Ira Schneider: “I Just Do It”

An interview

/ by Joost de Jonge and Inge van de Ven

Joost de Jonge visits the incomparable Ira Schneider for an interview at his place in Berlin. He is there to speak and interact with this renowned video artist and creator of engaging digitally enhanced photographic images. Ira is an artistic force of great magnitude, propelling humanity, through the conscious conception of beauty, forward into the manifestation of a form of liberated spirituality, a democratic and wholesome co-existence of all the different flavors of mankind. This all started out with the Raindance Foundation, a 1970s group of video makers who sought to challenge the monopoly of commercial TV by cultivating the artistic use of video, pioneering the ecological uses of the medium. They were the first group cautioning against the use of fossil fuels and warning of humanity’s detrimental effects on climate and environment. A show is up at the ZKM Karlsruhe. Mr. Schneider’s work will be part of my ekphrasis project part 3. He joins in with a beautiful video from the H2O series, which I discussed at Tilburg University, Online Culture in co-operation with Dr. Inge van de Ven, who joined in, to compose the questions.


Dr. Inge van de Ven: You are a self-proclaimed TV-junkie (at one point you even married your television). Do you see television and video as competing media? How would you describe their interrelations? To what extent, and in what respects, is your work influenced by Marshall McLuhan's media theory?


Ira Schneider: So the thing I said about the difference between film and video is that video has always been immediate. It has always been that film has to be processed chemically and then dried before it can be played. In fact, there was an artist, Tony Conrad, who had a 16mm film camera and the film came out of the camera into a dark bag and went through the chemicals and came out of this dark bag into a projector. So he was able, in minutes, to play back a film he had just recorded. He was up in Buffalo at the time. He is a genius artist. So I never got into the argument, which is better, film or video or the differences. I always went from one recording medium to the next, when the next became available. The video immediately gave me sync sound, which meant I could work alone and didn’t have to have a sound person with me, a clapboard and later to sync it up. So I went in favor of video.


I didn’t read McLuhan’s “The Medium is The Message.” So, I wouldn’t know. I just do it, I don’t read about it. I do not know if I do what it says, but I’m doing what I’m doing.


Dr. Inge van de Ven: Were you at one point involved with cinéma vérité ? Has your view on the 'truth' of your art changed since then? Have your works, for instance, experienced an inward turn?


Ira Schneider: I wasn’t involved with the cinéma vérité. I watched it! I was there when it was happening, like the French and the Italian. I thought they were great, but I did something different. I curated some of them and showed them in the Midwest at the University of Wisconsin, I also showed “Flaming Creatures” and “Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome,” and Stan van der Beek, in fact I was just in a show at the Prada Foundation in Milan where they revived a festival that happened 50 years ago in Turin. Jonas Mekas’ curated new American Cinema 1967, and one of my films was in it, so I went to Milan and it was shown at the Prada Foundation April 21. It was “Lost in Cuddihy” – a non-narrative quasi-documentary, I call it an “Information Collage,” about American culture in the 1960s.


Dr. Inge van de Ven: In her book, Film and Video Intermediality, Janna Houwen addresses the concept of medium specificity in order to determine how video and film can be defined as distinct, specific media. What is it that video can do, that film can't? How does your work relate to contemporary cinema?


Ira Schneider: I never thought about it.


JDJ: So the narrative isn’t there?


Ira Schneider: No, I’m anti-narrative, non-narrative for the most part. No authority telling you what you are seeing. The viewer decides the meaning, if any.


JDJ: When I look at images, photos by you, I feel you have really composed this image, where balance can become the starting point of beauty. Rudi Fuchs wrote to me and he still saw beauty in my work. He said it was the most important thing. He stated: “Beauty brings stillness to the mind.” I think the harmony in your work is the same, beauty, bringing stillness.


Ira Schneider: Could be, I’ve been cropping images since I was 10. It’s all about configurations, intricacy and abstractions from images of the real world, which appear as paintings.


JDJ: Would you look upon your video's as an exposition of a Bergsonian "Durée?”


Ira Schneider: Yes, It’s like meditation. I read Henri Bergson’s writing in 1956, I read all he wrote about comedy, though.


JDJ: How does your work relate to Fluxus?


Ira Schneider: I have done a lot of work with Fluxus-people and I am bringing out their comedy and their post-Dada expression. I think I am being faithful to their performances, passing that on where the originators of Fluxus are no longer around. They have passed on for the most part and frankly I don’t think much of the new Fluxus, I don’t want to say imitators; followers! I always claimed I was not a Fluxus performer but Peri-Fluxus.


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Joost de Jonge

is a Dutch artist who studied art history at the University of Utrecht and painting at the Facultat de Bellas artes de ST. Jordi in Barcelona. He graduated from the School of Arts Utrecht BFA in Painting With Honours (2002). His work is shown in many different countries at international and national art fairs and art galleries and is part of important corporate and private collections around the world. His work was shown at, amongst others, Arte Fiera Bologna, Artissima, Miart, Art London, Art San Diego etc. His most recent project: “Painted Poetry & Painterly Poetics : An Ekphrastic Notion” centres on the topic of ekphrasis to which some of the most important art historians and poets from Europe and the USA have contributed:


Inge van de Ven