Pasztor, Erika Katalina | media artist
Budapest, Hungary
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published in:
Balkon, Budapest 2003 September
retro-synthesis | the logic of media in architecture


Two hours of one million people are equal with two million hours, which is a little bit more than 228 years.


Electronic media is a unique psychological software, claimed video counterculture of the 70's. Since than media and entertainment business grew to an industry using a business model built on marketing immaterial goods promising special experiences. Synthesis of architecture and real-time electronic media including new technologies is able to create intensified synthetic experiences for large audiences. This introduces specific business logic to architecture as well, where the source of value shifts from endurance in time to measurable units of presence, namely such counting the visitor's numbers and the time they spent on a specific site. In fact, synthetic experiences augmented into transitional spaces of post-industrial activism, which is represented by contemporary party culture. Extending to large-scale city concepts this logic powerfully influences the transformation of private and community spaces where the value source shifts from endurance to flexibility and adaptability. This paper examines distant and clearly perceptible aspects of mutual affects of electronic media, art and architecture concerning different cultural events in Europe initiated by architects, artist, and curators, in May 2003.



"For better or worse, it’s (marihuana) perhaps the best psychological software we’ll have until the electronic media are made more accessible"[1] writes Michael Shamberg in his book Guerrilla Television (1970). Shamberg is a theorist of early video activism arisen in the American sex, drug and rock'n roll counterculture at the end of  the 60s. He started as a journalist but today we may know him as the Pulp Fiction's or B52 music clips' producer. His fortune as a newspaperman failed when a scandal exploded following his video interview with an illegal communist leader[2]. The guerrilla television means groups of radical artist and producers continuing the leftist student movements, offending commercial television with the financial assistance of cultural foundations and cable companies in the background, suppressing the dominance of nation-wide televisions. In 1967 the first experimental television workshop started in San Francisco with the contribution of the Rockefeller Foundation; meanwhile - in the same year with the support of the same foundation - the first artist-in-residence program was set off at WGBH Television in Boston[3].


"Dope and video was defined as Radical Software releasing creative energies", declares the magazine (with the same name: Radical Software) distributed by Shamberg's video collective, the Raindance[4]. Beyond announcing the functionality of the systematic use of soft drugs', the alternative producing teams, like TVTV (Top Value Television), Raindance, Video Freaks, T.R. Uthco, Ant Farm, counteracted their isolation concerning big media with impressive and baffling art projects. Although in the mid 70's the portable video equipment wasn't cheap and easily reachable consumer good, Shamberg believed that video once will replace product- (finished goods of) America with decentralized media-America built on creative processes. The big (mass) media influence consumers' decisions and preferences with assertive communication, and indirectly affect products as well. Shamberg counterpoints this one-way process with the multidirectional communication possibilities offered by video representing presence in real-time electronic images, which, in his opinion, supposed to be reachable for everyone. Although that time the guerrilla television people had only insignificant straight effect concerning the manipulating techniques of taste and value judgments of the mass, they - together with other civil initiatives arising in the past decades - contributed a great deal to the wide-ranging social acceptance of being actively different. Besides electronic media devices are much more accessible, traces of their radical media critics emerge in high schools - certainly without soft drugs -, in media literacy courses today.


Big media domesticates exquisitely all creative energies streaming from subcultures to satisfy the continually differentiated needs of customers. The critic of video activism concentrated on show-business and mass media, on that industry which builds its business strategies based on the progressing grows of demand regarding new experiences. This industry deals with experience as portable, reproducible and extendable product, distributed for many consumers within its short life circle. Results of investigations, often invented by artists, generating new synthetic al experiences, are potential mass products in show business, promising high rate of return within uncommonly short time. Therefore it is not only a simple bad luck that video, the new communication medium, instead of becoming the medium of creative self-expression, first turned out to be the prop of home video giving a boost to porn and action movie industry[5].


