surrounds it, whose historical periodicity is partitioned between the end of the 1960s and the years 2000, and which feeds of the Other in order to shake things up.

The Video Question, between Cinema and Contemporary Art is nevertheless also, textually speaking, a well worn path, parallel to the development of video; that of the research carried out by Professor Philippe Dubois. The book is in effect a coherent compilation of fifteen texts written between the years 1980 and 2005, and divided into four main sections. So many remaining and floating life buoys which bear witness to the evolution of the thinking of a man who grew up with video and who has constantly been examining the subject for thirty years, trying to understand it, to grasp it, catch hold of it, but who continually came up against the observation that it was slipping through his fingers, ‘like sand one is holding in one’s hands.’

Dissociating aesthetics and technology

In journeying over the books 340 pages, one rapidly realises that it will not have offered a positive definition of video, but rather a series of questions which ask us to think through its condition. It can be defined from a technological point of view, certainly, but there is not just that, and Philippe Dubois takes pains to avoid this angle of attack. Technology is an evolution, a reality, an objective framework, a tool which offers possibilities and imposes constraints, but it doesn’t influence, or only a little, the artistic steps taken, the conceptualisation of art, and the aesthetic. Thus, straight from the beginning, liberating himself from technology, the thinker can cultivate the anachronism. There is no question of imposing a teleological and evolutionary vision of art. Affirming that the art of the image evolves and progresses towards a more and more perfect production or creation of the image is to bind oneself to the technological viewpoint. But the interest lies elsewhere, and it is to be found in transversality.

(1) Philippe Dubois, La Question Vidéo, entre cinéma et art contemporain, Ed. Yellow Now, coll. Côté cinéma, 2011

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