An ongoing investigation

In 2018, argos launched an investigation into the first experiments with artist film and video in Belgium in the 1970s. We were approaching an important moment in art historiography: the first generation of “video pioneers” was getting older while their films and video tapes were affected by the passage of time. The story of those first audio-visual experiments was in danger of being lost. But how do you map out such a story? How do you “capture” a period that wanted to rid itself of any kind of categorisation? Starting from the rich source material available, we looked for key figures and artists, people who wanted to tell their version of that story, and we asked them a number of questions that determined the first phase of the research:

How did they produce their work? Where and how were their video works presented? How should the work be shown in the future, with different technological conditions and means? Was their video work meant to be preserved at all? Which figures were important for the development of video in Belgium? To what extent were they internationally connected with other art scenes? Whom did they collaborate with? Where was the dividing line between film and video?

Through interviews, we discovered artists who had remained unnoticed until now. They led us to other artists and other films and videos that had not yet been digitised. Slowly but surely, an artistic network emerged that approached the medium “video” in the 1970s in Belgium with curiosity. In this audiovisual landscape, means of production and viewing locations were decisive factors. For this, the cities of Antwerp and Liège formed the most important geocultural axis in Belgium. However, thanks to our research findings, we were able to recognise some other places too, for instance, Brussels, Namur, Aalst, and Knokke.

After the first phase of the project was completed, we started digitising the works we had discovered. Based on our research process, we drew up an inventory: a list of works that could not be found in our or other audiovisual collections in Belgium. Searching for the artists and/or their heirs, we succeeded in locating a considerable number of tapes and films. In collaboration with the digitisation labs VECTRACOM, CINEMATEK, and Onno Petersen, we digitised the found films and videos. This way, we could fill several gaps in our collection and bring many relevant artists back into the limelight.

However, with this publication we do not wish to propose an end point or a canon. For this, the particular practices we were looking at were too erratic and exploratory. Instead, we thought it essential to emphasise the openness in nature of many of these intermediary experiments. Throughout our extensive research trajectory, as well as during interviews with artists and key figures, new names, references, and films kept cropping up, showing that even in a period during which video experiments remained relatively limited, there was more happening than expected. That’s why we consider our research results merely as a starting point: we would like to invite students, researchers, academics, artists, and critics to continue working with this fascinating period and to keep the experimental film and video heritage of the 1970s “alive”. Simultaneously, we would like to encourage other art institutions to start working with their audiovisual collection while they still can. Perhaps there are still unknown gems hidden.

Utopia vs. footnote

Any research project is arbitrary and incomplete. We delineated the years from 1970 to 1979 as our focus period, fully aware that other time divisions could be just as meaningful. Marcel Broodthaers had already paved the way for film in an exhibition context in the 1960s, while other Belgian artists were also intrigued by moving images. During Konrad Fisher’s exhibition Prospekt ‘71: Projection in Düsseldorf, Jacques Charlier, Marcel Broodthaers, and Robert Stéphane met the German artist and filmmaker Gerry Schum. Because of Schum’s enthusiasm, the possibilities of video suddenly began to dawn on his Belgian colleagues. There was something utopian about the new medium, and more specifically about the introduction of the portable Portapak camera: people, and therefore also artists, suddenly had a mass medium in their hands. Video was a “light” format and videotapes could be copied and distributed relatively easily. Jacques Charlier, one of the first artists to fully embrace the new medium, expressed that sentiment like this:

With Gerry Schum leading the way, we cherished the illusion that we would duplicate our works, that we would be free, and that we would make art accessible to everyone.

From 1970 onwards, Guy Jungblut, Yellow Now’s gallery owner, his spouse Andrée Blavier, and the artist Jacques Lizène became aware of the possibilities of the new medium. In 1970, the American-Japanese artist Shinkichi Tajiri used a Portapak camera to record several performances in Yellow Now, including ones by Otto Muehl. This led to the very first video event in Belgium, Propositions d’artistes pour un circuit fermé de télévision, in the same gallery in 1971. Looking at the artists’ sheets with the submitted proposals, one immediately can see the utopian potential of the emerging medium.

