Dalibor Martinis' Open Reel
In a sort of paradoxical literality, this work by Dalibor Martinis bears the title Open Reel (1976), forcing us to deal with the idea of endlessness. The endless is here transmitted through a metaleptic relationship between image and the body. A brief description on the artist‚??s official webpage states the following: ‚??The camera on a tripod is connected to a video-recorder. The artist is sitting in front of the camera. After starting the recorder, he gathers up the video-tape uncoiling from the first reel and passing through the magnetic head, and instead of coiling it on the second reel, he winds it around his head, turning around on his chair. In the end his face is completely swathed in video- tape on which his face is recorded over which is coiled the video tape on which his face is recorded over which...‚?Ě It is quite clear that this ‚??endless image‚?Ě generated through the performance is something totally different than an endless image generated by positioning one‚??s body between two mirrors, which evokes, among other things, the relationship between Magritte‚??s famous painting and its title: La reproduction interdite (1937). Unlike Magritte‚??s mirror, the magnetic tape in Martinis‚?? performance intentionally starts a process of endless reproduction. Thereby it raises the question of the object subjected to this reproduction process, as well as the meaning of the very term ‚??medium‚?Ě, including the (im)possibility of classifying Open Reel into a specific category regarding the artistic medium. Can we argue with conviction that it is a video or a performance? This question brings us to the issue of the (non-)reducibility of an event on a video image of that event, which indicates the problematic of relationship, from the one hand of temporality; from the other of credibility and the ways of using the archive. While watching the video recording of Open Reel almost forty years after the performance in which the artist‚??s face was wrapped with a recording of the artist‚??s face over the artist‚??s face, in a moment in which that face, or rather the process of its being wrapped with its own image, was documented on video, one should be aware of the fact that in the early 2000s Martinis started to describe his work, or rather his specific artistic procedure, with the umbrella term ‚??data recovery‚?Ě. The term originated from the language of informatics and digital technologies, and when appropriated by Martinis, it doubtlessly connotes that since the 1970s, the relationship between the body and technologies has been the basic problem discussed in his art. In a book that has had a crucial impact on the methodology of art history as an academic discipline, The Principles of Art History published in 1915, Heinrich W??lfflin concluded that not everything could be done at any given time. It is therefore no wonder that Open Reel was made exactly in 1976. In this sense, it can even be understood as a sort of re-semantization of W??lfflin‚??s verbal statement, only done by using the artist‚??s own body, as Martinis was here literally undertaking a formal analysis. It was an analysis starting from a hypothesis on the identity of form, content, and medium, whereby the then modern technology available for producing a reproducible image was deconstructed on the visible and audible levels. Unlike the present-day devices, which use a videotape enclosed in a cassette, the first video-recorders, which appeared in the mid-1950s, used a magnetic tape that was transferred from one open reel to another, passing through the head of the device in between. In accordance to that, the recording technology was called ‚??reel-to-reel‚?Ě or ‚??open reel‚?Ě. In 1965, the first such recorder was produced for home use, that is, for mass consumption: it was Sony CV-2000 Open Reel. It is in his bodily interaction with a somewhat newer model of that device that Martinis performed his Open Reel in 1976, emphasizing with this title the active process of identification with the medium. Unwinding from a reel attached to the device and passing through its head, the magnetic tape continued by being wrapped around the head of the artist, who thus took on the role of that other open reel. Thereby the face of the endlessly reproducible image rendered the other, bodily face invisible. Open Reel thus also makes an implicit statement on the materiality of the medium, in which the borderline between the biological and the technological body is blurred. In the same year when Martinis performed his Open Reel, Peter Gidal defined the Structural/Materialist film as a film that seeks to be non-illusionist. Claiming that the mental activation of the viewer is indispensable for the existence of a film, he concluded that every film is not only structural, but also structuring, as the ‚??viewer is forming an equal and possibly more or less opposite 'film' in her/his head, constantly anticipating, correcting, re-correcting - constantly intervening in the arena of confrontation with the given reality, i.e. the isolated chosen area of each film's work, of each film's production.‚?Ě I would say that this awareness of the mental activation of the viewer, triggered by a sequence of moving images, is the very reason why Martinis was wrapping a videotape around his head. By doing this, he introduced a diegetic situation into the structural, non-narrative film, thus forcing the observers to ask themselves about the effects of the process of endless reproducibility. What is here, in fact, re-produced, or produced all over again? It is not accidental that Martinis was exposing his naked body to the eye of the camera, or that he was touching the videotape with his fingers, which were to leave indelible traces on it. We know that the fingerprints of each and every person are unique and unrepeatable, and so is the event. However, although unique, these fingerprints were transformed in the process of reproducing the video recording of the videotape covering the face of the performer, who thus functioned as the subject and object of performance at the same time, passing from the register of the visible into that of the audible. The trace ‚?? an imprint of the body in the reproduction process ‚?? had become a sound, more precisely the noise of the image that led to the meaning of the term data recovery, which Martinis explained as ‚??the procedure of partly recovering the lost data from the memory, without the context that used to give them an informational, social, or other meaning before the loss occurred.‚?Ě Coming back to W??lfflin‚??s statement that not everything can be done at any given time, I will say that today the performative of Martinis‚?? Open Reel is different than back in 1976, when the wrapping of the videotape around the artist‚??s head during the recording of the event actually happened. During the performance, along with his own body, Martinis was exhibiting a medium ‚?? the video medium or the then still new kind of art: video-art. Thereby his identification of the body with the medium was at the same time a non-identifying practice, the meaning of which one can indeed fully grasp today, when one is constantly subjected to video-surveillance as a truly biopolitical practice. The body is ‚?? as Elizabeth Grosz reminds us ‚?? ‚??incomplete‚?Ě, indeterminate, amorphous, ‚??a series of uncoordinated potentialities which require social triggering, ordering, and long-term ‚??administration‚??, regulated in each culture and epoch by what Foucault has called ‚??the micro-technologies of power‚??.‚?Ě If we agree with Mitchell‚??s claim that the medium is ‚??not only just a set of materials, an apparatus device, or a code that ‚??mediates‚?? between individuals,‚?Ě but also a system and an environment, a ‚??complex social institution that contains individuals within it, and is constituted by a history of practices, rituals, and habits, skills, and techniques, as well as by a set of material objects and spaces,‚?Ě we shall see that Martinis‚?? Open Reel was, back in 1976, actually an act of data discovery.