Alexander Hahn, NYF Television & Film Awards Advisory Board and Grand Jury member, is a visionary electronic media artists based in New York/Zürich. He received his MFA from the University of Fine Arts, Zürich/CH and is a 1981 fellow in the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program. Alex’s videos, installations and computer prints are exhibited around the globe including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Kunstmuseum Solothurn/CH, the Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea, Ferrara/IT, the National Art Museum of China, Beijing/CN and most recently, Hunter College Art Galleries in New York City.
In the interview below, Alex shares his insights on judging, his most recent experimental video “Dirt Site” and the technical challenges of creating and storing large files of media art.
New York Festivals: As a New York Festivals Grand Jury member, you will view programs, films and promos from entrants from networks and production companies around the globe. What are you most excited to see/judge in terms of recent trends?
Alexander Hahn: I don’t normally watch television, but I’m very curious about TV, corporate and other media productions. The annual jury duty at the NY Festivals provides an exciting opportunity to get a global survey of what’s out there in a very concentrated form. My criteria vary between the different categories: excellence and innovation, of course… In their work description, many entries boast excellent directing, camera work, editing or audio. In the music category, for instance, you could come across scores that are very finely crafted but otherwise derivative, a reminder that technical mastery of the métier is commanded by an army of talent churned out by art, design and technical schools. A slick fabrication is not automatically trophy-worthy.
Most often, I judge from a gut feeling, and this generally falls into the consensus with the opinions of the other panelists, the online judging platform consisting of a truly global panel of peers. The feed of entries to be viewed is random, suggestions can also be skipped, and I like that.
New York Festivals: Your video, “Dirt Site” will be part of the The Experimental Television Center: A History, ETC…at Hunter College Art Galleries in New York City. What can we expect from this exhibit and your video?
Alexander Hahn: Despite the prolific and many nationally and internationally awarded works created in its +40 year history, the Experimental Television Center has remained largely unknown. More than 1500 artists from all over the world have worked there. “As the interest in video as an artistic medium gained momentum, the ETC provided access to and training in this new technology to artists; interested citizens; and social, cultural, and educational organizations. Invested in pushing the boundaries of video as a medium, the ETC developed a program to create more flexible video processing tools for artists. Under the direction of artist Nam June Paik and engineer Shuya Abe, a Paik/Abe Video Synthesizer was constructed for the Center’s permanent use, which launched the ETC’s artist residency program… The lost frame, the glitch, the erasure, these limitations of the early technology were embraced by artists for their poetic potential and have now become aesthetics that gesture towards the liminal and tactile beginnings of video.” (from the press release).
The exhibition A History, ETC is the first academic survey and seeks to establish the role the Center has played in the history of video art. It showed at the Hunter College Art Galleries in New York City through November 21 2015.
Dirt Site (1990; 15:50′) was inspired by a medieval heresy which held that the world was created by Satan and that we live in a counterfeit universe. Images of abandoned houses and somber industrial landscapes, shots of dirt, mud, dust, and water seamlessly dissolve into each other in constant metamorphosis, creating a blurry watery symphony that gradually comes to a stand-still. The tape has won several festival prizes such as the Grand Prix of the 1992 Festival International du Jeune Vidéo, Montréal/CA or Work of Excellence at the 1990 Tokyo Video Festival.
New York Festivals: Your works of art have extremely large file-sizes, how does that impact their creation and exhibition. Will you describe the technical process and potential challenges?
Alexander Hahn: It’s hard to imagine that thirty some years ago, the operating system, the software and the files would all have fitted on a single 400k floppy disk. Despite these limitations, the computer had the potential of ever growing storage capabilities, large file-sizes fitting on ever smaller devices – perfect for creating art in the limited space of a tiny city apartment.
Finding a logical filing system for my data is an ongoing struggle, as is the continuous porting of the archive to the latest software and standards to keep the files readable and playable. In the analog era, transfers from one medium to the other, e.g. copying of videotapes was always lousy, but footage, even on a damaged tape could be salvaged. Now, copying is lossless and much faster than real time, but in the event of a failed hard drive, the information is often lost. Cloud storage promises a certain safeguard, however upended by the arbitrariness of corporate policies. Despite the hype around the cloud, it’s a return to the early days of computing with the mainframe and dumb terminals. Also, corporations get hacked, companies and subscribers go broke, and there are natural disasters and other acts of God… Things simply perish, no way around it.