18:45 - 19:15
Piazza virtuale: A Social Medium before the Internet


Van Gogh TV, a collective of hackers and artists, opened up the mass media for the audience in 1992. Their grand-scale project "Piazza virtuale" used television, telephone, fax and BBS mailboxes to "turn the consumers into producers" (Bert Brecht). Shortly before the internet became widely accessible, they attempted to create a social medium with the technologies available to them at that time, and an early version of net culture started to flourish soon.


Van Gogh TV, an avant-garde group of media artists and hackers, presented Piazza virtuale at Documenta IX in 1992. The interactive TV project used all the electronic media available at the time to include the television audience – that could watch the program both on the 3Sat television channel and the Olympus satellite – in what was happening on the screen. There was the opportunity to discuss with each other, get to know each other, make music or paint together, move a camera in the Kassel studio and much more.

In addition to the audience participation, media artists and activists throughout Germany, Europe, the USA and Japan contributed to the programme from mini-studios called Piazettas. The result was a temporary "virtual community" that can be regarded as the predecessor of many contemporary net communities. Many of the phenomena that shape net culture today already took place Piazza virtuale: from chats to shitstorms, from pranks to cyber sex.

The television audience embraced the interactive programme, up to 25,000 callers per hour tried to participate in the show. Yet, today the project is largely forgotten, in part because the archived material was inaccessible for more than two decades.

Now, the group's archive - which includes 800 hours of broadcast recordings and the entire project correspondence including contracts, sponsor agreements, advertising material, sketches and construction plans - has been made accessible to the Mainz University of Applied Sciences. In cooperation with the documenta archive in Kassel and University Bonn, we want to process this archive and make it accessible again. The talk will present some of the first findings of our reseach It will include clips from the show as well as from the interviews we have conducted with the participants as part of our research (see video link below). It would be the first presentation of the project outside of small academic workshops.

Videotrailerof the project: