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Now-Time Venezuela, Part 2: Revolutionary Television in Catia / MATRIX 221

May 14, 2006 - July 16, 2006

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Catia TVe crew in Isaac Medina, western Caracas.

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Catia TVe crew in Isaac Medina, western Caracas.

Download the exhibition brochure (PDF) in English or Spanish.

Now-Time Venezuela
is a yearlong cycle of projects in solidarity with the Bolivarian revolution in today’s Venezuela. Since 1998, the year of Hugo Chávez’s election to the presidency, Venezuela has been undergoing a profound process of social and political change, reaching to all levels of society. The role of the Now-Time cycle is to support and contribute to this process, while at the same time, as a secondary objective, advancing a theory of art and culture: that cultural products find their creative agency in alignment with broader processes of political and economic transformation.

Following on the presentation of Dario Azzellini and Oliver Ressler’s 5 Factories—Worker Control in Venezuela, a selection of the work of the community television station Catia TVe constitutes the second chapter in the Now-Time cycle. Independent media channels such as Catia TVe, which operates out of western Caracas, have become a central part of everyday life in Venezuela, where they contest a mainstream media landscape characterized by extreme misrepresentation of the political process and popular activism (this parallels global media trends). Contrary to the expectations generated by some media theorists, capitalist journalism has been unable to secure the docility of the Venezuelan people. Instead, there has been an explosion in practices of self-representation, from workers with video cameras documenting their own struggles, to an array of newly formed media collectives, to the more recent emergence of state-sponsored alternatives such as ViVe and Telesur.

Though Catia TVe once did limited guerilla broadcasts with an improvised transmitter, the new Venezuelan telecommunications laws of 1999 and 2000, together with some state support, have shifted its position into one of greater empowerment and means. Today the station broadcasts fourteen hours per day, operates a well-equipped editing facility and powerful transmitter, and maintains a substantial equipment inventory for loan. Catia TVe is a true television “channel” in the sense that some 70 to 80 percent of its programming is produced by small groups of community organizers and activists (Equipo Comunitario de Producción Audiovisual Independiente or ECPAI) who have taken part in workshops that the station offers. Aware that one cannot subtract class interests from operations that aim to reflect the voice of the people, the Catia TVe staff interviews potential ECPAI groups to determine if their practices are indeed collective. Thus they filter out entrepreneurial and right-wing agendas. The mainstays of this practice are theories of popular communication, such as those of Paolo Freire and Mario Kaplún, that reject the role of the journalist as a mediator between the people and their own reality.

Revolutionary Television in Catia samples the work facilitated by the station and also includes two newly commissioned works made especially for the exhibition: a self-reflexive piece describing Catia TVe’s working methods, and a series of messages for the people of the United States from the Catia barrio. For two weeks the selections will run in a gallery adjacent to Ressler and Azzellini’s documentary 5 Factories. That multi-screen projection, which closes on May 28, creates a literally and figuratively immersive environment, a common space of ideas and words that is continuous with the discursive spaces of mass intellectuality opened up by the Bolivarian revolution. The principal topic of discussion in the Azzellini and Ressler project is ownership of the means of production, which is a feature not just discussed but instantiated by Catia TVe’s work.

While it would be a mistake to lose sight of the specificity of the Catia TVe example, some parts of its lesson are extendable. If 5 Factories emphasizes a working mode that could be called “aligned realism”—media producers connecting to creative political struggles in the world, where they function as co-creators of the new world that revolutionary activity brings into being—Catia TVe's example turns on the new social relations that are central to any revolutionary process. For it is not enough for a media group to aim to present accurate information, even less to operate empowering technology. Rather, its key “technology” must be a set of new social relations, which for media means primarily participation. (As Lenin argued, electricity plus soviets equals the revolution.) This is the area where Catia TVe works, and the reason that its participatory function rapidly shades into a revolutionary one. Today this revolutionary role, as a promoter of social and political change from the base up, is one that the station has taken on with a new urgency.

Chris Gilbert
Phyllis Wattis MATRIX Curator

The MATRIX Program at the UC Berkeley Art Museum is made possible by the generous endowment gift of Phyllis C. Wattis.

Additional donors to the MATRIX Program include the UAM Council MATRIX Endowment, Maryellen Herringer, and Noel Nellis.