“Cultural Subject of The Week: No Nostalgia.”


He lives in different places in Europe and is known as one of the most influential artists of the direction, named concept art at the beginning of the 1990s. In the years 1999 and 2000, the American Fareed Armaly (41) became director of the Künstlerhaus in Stuttgart. At present he is working on a TV-project in Hamburg.

Hamburger Rundschau: Your work is integrated in the program of the cultural authority ‘art in public space,’ as a production of several television programs. How do you define art in public space?

Fareed Armaly: ‘Public space’ is a very broad and open term; there is no binding definition. In that regard we have in Hamburg a specific situation. The cultural authority replaced the term ‘art on bau (buildings)’ by the term ‘art in public space.’ When you look at cultural authorities in other cities, you cannot find anything comparable and the term ‘public space’ is often not a common one either. The cultural authority in Hamburg, organized a project ‘weitergehen’ (go on) and invited artists to operate with this openness.

In the context of that project I also teach media culture at the University and work together with the students there. The participants are all under 30 years old and are used to the dual system of private and public channels. They interviewed people who grew up in the postwar period in Germany, when television had its beginnings. These interviews serve us a source of materials for a reflection; on the audience of television and the history of TV.

Television is not about reality it’s about realism. The interviews won’t be used one-to-one. We read monologues a scriptwriter turned the interviews into. Everybody tells a different story. The programs I am producing are going to show two aspects: one shows the television as the character and the other shows the audience as the character. I am working visually with ready mades from television or with ready mades corresponding to pictures on television: materials from the archive, TV-graphic design etc. I am taking up ‘Television as a radio with pictures.’

HR: And what about the public space?

FA: In this project I am interested in three components of ‘public’, between these I operate as an artist: the legally [State-run] Public Television, [State] University and the [City/State] Cultural Authority. I define a new field of work by bringing these three together. The result of this project, that connection, will be short television programs as prototypes, discussing a changed look on ‘public’.

HR: What is your American view on German television?

FA: I only talk about the postwar period in Germany, because there you have parallels to the development in America, but also big differences. Television is only one example: speed and rhythm in the USA is very different and the language does not play such an important role. There you get a different image of public as a consumer. There were mainly private channels and they design the commercial or the news, while in Germany the question of ‘public’ is still discussed all the time.

In addition to that, there is no classification of the audience by American television. The taste is what is important. German [State-run] Public television also acts political. The WDR for example was known in the 70’s as the ‘red channel,’ what made ‘working class’ [Arbeiterfilm] movies possible. Fassbinder, for example produced films with factory workers as protagonists. Even though, we saw later that a lot of these workers didn’t want to see their work day also shown on television, there were still a lot of shows, like “Eight Hours are not a Day” taken positively by the audience, especially as something similar was never presented in media. In the USA the ratings are most important. The German [State-run] Public television is more and more exposed to that too. This is a result of the competition with the private channels. They are at a point, where they have to think over their image and discuss their program jobs separated from the commercial suppliers. This is a very interesting and unique time in Germany. Nevertheless you hardly find results of internal debates concerning the politics of a new extensive program.

HP: Why?

FA: Eventually because it’s about an accredited institution. But the television stations under public law, as the example of ARD shows, also developed a new design, a new image, which comes closer to these changes. It is a frequently asked question: why would Public television put so much emphasis on the image, if it is more defined by its content. An American does not even think about the question, where the borderline between [State-run] Public and Private channel is drawn. Another discussing point would be the question: what should be taken over from the [State-run] Public television: Education? The news? I am also doing this project, because I am interested in changing institutions and the possibility to unite history and art production. But not in the sense of nostalgia!

HP: What is your opinion on new television?

FA: Television is reflection. In the past the eye was the symbol for television, it always appeared in the logo. Television is no longer the window to the world; it’s a reflection-surface. The designers, who create the image of the programs and generate their identity, noticed that public law television always stood for education and quality. The private television is more about specializations: only sport or movies, the educational mission is not important. News could become infotainments at any moment. In Germany this was the case in the 1980s. Today the borderline between information and entertainment is wanted again. The news in Germany are for us Americans always so legitimate. A table, a piece of paper and that’s it.

HP: In Germany more people watch the news of [State-run] Public television stations. The news on private channels are becoming more and more like the news on [State-run] Public television, they are not that uncouth anymore.

FA: That’s right. In general you can see powerful changes in private channels, at the beginning of the 90es for example, I saw the first VOX [channel] programs. There were news at every hour and at midnight the program was over. The channel is totally different now. VOX, five years ago is ‘past.’ In America you don’t see radical changes, when you compare television of today with television five years ago. There were a lot of changes considering the private channels in Germany, the [State-run] Public ones weren’t that fast, but they do have a capital: their history. This becomes clear, when you visit the archives or talk to the directors of the archives.

HR: Soon there will be a change of generations in the management of the [State-run] Public stations. Thus young people who grew up with private channel TV will be taking over the leading positions.

FA: That’s correct. At the moment the people on the upper management level see television as having a solid factor. That is over. There is no more stable point. This moment should be taken as an opportunity, to talk about changes and to develop a new self-conception. In my opinion there are specific examples for Germany, which show how the different situation of television is being handled. One example are the special night programs playing at three or four o’clock in the morning on [State-run] Public Television. “Space night,” a car or a subway ride etc. You can’t find this in other countries, like the USA for example. The broadcasting minutes are very expensive. In Germany they noticed that there are people, who watch television at night, without being interested in any information or entertainment. The attitude towards television is different at that time. It was extremely interesting for me, to see that the [State-run] Public television reacted and noticed that kind of audience. In the past you had only the TV test pattern at that time and the program was over. The night program is important, because it offers us a new perspective: you don’t see the highway, you see yourself watching television. The outer space becomes a television landscape, which you can substitute with every other landscape, like a landscape you see traveling by train or driving on the highway. With this atmosphere I want to work on my project. The short programs I am producing, reflecting television, are meant for these early hours.

HR: The news and information we get are already selected, so everybody can create its own reality with television. How does television manipulate?

FA: This seems to be a typical German position. In Germany there is always the question of truth and reality. You always feel a kind of skepticism in media or cynicism. Of course you can manipulate everything, but the negative image of media is very conspicuous in Germany. Television is realism, but not reality. I understand television as a flow of information you should reflect and work with.