It would be a gross misrepresentation to say that everyone in the art world was seduced into working with video. “Videokunst: het lelijke eendje [Video Art: The Ugly Duckling]” read a headline in De Standaard in 1977, followed by the unmistakable opening line: “Videokunst is een zorgenkind [Video art is a problem child]”. According to the author, art institutions lacked the necessary equipment for production and presentation. But also many artists that are regarded as Belgian pioneers indicate that their relationship to video was one of mere curiosity, ignorance, or even discomfort. “Video was like a tube of paint”, Leo Copers states in an interview. On the other hand, Luc Deleu proclaims: “It was a period during which artists tried out other means, but also everything at the same time. I think film and video were part of that.” Video, in this respect, was just “one of many means”, worth as much as a “tube of paint”: as long as ideas were being conveyed to the viewers. At the same time, the author of the article in De Standaard has a point: many art spaces lacked adequate material, and when it was available, there was a lack of necessary expertise. Audiovisual work was often presented “at the back in a separate room”, with several videos showing in a loop on a single screen (as in Guy de Bruyn’s Videogalerie in the Rue du Bailli/Baljuwstraat in Brussels), or was just an afterthought. Video as a footnote.

Defining an end point of the early audiovisual experiments is just as problematic. For Flor Bex, director of the ICC (International Cultural Centre) in Antwerp and a pioneer of the emerging video scene, attention for the medium already started waning around 1977. As Johan Pas states after an interview with Bex: “(…) the evolution from conceptual-experimental video art to more narrative and filmic video art does not appeal to him (Bex, Ed.) and strikes him as unreal.” Many visual artists also lost interest. Lili Dujourie puts it as follows: “I was not a video artist. I used video because the medium suited my thoughts, where I wanted to go, what I wanted to say. As soon as video became ‘video’, it was over for me.” In the late 1970s, production techniques and materials became increasingly sophisticated and many artists dropped out. But as pointed out by Bex, in the 1980s a different approach emerged, which was also related to the institutionalisation of the arts sector. The time of the early utopian experiments was over.

Production means

In 1970, Guy Jungblut and Jacques Lizène got their hands on a Sony Portapak camera through their collaboration with artist Shinkichi Tajiri. However, when they went looking for a similar camera for the Propositions d’artistes pour un circuit fermé de télévision, things turned out to be not so straightforward. They were able to obtain surveillance equipment via Phillips: a camera, a player, and a monitor provided a closed circuit for the artists to work with. After two days, however, technical malfunctions made continuity impossible, and many “propositions” could no longer be realised. Reliable and readily usable production facilities were the Achilles’ heel of Belgian video production in the early 1970s.

Here and there a few private individuals did have the necessary financial means. For instance, Fernand Spillemaeckers, owner of the MTL gallery in Brussels, bought a Portapak early on. This led to Lili Dujourie’s first experiments with the medium between 1972 and 1978, such as Madrigal (1975) and Effen spiegel van een stille stroom (1976). Roger D’Hondt, founder of the New Reform Gallery in Aalst, saw the possibilities of the new medium early on after he had become acquainted with Gerry Schum and his concept of a “televisual exhibition” called Fernsehgalerie. Several international artists experimented with the medium in D’Hondt’s gallery, including Raoul Marroquin and Michel Cardena. When D’Hondt organised a video weekend in 1974, he also made production tools available to artists. Through I.T.A. Electronics, he rented a monitor, a camera, a playback device, and an editing studio. However, only two artists actually made use of this equipment: Eric De Volder and Johan Dehollander. According to D’Hondt, the video weekend was a failure because artists had too little technical knowledge to work with video themselves in Belgium.