Moreover, video is a substantial part of big parties and entertainment since few years. Video activism verified new synthetic experience of real-time electronic media as a positive prospect, blurring with radical criticism of the current social system. If we remove the philosophical and critical - but today completely harmless - thorns of the original messages of video counterculture of the 70's, like the characteristics of portable video as Patricia Mellencamp emphasized, artistry, populism, and Utopia can be tamed to be commercial without conspicuous changes. (Mellencamp, 1988) Hence it's effortless to reconfigure all these properties to reproduce imaginative power, to maintain the requirements of constant progress and to augment post-industrial activism for large groups strongly represented in contemporary party - or let's call it program - culture. The known tools and accessories, like electronic image, synthetic sound and soft drugs last as psychological software, and sites as action spaces of experience-experiments, like open stages, pubs; abandoned factory buildings, etc., are constantly forced to be regenerated. The critical approach survived in lonely computer nomads, combining a kind of hacker[6] activism with software art while moving sometimes towards, sometimes against the mainstream technological innovations.


Since the early 90's the palette widened, we may add now new experiences of interactivity browsing collected edition of artworks like websites, CD-ROMs, and discovering installations built on scenario thinking. In these types of artworks and products, the theoretically infinite numbers of combinations of experiences are coming into existence via the decisions made by the users while interaction. Internet or interactive television demands more knowledge and aptitude in decision making from the users than pushing buttons on the television's remote control, consequently media economists are cautious in predicting interactive new media technology to carry all before one. Since interactive consumer products and architectural spaces is the subject of research, even more developers rack their brains to obtain "fool proof" interfaces and hide sophisticated technologies. The second generation of information society probably should not learn to handle confusing computers, artificial languages, or difficult interfaces. Every prospective source of delightful new experience in interactivity marketed for the mass will possibly operate as simple as television, otherwise the necessary financial investment of marketing extents while the rate of investment (ROI) stays intolerably low.


The development and the widespread use of techniques of image recording and playback (film), real-time image transmission (television), real-time image and sound recording, storing and manipulation brought all sorts of different and substantial changes in perception of the world surrounding us. Time and space turned out to be pug able like clay. We have fast and reliable techniques to assemble, edit and mix events happened at different time and in different spaces, to reproduce single, unrepeatable processes at infinite numbers, to create electronic mimesis of reality. Time is a medium; the material of its message is the image and the sound stored on magnetic disks or tapes. There is no need to explain the given effect concerning the blooming media and entertainment industry. The productions are not driven by consideration of reaching permanency in culture and history but to reach large audiences. The main goal is to grab a short time interval from as many people as possible. Two hours of one million people are equal with two million hours, which is equal with 83 333 plus a third day, what is a little bit more than 228 years. In mass media, the source of value (and profit) is the dividing of time into measurable units of presence, which are expressed in lavish statistics of ratings and visitor numbers.


The economical (and esthetical!) logic of media thus has a strong effect on transforming long term private and community spaces. Since ten years we have all kinds of advanced visualization tools and techniques to create increasingly trustworthy synthetic images; the design of the visionary world is hardly differentiable from a picture of the real. As a designer's admittance to the market, we have growing amount of intelligent materials and technology introduced by military and private research institutions, to develop new prototypes of buildings, clothes, vehicles, and to dazzle large audiences with them. As the architectural installations suggested at the Latent Utopias exhibition (curated by Zaha Hadid and Patrik Schumacher) in Graz (Austria) - the 2003 European City of Culture -, new materials, robotics, electronic images and virtual reality will radically transmute experiences mediated by built environment. Architecture, the frozen music shifts in time according to the rhythm of the change of users' requirements, in other words, regardless of Goethe's metaphor, architecture became an apparently time-based art genre.


