Frank Osvath

First Draft West, Sydney

Applause was a multi-screen video installation by Sydney-based media artist, Frank Osvath. It comprised twelve monitors and four VCR machines accommodated by a steel architectural structure. Each screen displayed the same sequence of computer processed video images in the form of animation. It was played as an endless loop, which was temporarily interrupted by another cycle that recontextualised the initial animation. Digitally sampled sound effects accompanied the moving imagery to underline the visual content.

The steel structure and the large scale 'high tech' apparatus, were custom-engineered to fit the small exhibition room that, in itself, determined its own oppressive spatial net in harmony with the installation. Of the two units, the zinc plated steel structure held the monitors and the second component, facing its counterpart, was packed with VCR machines. These two elements-the 'operated' and the 'operative' or 'directive'-were inter-connected with video leads protected in flexible steel tubes and firmly fixed onto the floor in parallel lines. The physical enclosure was painted white in an attempt to evoke a floating sensation, fusing minimalist asseveration and totalitarian grandeur.

All video screens were synchronised in an 'out-of-sync' effect. A luminous flickering charged the exhibition space with mesmerizing pulsations and was the only source of illumination. It was emitted from the individual monitors under the control of the reiterative computer animation running perpetually in its endless loop. This repetitious 'mechanical animation' forced time to be measured in units, yet paradoxically one became oblivious of its passing. Although Applause was seemingly enmeshed in a totalitarian folie de grandeur, in fact it allowed no room for such naïveté. For Goebbels "art ... [was] a function of the life of the people, to which meaning ... [was] given by the divinely inspired artist".1 If in 'totalitarian art' , 'form' served 'function', it was a banal but viciously effective dichotomy, for human efficiency and creativity are among the most demanding and demanded values in modern society. Osvath's own experiences are not far dissociated from such mental and social spaces: the hidden order left its dark imprints on the face of two generations of Hungarians with whom he grew up in the late 1960s and 1970s. This primordial system of form and function treated the : individual as passive prototype creating an almost unbreakable barrier-' the fear of change'.2

The artist 's current work enigmatically decodes the logico-emotional problems of the past by way of active interpretation of our present malaise. Form and function enter the realm of compromise, an intentional coup de foudre, an equilibrium where neither of the two assume priority. The fractured presence of the flickering screens provides a glimpse of the dysfunction of a human society increasingly narcotised in almost all spheres. Osvath is well aware of the emblematic implications of repetition used in Applause: it generates a timeless, but above all an entrancing quality with obvious social analogies. Ultimately, the question of whether we are all connected to an existence of pre-existing fixed hierarchical structures-is left open. Applause, at any rate, evokes a desperate articulation against such a frustrating socio-artistic landscape, and simultaneously treats the subjects-the spectatormass-as passive . The corollary is this: applause is the active agent.

In this work, the artist, although free from excessive utopian aspirations, forges animplicit stance in relation to the dehumanization of 'mass society', and offers a posture of abstracted and distanced contemplation. In the the relayed image-the torso, arms, hands, and fingers-there emerges an attempt to reconstitute a sense of common identity, common goals and values within the 'political mass'. Again one encounters a chimerical sense of deja vu: the metaphors used for social processes and entities-the 'masses' and the 'social ' as an imploding black hole; the code as a socio-artistic blue print-evoke the 'social' as a vast otherness controlled by great anonymous forces, which by their nature seem inaccessible to conscious intervention or change .3 Applause as a social, or merely as an individual activity, renders itself intolerant and hypersensitive to transitions, interruptions or disturbances of various extents and qualities; it, then, consequently treats such occurrences as formal anomalies. Yet, the interruption-the second and terminated animation sequence elegantly and unexpectedly intervenes in the continuous flow of applause leaving merely virtual traces behind.

Osvath in the final analysis, cleverly targets the visitor's mind through bacchanalian sense gratification, and in the process-in his deconstructive 'seeing through'-stimulates and arouses a linkage between theory, art form and function.


1. lgor Goloms1ock, Totalitarian Art, (London, Collins Harvill, 1990), p169

2. For a Cagean parallel see: Louwrien Wijers , "Art and Science Meet Spirituality", Art & Design 6 (1990), 30.

3. G. Gill, "Post-Structuralism as Ideology", Arena 69 (1984), 60· 70 passim.