“(Not) Working for the Clampdown”: LINK TV Project – Pratello TV (Bologna, 1992)

Cassettes from the PVEH Collection. Photo documentation of the inventory procedures.

Four years ago, the Italian National Amateur Film Archive in Bologna was able to collect audiovisual materials (film and analog videos) from Bologna’s radical political scene of the late eighties and early nineties. Among them the archivists found videos from the 1990 student movement (the so-called Pantera [the Panther] movement); a 16mm film and several analog videos from the squat scene and the protests against the First Gulf War; videos from a videomaking school called Scuola Elicio Huerta; and videos from LINK TV Project – Pratello TV, an alternative TV channel that aired in May 1992, shortly before and during a block party in the so-called Pratello district (Bologna). Comprised of almost 400 items, this collection represents a significant repository of Bologna’s radical scene.

These materials compose the PVEH collection1The acronym PVEH refers to the different sections of the collection. More precisely, P stands for Pantera movement and Pratello TV; V for Videogiornale; EH for Elicio Huerta Videomaking School. Throughout the years, the collection has been gatekept by Lino Greco, a videomaker and former activist, who deposited the videos at Home Movies – Italian National Amateur Film Archive. housed at the Italian National Amateur Film Archive, which has been partially digitized and screened during the last editions (8th, 9th, and 10th) of the Archivio Aperto festival (between 2015 and 2017) in Bologna. Working on this collection as an archivist and a media archaeologist, I’ve had to focus on three basic questions concerning the structure of the collection itself and of the archive housing it: is the core-structure of the archive described by Derrida proper for materials stemming from a radical context? What does it mean to archive radical records? Can we imagine radical archival practices to be performed on these records?

Still from Pratello TV narrowcast, 1992

In order to properly present all the issues at stake here, this article will be divided in two parts. In the first part I briefly describe Bologna’s radical scene and the social and political changes happening in Bologna (and, more broadly in Italy) between 1990 to 1992 in order to provide context for the PVEH collection’s items, with a specific focus on the videos from LINK TV Project – Pratello TV. In the second part I reflect on the archival issues concerning these videos.

 

Bologna’s Radical Scene (1990-1992)2For a general overview regarding Bologna’s radical scene, see Serafino D’Onofrio and Valerio Monteventi, Berretta Rossa: Storie di Bologna attraverso I centri sociali (Bologna: Pendragon, 2011).

In January 1990, during the university occupations of the Pantera movement, a group of young students decided to use video to document their daily life. Activists attending film, media, and communication studies joined together, forming the editorial staff of the Videogiornale, which used the technologies available at the time. These technologies consisted mainly of VHS cassettes, Video8, and Hi8 analog videos—in other words, technologies targeted at the amateur user.

Still from Videogiornale n. 15, 1990

The members of Videogiornale kept on operating after the end of the university occupations (around April-May 1990). Not by chance, then, we can find videos shot during the last month of the Isola Nel Kantiere occupation (August 1991), a building occupied by squatters in the city centre of Bologna. Here we can observe, among the protest marches, gatherings and sit-ins, images of parties: the camera witnesses not only the political claims of those who took part in the squat, but also a way of living a “radical life”, a specific way of appropriating urban spaces and inhabiting them.

When the police evicted the squatters, some of them decided to occupy another building in the so-called Pratello block, a block which took the name from the main street where it was located. Young punks and political activists started living side by side with the old inhabitants of the district, trying to engage in a dialogue with them. Video facilitated these interrelationships. Drawing on past experiences such as the Videogiornale, the squatters and their comrades developed a media project called LINK TV Project – Pratello TV. They decided to use shadows in the broadcasting frequencies in order to narrowcast videos filmed shortly before and during the block party of May 1992.

In Pratello TV’s videos we can pinpoint a multi-layered structure in which one specific domain presents itself as crucial: the spatial relationships entailed by the assemblage-dispositif of Pratello TV. By the notion of assemblage-dispositif, we mean “circuitries or assemblages of organic life, technological components, and other material and immaterial elements” capable of forming “powerful ecosystems.”3Michael Goddard, Guerrilla Networks: An Anarchaeology of 1970s Radical Media Ecologies (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2018), 30. The assemblage-dispositif of Pratello aimed to work in two ways: locally and nationally.

Video8 or Hi8 cameras and the narrowcasting system allowed the squatters to interact with older inhabitants, confirming that they were not a threat and helping to encouraging everyone to join the block party. Pratello’s activists used technologies targeted to amateurs to document a moment in the life of a community: the inclusion of new members in the precarious situation of a house squat. In doing this, they exploited the portability of the hand-held camera, which can work as a prosthesis of its operator. The activists were able to create a space of interaction between the old and new inhabitants through tactical use of analog video.