Where the social-economical change deriving from the users' demands is faster than the natural obsolescence of building materials one should use revertible or transformable constructions and materials to fulfil the constantly changing needs. Revertible and changeable constructions of the multifunctional spaces are good examples, which were devised to fulfil the quickly altered demands of real estate and facility management business. Such a space by itself is often boring and profane, it functions only to frame the transitional, locale-free, and mobile facilities inside. These mobile constructions can be built up and demolished within few hours, and they are perfectly reusable somewhere else like exhibition installations, tents, stages, sets, etc. for hire, following them with all kinds of service and security units (fast food, sanitary units, cordons, bars, etc.). Yet we know, however, little about intelligent materials with revertible physical properties, their mass production and application will probably take a few more years. We can wear phototropic eyeglasses since 30 years, which is able to change its transparency revertible, and soon we can buy a jacket with sensors to perceive which part of the body feels more cold and to warm it particularly. The intelligent materials fulfil our expectations concerning the limitless flexibility and adaptability against changing environmental factors. Physicists and chemists have been researching intelligent materials only since 20 years, and their results are immediately welcome in applications of consumer goods[7] or adaptive building constructions sophisticated by sensor technology and robotics.


Video installations, creating time-based architectural spaces by sensual compositions of real-time moving - often interactive - images, sound, objects, and fragrances, are meaning and experience extensions of the framed electronic images. The installations mainly possess only a dark and bounded space according to technical limitations, but within these limits, the art pieces can reach much concentrated effect than any other space experiences ever known before. The same and standard video technique - if the artist does not modify it - is available almost all around the world, consequently the video installations are effortlessly portable to different places. When the exhibitions are closing, the installations are demolished. Artists and organizers may bother only with the logistics of the most important architectural elements.


The World Wide Video Festival celebrated 20th anniversary just this year in Amsterdam. This is one of the few media festivals remaining to show mainly video art of the world surviving the invasion of new digital media (Internet and multimedia). Apart from videotapes, a retrospective exhibition was opened to the public presenting video installations sponsored by WWVF as an institution, giving space, technique, and money for realization. This retrospective exhibition was placed in the Passenger Terminal built in the framework of the big city renewal program of the Handelskade, the eastern docks of Amsterdam. Holding passengers of 50 tourist boats, this terminal was built as a multifunctional traffic (and cultural) junction which was designed in 2000 by the world's largest multinational architectural office, Hellmut, Obata + Kassabaum (HOK) (the employer of Doug Michels[8] around two decades ago). It looks like a whale, says HOK, however the building resembles a bit of a boat for me. The HOK design itself is correct, a single huge multifunctional space divided into parts by staircases, elevators and galleries, having a roof-terrace with a view on river Ij, Handelskade, ships and water. It is surely enjoyable to drink a cup of coffee sitting behind a chrome table in uniformed chrome chairs, staring at rain and water, enjoy the high-tech comfort, cleanness, transparency, watch the festival audience hanging around, browsing digitized video films running on iMac computers.


If someone knows the genius loci growing out of freedom and autonomy in the recent past here at the Handelskade, than he or she must discover the detailed difference between a professional - i.e. businesslike - and an unprofessional space-occupation of an ad hoc community of artists. One of the docks of Handelskade was shelter for a decade of my artist friends, who renovated the abandoned storehouse by their own hand, turned the neglected interiors to become workshops for artists. The open space between the buildings used to be an enviable place for grass-root performances, installations, and of course parties and public art actions. Actually, nobody could find a better place to realize an extensive city renewal concept in Amsterdam than this riverside uncared-for business, but vital in a different sense, so the Handelskade city renewal project started. Although it was not an easy match, the city did not break down but renovated their dock. The artist could stay in their studios if they liked, paying higher rent of course, in the very centre of this large-scaled concept. The story of my friends had a real Amsterdam happy end. We must admit, they were not equal to the task. Incorporating individual artists, the community of the sharer probably would had gone under the city expanding against their interests, if it didn't happened to be in the Netherlands.


Passenger Terminal, Amsterdam (HOK, 2000)
image (1): Passenger Terminal, Amsterdam (architecture: HOK, 2000) resource:

The resolutions behind the productions based on professional business processes, e.g. city renewal projects, mass communication, concentrate on creating immaterial goods, generating synthetic experiences as like art. The realization involves a number of actors and lots of resources. During the physical augmentation of the (action) space, they carefully pay attention to the content and integrity of the central message. This is a deliberated and perfectly organized communication, served by architecture, the arts, and new technologies to perfectly reshape public domains and the discourses evolving in public spaces. One insignificant problem occurs with these kinds of huge building projects: they are not portable yet. Once the Potzdamer Platz, Handelskade or the Millennium City Centre in Budapest is built, the same message is represented the same place for a long time, while the sources of the creating will, dry up as fast as they arise.