Nevertheless, the International Cultural Centre in Antwerp was pivotal with regards to production and presentation means, as well as with the necessary technical know-how regarding video. From the early 1970s onward, director Flor Bex imported audiovisual equipment from Argentina, where his friend Jorge Glusberg, director of the Centro de Arte y Comunicación (CAYC), owned an electronics factory. Together with cameraman and production assistant Chris Goyvaerts, who also worked at the ICC, Bex mounted experiments under the pseudonym Hubert Van Es. He thought this was a better way of helping other artists out. In 1974, Bex bought additional equipment and slowly built a studio in the ICC cellars: Continental Video was born.

Jan Debbaut, who at the time ran the video department with Bex and Jean-Paul Coenen, confirms that the not-for-profit organisation Continental Video soon ran like a well-lubricated machine: “You could describe the beginning of video as a triangular relationship. There was Flor Bex with his network, Lu Van Orshoven from Luvox (an electronics company), and the studio in the ICC basement. That includes the hardware, the software, the people, and the budget of the ICC. That triangle got video going.” Mark Verstockt’s 5 Acts on Screen (1975) was the first video produced at the ICC. Flemish artists like Danny Matthys, Leo Copers and Lili Dujourie but also Walloon artists Jacques Louis Nyst and Jacques Lennep and international artists Dan Graham, Lea Lublin and Fred Forest made grateful use of the equipment in Antwerp, which, thanks to Bex’s international network, soon grew into an important European hub for video production, alongside Art/Tapes/22 in Florence and the Lijnbaancentrum in Rotterdam.

The Liège Groupe CAP (Cercle d’Art Prospectif) also visited the ICC regularly. They were on good terms with with Flor Bex, and videos like Jacques Lennep’s Une poussière dans l’œil (1975) and Jacques Louis Nyst’s Ombrelle descendant un escalier (1976) were made with the help of Chris Goyvaerts. In the early 1970s, Groupe CAP also worked with Raymond Zone’s local Brussels video studio Video Chain but after a while, their collaboration was discontinued. Lennep, Lizène, Nyst, and Courtois connected with the RTC, the Liège branch of RTBF, through Annie Lummerzheim. In 1976 Robert Stéphane, another main player in the scene who was impressed by his meeting with Gerry Schum, launched the Vidéographie TV-programme. For ten years, under the leadership of Paul Paquay, Annie Lummerzheim, and Jean-Paul Tréfois, it would be an important showcase for experimental video and film on television. Artists such as Jacques Charlier (Desperados Music, 1979) and Frank Van Herck (Twins, 1979) were given the chance to develop their work with sophisticated television equipment. Internationally renowned video artists such as Léa Lublin, Antonio Muntadas, and Steina & Woody Vasulka were also featured in the programme.

Some cultural centres, especially on the Walloon side, also had the necessary resources available. Groupe Ruptz, for example, used some of the available production means of the cultural centre in Namur. All in all, the influence of the centres remained limited during the 1970s. It is important to note, however, that many artists who were interested in video did not have access to equipment, so they ended up working with Super 8 or 16 mm in the end. The blurred lines between film and video were often and consciously explored. For instance, Chris Goyvaerts was also the cameraman for Ludo Mich’s controversial Lysistrata (1976), a soft-porn feature film with Nicole Van Goethem, Ria Pacquée, and Daniël Weinberger, shot in the basement of the ICC. Said blurred lines also become evident in the continuous screening on the top floor at argos: a series of films makes clear that the distinction between film and video was not always easy to make. For instance, Yves De Smet’s Yes and No (1974) touches on the boundaries of film as registration, film within an art context, and the relation of film to video.


