Mattias Neuenhofer. Videotapes 1988 – 1995. Repetition, Difference, and Infinitesimal Aesthetics

„Feeling man shoots, thinking man edits“– with this famous quote of Nam June Paik’s, his professor at the Art Academy in Düsseldorf, Neuenhofer began his thesis, which he completed 1994 at the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne. In his own video work Neuenhofer represents his agreement with “all sorts of meanings” that might be read from the quoted aphorism, with a consistency which is rare within the media arts field in general and which he early on made part of his working method. This entails renouncing the use of a video camera while simultaneously integrating the obvious self-reflexivity of the medium through the phenomenon of video feedback. Between 1988 and 1995 it built the basis of the video works by Matthias Neuenhofer. The presented essay on his Feedback-Videos completes the monograph-‘video-trilogy’ of Slavko Kacunko, which has begun with the book about Marcel Odenbach (1999) and continued with the monograph about Dieter Kiessling (2001).

The video aesthetics implemented in the described works of Matthias Neuenhofer deals with a mostly synthetically produced, anti-mimetic access, which instead of narration (like by Odenbach) or chance and coincidence (like by Kiessling) places repetition and the loop (with its ‘cumulative’ character) at the center of a discrete and discontinuous video aesthetics. In the approach of Matthias Neuenhofer there was no longer any question of pleasurable artistic undermining of linear narratives or of feigning the action on a variety of levels and perspectives: The coincidence of self and external reference could still be found only within the 'frame' of an abstract but associative, a closed and yet ultimately open, ‘infinitesimal’ aesthetics[1] – an aesthetic inherent in the medium itself by coupling its elementary components, the input and the output device together and therewith uncoupling it to a large extent from the outside world.

The analysis of the artistic approach of Matthias Neuenhofer allows not least a critical evaluation of current theoretical trends that perceive computerised ‘real time’-processing programmes such as ‘morphing’ to be a substantially new and revolutionary development with the potential to make a sharp, ontological distinction between the analogue and digital. The genealogy of both the analogue and digital Feedback-Videos of Matthias Neuenhofer shows how distant are such emphatic-reductionist presumptions from the video- and media art practices. At the same time, his technical virtuosity ties into the described artistic field by focusing on- and widening the mediums immanent operation field. In his work around the mid-nineties, Neuenhofer not only demonstrated his mastery of digital video feedback, but also consciously marked and exceeded both the supposed boundary between the so-called analog and digital design principles. The last described video MIEL (1995) exemplifies so the synthesis of video feedback and a morphing phenomenon. The fine adjustment of the apparatus and of all known relevant parameters is the prerequisite for the displayed mastery of the slow feedback ‘run’, entailing the wealth of forms and their ‘growth’ potential. Technically and perceptually it flows into a continuum, a perpetuum mmobile, in which the editing cuts and interruptions remain only important as the dramatic accentuations of the synthetic ‘growth’ of all visual and audible components into each other. The crucial point of Neuenhofer’s working process is that all the shapes and colors protruding from the white noise have being always chosen on a heuristic principle; through the use of morphing there came, at least theoretically, an additional, yet crucial possibility – to waive even the most General, the origin of all distinctions: the white noise of the world and the feedback sprung from it.

Matthias Neuenhofer seems nevertheless to escape this theoretically fascinating and seductive potentiality. He does not fall back to a mimesis (even in its most general form and with advanced technical means of digital morphing) and makes no use of the computer-generated simulation of feedback-figures and -processes. Instead of programming the beauty of the used basic shapes, Neuenhofer gets them directly from the seemingly indiscriminate wealth of current flow, on which the source of the first distinction or difference already exists.

The possibility of differentiated observations (and even measurements) of the chosen videos faces the all-devouring difference which seems to pour out of Deleuzian philosophy. In the case of Matthias Neuenhofer – and he could be taken as a model – we are facing the lack of reference points in the real world, the seemingly ‘anarchist’ assembly, the high motion speed of lines, surfaces and forms, their hardly exploitable structure and even a lack of title that would give an indication, a kind of “pattern of intention” (M. Baxandall): These are all characteristics of a named but not yet developed, Infinitesimal Aesthetics which ‘origin’ seems to be the repetition, which again, as much as its ‘goal’ must remain unnamed, at least if the distance to the otherwise impending visual dogmatism and image-ideology should be obtained. Because the results of automatism of repetition – so the preliminary thesis of the essay – leads either to an ideology of the indifference or to the doctrine of the difference, in both cases with poor prospects for either the Cage-Paik-avant-gardism or for Deleuze´s ‘differentialism’.[2] Deleuze´s ‘overcoming’ of a ‘simple’ being by the gesture of repetition turns out to be – not least with regard to the complex artistic perspective reflected here – itself an unfolding of a new metaphysics, metaphysics of difference. Instead, the described Videos of Matthias Neuenhofer seem to allow the discovering of Histories, Coincidences, and Infinitesimal Aesthetics inscribed into the Video medium as its unsurpassed topicality.

[1] Andreas Breitenstein has used this notion in his review of the book Die Winter im Süden of Norbert Gstrein (2008). In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 26. August 2008 – The notion has been used also by Mădălina Diaconu in her unpublished essay „Patina, Atmosphäre, Aroma. Für eine Ästhetik des Infinitesimalen“. In: Phänomenologie in Rumänien und Bulgarien (ed. by Hans-Rainer Sepp), Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann.

[2] Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition (1968). Used quote stems from the German translation: Differenz und Wiederholung (transl. from French by Joseph Vogl). Munich 1992, 106.