Passenger Terminal, Amsterdam (architecture: HOK, 2000)
image (2): Passenger Terminal, Amsterdam (architecture: HOK, 2000) resource:


The artist is a professional communicator knowing and feeling everything about the form and the transmitter belonging to his or her own message. He or she, if works alone, must reckon with narrow effect while controlling the entire content of the message. Apparently, this state is the most attractive but riskiest for most artists. The range of effect could be broader with a group, safer in network, but in this condition, the content cannot be exclusively supervised, merely particularly influenced by the artist. He or she reaches the largest sphere of competence as a consultant in conjunction with concepts serving political and economical aims. In this situation, the artist cannot even influence the content, his or her role is to transmit the central concept and deconstruct it into particular experiences, as we have seen it in Renzo Piano's position concerning the Potzdamer Platz. In these models, the medium used by the artist has an emblematic role. That sort of medium comes to the front in public space, which reaches the widest audience and has the strongest effect representing messages, or in other words, which is augmented for the most potential experience consumers.


We know, since years it has been in the air, that synthesis of architecture, real-time electronic image, networking, mobility and new technology is able to create synthetic experiences promising to surpass all we had before. Now artists and architects are increasingly attracted to this discourse, as it appears in Art + Communication ( festival held in Riga (Latvia) reported by Nikolett Erőss[9] on Exindex in May 2003. Many different forces and energies point to one direction, to the imaginary existence in simultaneous and parallel spaces fulfilling all of our physical senses, to raise obtainable and liveable experiences. In different levels of interpretation, this points towards the direction to discover and possess the augmented space, named aptly by formal architect, now media art theorist Lev Manovich. Maybe not by chance, many actors of art, media, science, economy and politics have been moved towards this new field of media architecture. The idea, also inspiring this paper, was clearly perceptible in different and independent events, which were initiated by architects, artist, and curators, emerging with this linked content through Europe in 2003 May.


Latent Utopias exhibition, Graz []

I. Rotterdam Architectural Biennial [ |]

World Wide Video Festival Amsterdam []

user_mode conference, Tate Modern London []


Erika Katalina Pasztor


Budapest, August 3, 2003

[1] Patricia Mellencamp: Video Politics: Guerrilla TV, Ant Farm, Eternal Frame. Discourse Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture X.2 Summer, 1988. p:78-100. online:

[2] Deidre, Boyle: Subject to change: Guerrilla Television Revisited. Oxford University Press, 1997 in Immediacy, 1997/1. p:1-13. online:

[3] Seres, Szilvia - Peternák, Miklós: History of Video, video art, and video archive. (

[4] Mellencamp, 1988

[5] In 1986, I visited West Berlin as a student of the Hungarian University of Applied Arts, finishing the first year study in video. I entered a video renting shop in Berlin first naively. I'll never forget how dumbfounded I was seeing the commercial supply of the store, since I haven't seen such a shop in the Eastern-European Hungary before.

[6] The hacker is able to break secret codes of computers and networks just because he feels challenged and being highly interested in it, but he never misuses his technological talent. He cracks to try himself out instead of taking away anything. In spite of this the cracker, who is a criminal, a real burglar, who takes everything he finds. 

[7] Zrínyi, Miklós: The materials of the 21st century: the intelligent materials. Mindentudás Egyeteme. (;
MIT Kinetic Design Group - MIT Architectural Faculty. (;
Portable Building Research Group, University of Liverpool, School  of Architecture and Building Engineering (

[8] see the article "Delphic retro"

[9] Erőss, Nikolett: 56.57'N/24.06'E "Art + Communication" festival 2003.05.15-18. Riga. Exindex 2003. 06. 03. online:
[visited: 2003.07.02.]



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