Propositions d’artistes pour un circuit fermé de télévision, the first video event in Belgium, took place in the Yellow Now gallery in Liège in 1971. This event did not entail merely video registrations but emphasised closed circuits instead, a distinction that Roger D’Hondt considers important: “Either one shows a video that exists (recorded video, Ed.), or one creates a work (video installation/circuit, Ed.). There is a big difference between the two. I could of course show a video of Joseph Beuys performing something in New York but I wasn’t really interested in that sort of thing. Rather, I wanted to see something created.” The problematic place that video occupied in the art world is also evident from its presence at EXPRMNTL 5 in Knokke in 1974. Nam June Paik’s famous TV Buddha (1974), among other works, was on show there. Film and video were at loggerheads: some vilified video, others embraced the new medium.

In general, there was little enthusiasm for video presentation. Newspapers and magazines were often not very positive about the new medium, and few knew how to contextualise it within the context of a risk taking, adventurous contemporary visual art practice. The magazine +/- 0, founded by the Rona family, was one of the few Belgian magazines that embraced the new medium. Some critics described how galleries like Yellow Now, MTL, and VEGA explored the possibilities of audiovisual presentation. Nevertheless, video never became dominant in these places either. “In exhibition venues, there was usually only a small corner for video compared to the other works of art”, states Jacques Lennep.

However, some events were specifically aimed at new media. In Jan Vercruysse’s gallery, Elsa von Honolulu-Loringhoven in Ghent, Yves De Smet organised the event Art as Film, during which films, videos, and slides were presented alongside one another. Even though it was held on the fringes of the commercial art world, and focused on a group of insiders, the event did present a stimulating overview of the artists experimenting with these new media in Belgium.

Yet there were also other important events, such as the Continental Film and Video Tour in 1973. The artists’ collective Artworker Foundation (with Chris Goyvaerts, Luc Deleu, Hugo Heyrman, and Filip Francis, among others) transformed a large, white Tomado company van into a mobile cinema. They travelled through Flanders with an extensive programme of experimental film and video. Another decisive moment in the presentation of video was the major exhibition Artists Video Tapes in the Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels from 25 February to 16 March 1975. Michel Baudson, one of the key figures in the development of the Belgian video scene, based his selection of artists on the exhibitions Impact Art Vidéo in Lausanne and Art Video Confrontation 74 in Paris, on which he elaborated with a selection of national and international artists. In the exhibition spaces, various monitors were set up, surrounded by plastic sheeting to suggest a sense of transparency and intimacy. Baudson also brought widely known video artists to Brussels, including Vito Acconci, Valie Export, Fred Forest, David Hall, Martha Rosler, and Steina & Woody Vasulka. It also featured an analytical introductory text by the renowned critic René Berger, making Artist Video Tapes one of the most exhaustive and influential video exhibitions of the 1970s.

The fifth International Encounter on Video Art took place a year later at the ICC in Antwerp. The “Video Encounters” were an initiative of Jorge Glusberg of the CAYC in Buenos Aires. These were large-scale travelling events showing the diversity of video worldwide, combined with lectures and group discussions about the new medium and its place in the (art) world.

At the end of the 1970s, the focus shifted back to Liège, where the interdisciplinary arts centre Cirque Divers was a cultural hotbed for video and other arts. Vidéo ? Vous avez dit vidéo ? emphasized experimental film and video and was co-organised by four players from Liège: Jeunesses artistiques de Wallonie, the RTC (Radio Télévision Culture), RTBF (Radio Télévision Belge de la Communauté française) with the Vidéographie broadcast, and Cirque Divers. The first event took place on a ship at the Saucy footbridge from 22 to 27 September 1978, with works by artists Nam June Paik, Joan Jonas, and Bill Viola, among others. This was followed in 1979 by an overview of Belgian video art featuring Lili Dujourie, Barbara and Michael Leisgen, Gary Bigot, and others.

The artist collective

“The Montfaucon Research Centre made all those films but we were painters, poets, illustrators, graphic designers. We had very few resources available but our work didn’t cost much either. We just lived like that”, says Joelle de La Casinière about the house she worked and lived in. In an era of scarce resources and little government funding, artistic collaborations were logical and necessary. At the Montfaucon Research Centre, Joëlle de La Casinière could combine her interest in film with other media, including graphic arts and music. With Sophie Podolski, Jacques Lederlin, Michel Bonnemaison, and others, she built an artists’ place where different disciplines came together, and where someone was always present with a camera.

