|The Saint-Gervais Geneva Contemporary Image Centre owes its
media library to Bill Viola. In fact, when André Iten organised the first International
Video Week in October 1985, he invited Bill Viola, who was not very well known in
Europe at that time, to present a full retrospective of his video work and run a workshop
with the students from the Geneva Visual Arts School. At the end of the Week, which
enabled Geneva audiences to discover the existence of video art, Bill Viola gave André
Iten a copy of Anthem as a gift and this was to become the first film in his future
In 1985, the Video Department's primary objective was to make known a new artform by means of regular programmes and by putting a complete production structure at the disposal of artists who were interested (filming and U-matic post-production). During the first four years of its existence, the Video Department successively programmed video-dances (1985) videos by women (1986), Japanese (1986), Brazilian (1987), and Yugoslavian videos (1988)... it's aim was to urge the public to accredit the existence, scope and interest of artistic video work.
This period (1984-1989) coincided with remarkable advances in the realm of video on the international cultural and artistic scene. Major exhibitions such as The Luminous Image in Amsterdam in 1984 or Video-Skulptur in Cologne in 1989, as well as the burgeoning of an incredible number of festivals throughout Europe, gave what was then known as video art increasing presence, endorsed by the recognition of a certain audience and a growing number of professionals in the art world, initially very reticent but gradually convinced of the quality of what was being produced.
A large number of video tapes were produced in Geneva in these early years, the majority by former students of the Médias Mixtes studio, run by Silvie and Chérif Defraoui at the Visual Arts School. In this way, artists such as Marie José Burki, Eric Lanz, Patrice Baizet or Simon Lamunière produced several works at Saint-Gervais. These films were also contractually the property of the Video Department which accumulated them without making any precise use of them.
In addition, a new International Video Week was held every two years; the second in 1987 secured and focussed its objective by choosing a theme, "Writing and video" which was to direct all the choices except that of the competition; two retrospectives, of Gary Hill and Marcel Odenbach, were arranged, a seminar run by Raymond Bellour and Philippe Dubois covered the theme in minute detail by analysing films sequence by sequence; finally, an exhibition of video installations entitled Cinq pièces avec vue (Five Rooms with a View) (Gerd Belz (Germany), Silvie and Chérif Defraoui (Switzerland), Gary Hill (USA), Jacques-Louis Nyst (Belgium) and Marcel Odenbach (Germany)) was arranged in conjunction with the Geneva contemporary engraving centre. By the end of this Week, all of Gary Hill's films had been acquired for the collection. In 1989, the third IVW focussed on the relationship between analog and digital; the retrospective was devoted to Steina and Woody Vasulka; the complete set of the films of these two artists was also acquired for the collection.
André Iten had managed to collect a fairly extensive, but
also rather heterogeneous, corpus of works; the prize-winning films in the IVW
competitions were also part of the collection. The third IVW had generated
considerable energy in rather lively debates between the optimists in favour of total
digital and the dubious still loyal to analog; it had also evidenced the existence of
really artistic work in the information technology field. From that moment in time, it
became evident that the Video Department and the Information Technology Department of
Saint-Gervais were to amalgamate to form one single department, called the Electronic Arts
and Medias Department. The word art did not make its appearance by pure chance; it had
also seemed increasingly evident in the various IVWs and other programmes shown,
that the really interesting aspect of video and computer graphics lay on the art side;
everything was redirected along these lines and from that time on, Saint-Gervais was only
to offer its production studios to projects considered to be of sufficient artistic
interest. It was also at that moment that video art began to lose its specificity;
first of all, a number of artists began to produce mixed works, which used both
information technology, photos or video; there were more and more installations, partly
because hitherto fragile projectors at prohibitive prices which had limited their
utilisation had now become reliable. In 1992, Kassel's documenta for the first time
in its history extended its scope to include video artists (Bill Viola, Gary Hill amongst
others) whose works made a deep impression on the audience. The previous year an
exhibition Passages de l'image (Passage of the image) had been held in Paris, at
the Georges Pompidou Centre, with a theme based on the mixture of techniques in the
In the early Nineties, the Saint-Gervais Geneva Electronic Arts and Medias Department Media Library had 150 films. Today it has 850. The acquisition policy has been very dynamic but has always kept within the initial guidelines, that is to foster acquisition of full sets of works by the same artist and to seek out new, original works.
By the mid-Nineties, the Media library also included CD-roms made by artists because it was becoming increasingly obvious that video is a technique which can be mixed with others to create works of a new type. The Electronic Arts and Medias Department computer graphics studio has produced a certain number of artistic works, either on CD-rom, or quite simply on diskette or, in a more sophisticated way in the form of Internet projects (Jean-Louis Boissier, Horacio Zabala, Huber / Pocok / Wenz / Noll).
The swift development of information technology and the ever increasing number of young artists using digital image and sound were the basis of André Iten's idea in 1994 to set up a new structure at Saint-Gervais that he envisaged as being a centre for all forms of the contemporary image. After ten years of activity, André Iten felt the need to structure all the facets of his artistic commitments into one particular entity, combining all the activities linked to the image at Saint-Gervais; after months of political negotiation, the Contemporary image centre officially saw the light of day on 1st January 1998. It has production studios (photography, video, computer graphics), two exhibition rooms, one viewing room, the Media library and an Internet site. The Centre is a multi-purpose entity which is perfectly capable of accommodating artists while filming (Soba, 1998), putting on contemporary art exhibitions (Gary Hill, Gabriel Orozco, Eija-Liisa Ahtila), cycles of films and artists' videos (Skip Arnold, Henry Hills), or helping artists to create special projects for Internet (Heath Bunting, Rachel Baker). The Centre's internal technical possibilities mean that projects can be carried through from start to finish, from the writing stage to performance, from design to exhibition. At the centre of the Centre, the Media library is a memory resource and an instrument of work.
The Contemporary Image Centre's Internet site,
http://www.sgg.ch set up in 1996 has, from the outset, been a site which not only provides
information on the activities of the Centre but, above all, shows the works of artists, in
the same way as other sites such as adaweb or The Thing; and they are numerous and
interesting those who today have chosen Internet to produce their artistic work and make
it exist. An example of this - the Centre co-produced the documenta X 1997 site,
through Simon Lamunière, Exhibitions Manager at the Centre and curator of the documenta
site. Several of the works produced on this occasion can be found on http://www.sgg.ch , such as Muntadas' piece,
On Translation. Today, within the framework of its exhibitions, the Centre
regularly proposes unpublished works on its site, the archives of which are in a certain
way an integral part of the Media library.
Lysianne Léchot Hirt