May 1st, 1988
In 1988, Isabel Alves challenged Peter Rubin to present a project that would fit the retrospective exhibition in honor of E.S., which the Gulbenkian Foundation intended to organize, at the will of Madalena Perdigão. Here is the project, received on a letter from May 1st, 1989.
If Almada Negreiros was the visual artist who most clearly personified the Portuguese artistic struggle through the triumph and the tragedies and the dying days of the Industrial Revolution, then it fell upon the shoulders of Ernesto de Sousa to merge from the carnage with a new Eye; an eye to the future; a non-human, electronic eye; an eye to view with one’s own eyes; an eye to see all eyes; for all eyes to see; for all hearts to feel.
There is a deep and totally overlooked debt that a country such as Portugal owes to an artist such as Ernesto. Who, at certainly one of the lowest points in his country’s history – a long and celebrated history at that, sprang seed from its soil with a vision to cleanse the past with the wonders of the future at hand.
Who is it who first sees how we must attack our fears if we are ever to generate insight? Those rare few who will incessantly look toward the unknown for the inspiration necessary to replace those never ending waves of tired, inefficient and insensitive attitudes which have waited so many lives and and so much time.
Ernesto de Sousa saw and realized the potential for human development riding on the swiftness of mass communication, and contained within the power of media intensity.
Approaching this problem (as well as the entire concept of technology itself) with a wonderfully human and positive attitude, rather than manipulating and controlling, as everyone always fears individuals will do with such potential for power.
Ernesto instead gently introduced a new vision, a new light into his culture which soon began to stimulate, then penetrate, and then awaken in a growing number of individuals a deeply felt collective Portuguese identity that had been buried for so long.
Ernesto de Sousa was the first Portuguese artist who attempted to unlock the national fears of a half-century by opening the doors of creative media and communication, in order to link his people together after the seemingly endless period of isolation and inferiority.
As has been made perfectly clear in the preceding, I value Ernesto de Sousa's contributions to contemporary Portuguese and international art foremost in his position as the initial pioneer who attempted to relate media to Portuguese art and culture.
The great media artists of our time have been able to transform the commercial outpouring of high technological hard and software into a finely tuned eye turned inwards; an intimate meditative world whose exposed vulnerability brings a richness of living vision from out the particular work to the viewer in a continuous interactive communication.
The great media artists have shown us that technology and mass media can and must be used in a warm, accessible, interactive manner if art and humanity are to survive the next century.
Whether in film or in video, still photography or theatrical design or direction, whether conceptual or design art, installation or performance, Ernesto's insights into the nature of communication and its inseparability from art and culture stimulated not only a new work direction, not only a new work generation, but a new collective mode of working.
He was the consummate collaborator, always trying to develop and expand The Team, because if the essence of the work was communication, then the role model had to be communicative in structure as well.
I would therefore define and organize the exhibition under the temporary working title:
ERNESTO DE SOUSA – THE MEDIA ARTIST AS COMMUNICATOR
The exhibit described below can be divided into two or three sections. I strongly prefer the plan with three sections, but that would depend on the nature of the budget available.
In addition to these sections would be the making of a 60-90 minute documentary (film or video?) over the life and work of Ernesto, which I would direct in collaboration with Isabel Alves. After completion, I would donate half of all the film’s future earnings to initiate an Ernesto de Sousa Memorial Foundation, which would allow young Portuguese media students to spend a year abroad under some accepted international student exchange program.
The First Section of the exhibition would be entitled I AM GUILTY/ I AM INNOCENT, and would be curated by or under the guidance of a curator chosen by Isabel Alves. This would present a retrospective of Ernesto’s work, along with the work of other Portuguese artists who were either influence by the artist or who were contemporaries of his and responded to his work in their own original manner (see note below). A portion of this section would also include some works of Almada Negreiros which acted as inspiration for future de Sousa projects.
The second Section of the exhibit would be to show how Ernesto’s specific influences, via conversations, collaborations, etc. affected my own work; the establishment and development of a dialogue between two media artists, and what this represents and implies.
For, as a media artist, the interactive element regarding both the conception and execution of any collaboration determines everything that follows. Which is to say, neither Ernesto nor I would ever be satisfied with a retrospective exhibition that did not include the collaborators who were such an integral part of the entire process itself.
An exhibition as described in this paper without the inclusion of collaborators can be likened to a cook vainly trying to tell a television audience what the creation tastes like.
The third Section would exhibit a selection of Portuguese and international media artists, representing completely different perspectives in contemporary media art. Such a section will serve to clarify and demonstrate the breadth of contemporary interpretation of the international media artist at work at the present time.
It would present a vital statement on just how different the world of today is viewed by technologists who view their world in humane, rather than commercial terms. I’m certain Ernesto would have fought to have such a section included in the exhibition.
I propose a 24 hour-a-day exhibition, with exterior and interior interactive installations, with major screen space in the museum's exterior windows so that, in the evening and all night long, programming can continue.
The specific environment will be taken into consideration (ie. between museum "closing time" and darkness in September in Portugal, there are +/- three hours. The installations which will be programmed at that time will have already considered this condition within their concepts.
The same applies to daybreak installations. One can already see the unlimited variety of possibilities and how the museum itself, both as a physical entity in the environment as well as a cultural institution within the community suddenly takes on a new life and new attraction - a fact which will be appreciated by the museum's architects as well).
An "artistic media blitz" is one which has the freedom to develop and keep developing an ever-greater perspective over its specific environment.