Artists’ collectives were at the heart of the first experiments with video. For instance, the Artworker Foundation in Antwerp, which included Hugo Heyrman, Luc Deleu, and Filip Francis, organised in 1973 the Continental Film and Video Tour, an event from which later Continental Video emerged. Some members of this collective were also part of De Nieuwe Coloristen, a colourful group of artists who were mainly interested in happenings but also set up a “film club” and transformed a bunker on the beach into a wondrous Inkpot (1971), while filming the entire process.

On the other side of Belgium’s language border, Jacques Lennep, Jacques Lizène, Pierre Courtois, Jacques Evrard, and Jacques Louis Nyst launched Groupe CAP in 1973. Jacques Evrard often worked as cameraman; but Jacques Louis Nyst also regularly took on this role. Their collaborations emphasise the importance of collaborative work when shooting films with technologically complex and exceedingly heavy equipment.

Other collectives that ventured into video were Groupe Ruptz from Namur, even though they mainly created live installations, such as Triptyque (1976) and Expérience du présent (1975). Registration was of no importance for them. Marc Borgers, Jean-Louis Sbille, and Anne Frère made good use of the available equipment in the cultural centre of Namur. More geographically dispersed collectives such as Groupe 50/04 and Mass Moving seemed less interested in video as an independent medium and focused more on merely recording their large-scale actions.

Individual artists often did not work alone. Barbara and Michael Leisgen worked collaboratively as a couple from the very beginning. Together, they created Sonnenlinie (1976) and Still Life (1970—1971). Jacques Louis Nyst had already been working with Danièle Nyst for a significant time but it was not until the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s that they appeared as a duo, crediting the work to both artists. Many women, who often worked behind the scenes as camerawomen or editors, were not or only on rare occasions recognised as artistic contributors. Edith Dewitt authored works in her name but also worked on films by Eric De Volder and Boris Lehman. Her work did not always receive the recognition it deserved. Anne Frère, a member of Groupe Ruptz, has not always been mentioned correctly in the history of the collective. In his exhaustive thesis on Groupe Ruptz, Pierre-Olivier Rollin nevertheless writes: “Borgers and Sbille acknowledge that Ruptz could have existed without one of them, but never without Anne Frère.” Nicole Forsbach not only worked as the editor of Jacques Charlier’s Film collectif pour la Biennale de Paris de 1971 avec des séquences de Walter Swennen, Guy Mees, Leo Josefstein, Jacques Charlier, Bernd Lohaus, Panamarenko (1971), but she was also the founder of the Art/Actualité organisation in Liège where she programmed quite a few film screenings, including Christo’s Valley Curtain (1974). And Geneviève van Cauwenberge was the driving force behind Vidéo ? Vous avez dit vidéo ? at Cirque Divers in Liège.


Video as a stand-alone medium nevertheless remained a rarity during the 1970s. It was used in larger installations, often alternating with slides, photos, and other documents in order to tell a larger story. A fine example of this is Philippe Van Snick’s installation Ping Pong. He made stills from the film Scores (1973) and then filmed those again as a video. In this work, Van Snick seems to be exploring the “duplication” quality of video (to obtain a quick, direct result) rather than questioning the technicity of the medium or expanding its artistic possibilities.

Other works wavered even more between video as an independent medium and as mere registration. Especially in performance art, many artists were exploring the possibilities of video for the presentation of short-lived happenings and events. Frank Van Herck’s Do You Like Body Art? (1977) problematises this intermediary relationship. The performance showed artist Daniel Weinberger performing a bodybuilding act; only the bodybuilder was not carrying weights but two monitors on which his own image appeared. In this way, Weinberger actually lifted his own image. Filip Francis’ Solo for Tumbling Woodblocks (1975), an event during which a careful placement of woodblock was tumbling down, simultaneously recorded the action, which the artist repeated several times, including in Antwerp’s ICC and the Neue Galerie—Sammlung Ludwig in Aachen. On a Super 8 film, we see a registration that shows the performance as well as the video.