This said, the aims of Pratello TV moved beyond the needs of Pratello’s community. The activists developed a media project within a national context; in 1990, the infamous “Mammì law”4See Irene Piazzoni, Storia delle televisioni in Italia. Dagli esordi alle web tv (Rome: Carocci, 2014), 181-185. was approved which consolidated the duopoly of the Italian public broadcast network (RAI) and the private network owned by Silvio Berlusconi. Creating a community/block TV aimed to deconstruct the “semiotic power” entailed by the pervasive broadcasting systems. Moreover, it meant to disrupt the communication strategies imposed by them by appropriating a part of their hardware, exploiting “shadow frequencies,” and tactically occupying the airwaves.

 

Cassettes from the PVEH Collection; photo documentation of the inventory procedures.

A Different Archive?

The audiovisual materials of PVEH seem to represent objects stemming from an enunciational collective agent operating in a post-mediatic society in which bidirectional or multidirectional relations between post-mediatic collectives would eventually take over the TV mass-media communication system.5We refer to the notion of “post-media” by Félix Guattari. More specifically, Guattari focused on the “new practices of subjectivation of a post-media”, which would be “facilitated by a concerted reappropriation of communicational and information technology, assuming that they increasingly allow for: 1) The formation of innovative forms of dialogue and collective interactivity and, eventually, a reinvention of democracy; 2) By means of the miniaturization and the personalization of equipments, a resingularization of the machinic mediatized means of expression; we can presume, on this subject, that it is the connection, through networking, of banks of data which will offer us the most surprising views; 3) The multiplication to infinity of “existential operators,” permitting access to mutant creative universes.” Félix Guattari, “Postmodern Deadlock and Post-Media Transition”, in Félix Guattari, Soft Subversions: Texts and Interviews 1977-1985 (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e) 2009), 299-300. We are talking here about a rhizomatic configuration: in Félix Guattari’s formulation, these groups work as a semiotic virus against any centripetal drive and for intensifying the complexity of a multicentre post-mediatic war.6Franco Berardi, Marco Jacquemet, Giancarlo Vitali, Telestreet: Macchina Immaginativa Non-Omologata, (Milan: Baldini Castoldi Dalai 2003), 141-149.

This post-mediatic war has been fought for many years now, leaving traces like discarded cameras and obsolescent magnetic tapes that need to be preserved and accessed. Thus, a major question arises that we’re compelled to answer: how can we archive these kinds of materials? This question, of course, concerns the epistemology of the archive. In fact, in thinking about the archive’s structure, we could say that our main goal is to be aware of the “rhizomatic map” that these materials draw. To operate on them in these terms means to examine them through a Guattarian theoretical framework: these analog videos should not lose their radicalism and be homogenized to archival records belonging to other institutional contexts. At the time of their production, these videos aimed to dismantle the status quo—the duopoly of the Italian broadcasting system. Nowadays they still have to bear witness to these aims when they enter the archive, finding a proper archival framework.

Thus, if we want these materials to maintain the same rhizomatic value when they enter the archive, we have to deconstruct the power relations within the archive by drawing on Derrida’s Archive Fever. The French philosopher affirms that there is not an archival set without archontic power. It is, first and foremost, a form of the power of consignation7Jacques Derrida, “Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression”, Diacritics, 25.2 (1995), 9-12.: the archive aims in fact to acquire documents (in our case, audiovisual materials and related documents) and to store them in a space segregated from their original production and screening contexts. From this point of view, the archive is an institution that eradicates and decontextualizes the documents both in an actual and metaphorical senses: the archival item is stored away from where it circulated originally, acquiring new meanings from new interpretations elaborated by archivists, which respond more to the archontic order than to rhizomatic features.

In order to preserve these features within the context of the archive we have to develop what Terry Cook and Joan Schwartz call “transgressive performances.” These archival theorists, accounting for Butler’s theory of performativity, affirm that “[y]et routinized performance/practice, and the beliefs/theories that sustain it […] can be shaken when social contexts become more fluid”8Terry Cook and Joan M. Schwartz, “Archives, Records, and Power: From (Postmodern) Theory to (Archival) Performance”, Archival Science, 2.3 (2002), 173.: archival practices, and their codes of behaviour and belief, depend on repetition and ritual, through which a form of  “naturalization” is established. This naturalization is the ground on which the “tacit narratives” of the archive gain a foothold and archival power resides. Transgressive performances challenge these processes of naturalization, affirming the importance of the specificity of the items over standardized practices and protocols. Thus, they “open new theoretical spaces and make old practices more inclusive.”9Diego Cavallotti and Elisa Virgili, “Queering the Amateur Analog Video Archive: the Case of Bologna’s Countercultural Life in the 80s and the 90s”, Cinema&Cie, 26-27 (2016), 104-105.

In the case of PVEH, where can the transgressive archival performances be located? How do they work rhizomatically? In this regard, we refer to two major domains: preservation and access. In terms of preservation, the issues at stake involve the creation of shared preservation protocols for rhizomatic collections. Preservation practices and procedures should be negotiated with the stakeholders (archives, gatekeepers, donors, and so on) case by case, reproducing the collective enunciation dynamics that represent the core of radical media communication. In the case of Pratello TV this means taking a collective responsibility for the protocols to be performed with the collections.

