Interview with Franz Buchholz by Miriam Lowack, March, 2016
You first worked at the Institute for Technical Acoustics in Jülich, at the Technical University in Aachen. What were then your first steps into experimenting with art? What did you find interesting about art as a form of expression?
I learned to be a radio and television technician as well as an electronics technician. After passing my master craftsman’s examination, I worked for a time as an electronics technician at the Institute for Plasma Physics in Jülich. In 1963, the Institute for Technical Acoustics at the Technical University of Aachen was founded, and I worked there as head of the electronics department until my retirement in 2000. In 1963, inspired by my grandfather (a painter who lived in Cologne and Aachen), I began to attend drawing courses. Soon I did my first paintings, silkscreens, and collages. In 1968, I followed this up with metal collages, stainless steel sculptures, and electronic objects. The works of the Zero Group made a huge impression on me, and so I began to produce kinetic objects and collages. I still enjoy working on electronic and kinetic objects today.
In your works from the early 1970s it is obvious that you are particularly interested in working artistically with sound—and doing so in connection with technical, physical processes. Could you tell us something about these early works? What did you find so exciting about sound and what did you feel was innovative?
I’ve long been fascinated by artists who showed their mastery in all fields of art.That’s how I wanted to work and I decided on four groups: sound, light, movement, and from 1975 onwards, video. Some of the sound objects I made are in public spaces in Aachen, for instance the three-meter-high sound-touch sculpture at the Barockfabrik. In 1978, I showed my laser installations, sound objects, and kinetic works at the Neue Galerie (in the atrium). There were also a number of performances: dancers on sound surfaces or laser beam shows in fogged rooms.
It is already clear in the sound, light, and kinetic projects that the aspect of movement is pivotal for your work. When and how did you begin experimenting with the medium of moving images, or in other words, with video?
The first video works were also shown in museums and on television in the 1970s, for example works by Nam June Paik, Wolf Vostell, and Bruce Nauman. These experiments triggered my curiosity and I began to create my own video objects and videotapes. I had good connections to firms from which I could buy defective television sets at cut-rate prices, which I then repaired. Mostly though I was only interested in using the inner workings of the television to create new video objects and then developed my own electronic circuitry. In 1975, a television still cost around 2,000 marks, not to mention how expensive cameras, microphones, videorecorders, vidicons, or plumbicons were, and all the rest that was needed for a video object or a video film. In 1977, I began to build the first video objects and at the same time to create videos and moving images with video cameras, a vidicon, and a television. I called the new works video paintings. In 1977, I put together the first video object, ENTSCHEIDUNG (DECISION), and made the respective video. To do this I removed the picture tube from the television and placed it on a panel. The electronics of the television disappeared out of sight, in a box. After a few attempts, I succeeded in developing a cable (red umbilical cord) that made it possible to keep the picture tube a meter away from the television. New embryo photos from the Aachen hospital were then shown on the round picture tube.
The archive of the Ludwig Forum is home to a few of your works, for example Hands, or the already mentioned works from the series Video Painting and Drawings in Motion, all from the early 1980s. Here you focus attention on experimenting with the video camera, pointed at a tube television, to generate images. Sound and the correspondence between image and sound play a prominent role here as well. Could you explain your approach, taking one (or more) of these works as an example?
With long intervals between them, I created video objects or similar works which first required refitting or constructing television sets. This is the background to the objects Radioscope (music-actuated graphics), Kaleidoscope (sound-activated graphics displayed via a deflection mirror), and Scope 1 and 2 (color graphics generated by touching tiny sensory fields). Of course some of the objects required special video films which were produced in a second working step with sound and image to fit the video object. In 1977, I began experimenting with a video camera attached to the head and connected to a television set to create moving images.
You were already living in Aachen in the 1970s? Do you remember the video scene at the time in the city and surrounding area? Did the artists from the region working with video discuss things together or exchange experiences? How did the art institutions and the public react to your work?
Here I’d like to jump forward to the first exhibition featuring video works by Aachen artists: I wasn’t aware of any video zone in Aachen, and artists hadn’t yet shown their video works together. It was only when Wolfgang Becker presented the “Videothek” at the Neue Galerie (1981) that a few Aachen artists also showed their work. The idea came from Wolfgang Becker and Gusti Decker, who for this purpose made available her business premises and all her audio and video equipment at the Radio Ring on Ursulinerstraße.
After your first exhibition at the Neue Galerie in 1978, entitled Light and Sound: Kinetic Objects in Space, your works were then part of the presentation on Art and Technology. The weeklong exhibition had two venues, the Neue Galerie and the hi-fi and video specialist store? Which works of yours were shown and where? And how did the idea to stage the exhibition in this way come about? Were you involved with other artists in discussing the possibilities beforehand? What role did the specialist store play?
Video: Art + Technology was the first exhibition in Aachen by artists interested in working with video. The artists were Dietmar Momm, Michael and Barbara Leisgen, Michael Zepter, Frank Buchholz, and Renate Müller-Drehsen. The video films were shown continuously in the store window. I contributed Video Painting and Hands, as well as a few sound objects, the Sound Touch Surface and Sound Dance Surface, on which two women from the Renoldi Theatre Dance School performed at the opening. The video works were shown concurrently at the Neue Galerie. With the purchasing of new video equipment, videos could now be recorded and played.
You digitized and reworked your videos from the 70s and 80s a few years ago. Did you try to rectify any interferences to image and sound or change the image in any other way, for example the color? Some time ago we spoke about how you would prefer to now show these reworked versions. Maybe you could briefly explain again why, and the reasons behind the decision?
Digital. How video films are worked on today cannot be compared of course to what was possible back then. I decided to digitally rework my old original tapes of Video Painting, which was in good condition, and Hands. Already back then, in 1981 at the Neue Galerie, small stripe defects were evident when taping over a video (U-matic, Betamax). I reworked the videos digitally and was able to adjust the contrast, color, sound, and focus to get the right reproduction quality. A shortening of just a few seconds was only necessary at two damaged places. In terms of content, the videos haven’t changed at all.
As part of the Video Archive project and the exhibition Painting Electronic Pictures, in consultation with you we showed your works on a large flat display screen and/or on an “old” tube monitor and used a sound shower to intensify the effect of your video. Are there other forms of presentation you can imagine trying out?
I’ve experimented with various presentation forms in my studio. At present I’m showing video films from a beamer, projected onto a mirror and from there reflected onto a large square table. I’ve placed chairs around the table and it’s possible to just take a seat and watch the films with all the time in the world. A while back I drilled a round hole in the floor on the first story and beamed the videos through a pipe onto the floor. There the videos of course appeared round.