The normal commercial media blitz is repetitive. Its aim is to glamourize us (sex), scare us (violence) or hypnotically lull us (flashing red pizza signs, universal supermarket music, etc.) into buying something.
Media attracts our culture, but it attracts it in Electronic – not Industrial – Revolutionary terms (24 hours-a-day sounds a whole lot more modern than 9 to 5 – in many more ways than one).
The museum receives this significant new attraction by breaking through Victorian attitudes which Nave been reclothed in modern architecture all too often these days; a cover-up rationalized under the banner of "cultural tradition".
In a flash, such a proposed exhibition causes an immediate cultural facelift within the community. Because the community now feels a sense of outreach, a sense of acceptance previously unfelt. And because the community feels a new sense of identification with its own cultural needs, goals and (now) its institutions.
It's a far-gone conclusion that many more people will be looking at the museum for far greater periods of time than ever before.
During the Industrial Revolution, the museum was a teacher, somewhat removed and respected, and a keeper of that to be taught.
Times change. During the Electronic Age, everyone just wants to keep in touch with what's going on. There is so much fear that technology will divide and isolate us all. The museum must link the community in a manner more resembling a social worker these days than a schoolteacher.
The Cultural Media Center of the future (which will replace the Museum of the present. You might not like the way it sounds – just like you might not like the fact that the "camera" is being changed to an "image processor" – but I guarantee you there is a great percentage of today's media youth who would already rather go to a Cultural Media Center than to a Museum) becomes an institution that genuinely listens to the needs of its public, interacts with them to a far greater extent than it ever had in the past when it was a market oriented Industrial Revolutionary institution, and receives an enormously greater input from and for the immediate and international communities.
A non-stop media exhibition in keeping with the pace of modern times, which involves public and exhibition interaction 24 hours-per-day, sounds like a radical, complicated, almost heretical and costly idea when thought of in Industrial Revolutionary terms. In Electronic Revolutionary terms, it doesn't seem that it should be all that unusual. As I already said, it sounds quite modern.
Such is a museum's responsibility to keep up with the times. The media artists of today are pushing institutional values as well as personal values in their efforts to stay at the cusp of the moment. Today's museums should encourage and provide these media artists with new opportunities to reveal to us the enormously significant new visions that they can and are creating for all of us to share.
In addition to the above, I personally know of at least two technological art museums, one in Germany and one in Italy, who would be very interested in some form of satellite linkup to enable simultaneous international interactive possibilities.
Such museums collaboration, via technology and the mass media, would not only ease the financial positions regarding the exhibition, not only enlarge the potential horizons for such an exhibition but would, most important of all, be exactly in keeping with the collaborative, interactive nature of the man's work itself.
I would ask Gene Youngblood, a close friend and fellow media critic to join with Isabel and myself in the compiling of the catalogue for the exhibition. Gene is primarily known as the author of Expanded Cinema, the definitive work in its field. Since Expanded Cinema, he has written almost exclusively on Mass Media/Communication in relation to Art and Culture.
Artists considered at present are Nam June Paik (Korea), Woody (Czechoslovakia) and Steina (Iceland) Vasulka, founders of The Kitchen in New York; Larry Cuba (USA West), computer programmer for the early Whitney Brothers classic works, who was a chief collaborator on TRN as well and has himself produced two of the contemporary classics in the field; Roberta Friedman (USA East), who coordinated the optical effects on STAR WARS and with her husband designed the interactive display for the Tennessee World's Fair. In addition, Roberta and I collaborated on OMNI, a 26 part television program sponsored by Omni Magazine, which explored the most advanced work going on in the world of high technology.
I start the documentation with the only statement I have about my work coming from Ernesto, COMPOSITION BLACK AND WHITE.
In 1981, I toured the USA with the last three films noted, as well as a package of Dutch and Polish films. After the film documentation comes the itinerary of that tour as well as an interview with me (Rock Valley Sunday Magazine); which is then followed by a Dutch (sorry) interview with me on an enormous program of American films (from the Whitney Museum in New York) that I organized for the Stedelijk Museum (documentation also included .
I was the first person to bring both Polish and Hungarian avant-garde films to the west. At the beginning of 1982, just after the Polish Government crushed Solidarity, I made a film inside and outside Poland highly illegally.
The first of these includes a review of Mishima by Paul Shrader and of Laurie Anderson's latest film; the second is a review of Bob Wilson's latest piece (that’s me and Bob in the picture).
There follows an article on Super 8 for a California film review and then a major piece (in French) for a book edited by Guy Hennebelle and Raphael Bassan (in my thinking they are the most important young political film writer and avant-garde film writer working in Paris today) .
This piece was written after the EXPERIMENT 79 festival I organized in Amsterdam, which brought together the largest grouping of visual artists from Poland, Hungary, DDR, Czech., Romania and Yugoslavia ever assembled. The project, by the way was initiated in October 1978 by the same Polish artists about whom I made the film script just previously mentioned. ... Robakowski was the head of Solidarity's film program Lodz (Lodz is the major center for the avant-garde in Poland) That meeting was to change my life. It is why I did the Hungarian exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (the catalogue included is a present for you) (...).
Catalogues next follow: Hungary at MOMA, Dutch at the Stedelijk (in Dutch, I'm sorry), Yugoslavian I.L. Galeta at the Stedelijk, Michel Cardena at the Boymans, Dutch at Pompidou, and notes for my Hi Tech exhibit which started at the Stedelijk and circulated through Holland, France and Germany.
Finally there' s information on Pazzo (my disco, in which you saw my projections) selected as one of the world's 10 best by the FACE, London's top alternative culture magazine and some material about the USSR project upcoming.