Concerning the second point, the notion of “wide access” is crucial: it transforms what is usually deemed a disposable good—an economic asset of the archive—into a “radical document.” In this sense, the rhizomatic record cannot be simply stored. When it becomes accessible, it becomes open to a wide range of hermeneutic manipulations. Researchers that link the archival record to unexpected historical and cultural phenomena mobilize new forms of history. Activists that connect the item to their lives (and their social networks), create new forms of memory. Archivists that relate collections to each other, give rise to new forms of archiviality.10See ibid, 104. This paragraph updates what has been previously stated in “Queering the Amateur Analog Video Archive”.

Still from Pratello TV narrowcast, 1992

Although the notion of wide access is extremely important, it should engage in dialogue with the ethical and legal issues posed by such audiovisual materials. Since they portray squatters and activists (albeit almost thirty years ago) these materials could be used for repressive purposes. Thus, wide access processes risk exposing social movement members to legal consequences. This is the reason why every exhibition/access program should be discussed with the original gatekeepers of the repository.

 

Conclusions

Through sharing preservation protocols and the notion of wide access, we can build two strong tools for radical archival practices. These tools help to smooth the transition from peculiar production and screening contexts such as social movements to the archive, avoiding a loss of historical information and meaning due to the item’s homogenization to archival standards.

Since the audiovisual materials produced within a social movement originally belong to an informal context, the loss of information can be problematic because it severs these materials from one of the few sources (at least, the most important) that can help historians and archivists to reconstruct their dispositif. What, for instance, was the reception context of the Pratello TV videos? How did this dispositif shape the spatial relationships mentioned earlier? In other words, if we decided to apply the notion of archontic power to the PVEH collection (and more specifically, to the “Pratello TV items”) we would probably clash against the stakeholders, who would not understand why videos generated by a creative collective effort—an enunciational collective agent— became a part of a hierarchical institution (the archive), following strict preservation and access procedures.

The importance of relying on transgressive performances, then, is to help the archivists to connect with the original production and screening contexts and to reproduce the core features of Pratello TV’s materials on a different scale, the archive, modifying its form and structure. This means that an archive is not a batch of fixed and neutral processes and practices. On the contrary, the ideological markers of the archive can be pinpointed, analyzed, and, if necessary, deconstructed through transgressive performances.

The control room of Pratello TV. Still from Pratello TV narrowcast, 1992

From this point of view, sharing preservation protocols and the notion of wide access are the first step into a new framework in which archival practices can be reshaped in order to match the features of an item and its political stances.

 

 

 

Notes   [ + ]

1. The acronym PVEH refers to the different sections of the collection. More precisely, P stands for Pantera movement and Pratello TV; V for Videogiornale; EH for Elicio Huerta Videomaking School. Throughout the years, the collection has been gatekept by Lino Greco, a videomaker and former activist, who deposited the videos at Home Movies – Italian National Amateur Film Archive.
2. For a general overview regarding Bologna’s radical scene, see Serafino D’Onofrio and Valerio Monteventi, Berretta Rossa: Storie di Bologna attraverso I centri sociali (Bologna: Pendragon, 2011).
3. Michael Goddard, Guerrilla Networks: An Anarchaeology of 1970s Radical Media Ecologies (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2018), 30.
4. See Irene Piazzoni, Storia delle televisioni in Italia. Dagli esordi alle web tv (Rome: Carocci, 2014), 181-185.
5. We refer to the notion of “post-media” by Félix Guattari. More specifically, Guattari focused on the “new practices of subjectivation of a post-media”, which would be “facilitated by a concerted reappropriation of communicational and information technology, assuming that they increasingly allow for: 1) The formation of innovative forms of dialogue and collective interactivity and, eventually, a reinvention of democracy; 2) By means of the miniaturization and the personalization of equipments, a resingularization of the machinic mediatized means of expression; we can presume, on this subject, that it is the connection, through networking, of banks of data which will offer us the most surprising views; 3) The multiplication to infinity of “existential operators,” permitting access to mutant creative universes.” Félix Guattari, “Postmodern Deadlock and Post-Media Transition”, in Félix Guattari, Soft Subversions: Texts and Interviews 1977-1985 (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e) 2009), 299-300.
6. Franco Berardi, Marco Jacquemet, Giancarlo Vitali, Telestreet: Macchina Immaginativa Non-Omologata, (Milan: Baldini Castoldi Dalai 2003), 141-149.
7. Jacques Derrida, “Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression”, Diacritics, 25.2 (1995), 9-12.
8. Terry Cook and Joan M. Schwartz, “Archives, Records, and Power: From (Postmodern) Theory to (Archival) Performance”, Archival Science, 2.3 (2002), 173.
9. Diego Cavallotti and Elisa Virgili, “Queering the Amateur Analog Video Archive: the Case of Bologna’s Countercultural Life in the 80s and the 90s”, Cinema&Cie, 26-27 (2016), 104-105.
10. See ibid, 104. This paragraph updates what has been previously stated in “Queering the Amateur Analog Video Archive”.

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