The relationship between performance and video reached its apex during the 1978 Performance Art Festival. At the Beursschouwburg in Brussels, Roger D’Hondt brought together national and international artists, with Michael Laub and Edmondo Za (Maniac Productions), Grietje Goris, Hugo Roelandt, and others using video as part of their performance practice.

Jacques Charlier’s Terril (1978) also cleverly played with video. While visitors were listening to his eponymous punk band Terril perform, the camera filmed the concert as drawn by Charlier in a comic strip. Like other artists, Charlier explored the possibilities of video as an easily distributable medium, similar to comic strips and other books. Ludo Mich, in a similar way, made a “film in book form” with 4 (1972). Guy Schraenen, a distributor of art books and later on one of the pioneers of mail art, occasionally added a Super 8 film for the people who purchased his magazine A.X.E.

Video above all struggled to gain a foothold in art history, even though the young medium perfectly fitted in with the registration of performances and other events, and matched well with the zeitgeist of Fluxus and Land Art, which prioritised the dematerialisation of art. In Hommage à... (1972) and other video works, Lili Dujourie hinted at the painterly nude; in Mona Lisa, Mona Leo (1974—1975), Leo Copers parodied Leonardo Da Vinci’s best-known work; and artist and art historian Jacques Lennep wholeheartedly entered into a dialogue with painting. The latter’s strongest artistic statement was Vive la Peinture (1975), in which he “painted with video”.

This pursued interdisciplinarity perhaps best describes the ambiguous relationship artists maintained to video throughout the 1970s. It emphasises the precarious and often experimental role the medium played at the time before it developed into fully-fledged video art and decidedly outgrew its infancy in the 1980s.

Dagmar Dirkx
The 1970s

Dagmar Dirkx, Niels Van Tomme

Dagmar Dirkx, Sofie Ruysseveldt, Erien Withouck

Image research
Emma Vranken, Daniel De Decker

Text editing
Anthony Blampied, Dagmar Dirkx, Inge Coolsaet, Laurence Alary, Niels Van Tomme, Björn Gabriëls

Gorik de Henau (NL), Anne Lessebi (FR), Björn Gabriëls (EN)

Website Coordination
Emilie Legrand

Concept and graphic design
Studio Le Roy Cleeremans


Niels Van Tomme / argos vzw

M HKA / ICC, New Reform Gallery / Roger D’Hondt, KMSKB, BOZAR, Art & Actualité, Jacques Charlier, Joëlle de La Casinière, Eric de Moffarts, Geneviève van Cauwenberge, argos, SONUMA

Johan Pas, Beeldenstorm in een spiegelzaal. Het ICC en de actuele kunst 1970—1990, Lannoo Campus, 2005, 300 p. Jean-Michel Botquin (dir.), Le jardin du paradoxe. Regards sur le cirque divers à Liège, Yellow Now / Côté Arts, 2018, 448 p.

Onno Petersen, D/arch, CINEMATEK, VECTRACOM

argos thanks
Andrea Cinel, Anne-Marie Rona, ArtTouché, Chris Pype, Dominique Castronovo, Eric de Moffarts, Evi Bert, Guy Jungblut, Jean-Michel Botquin, Joanne Jaspart, Katarzyna Ruchel-Stockmans, Lastpost / Fabri3Q, Leen Bosch, Liesbeth Duvekot, Maryse Tastenhoye, Nadja Vilenne, Sandy Reynaerts, Veronique Cardon and all the artists, curators and researchers involved in the research project

This is argos
Amit Leblang, Anaïs Bonroy, Anne Leclercq, Dagmar Dirkx, Daria Szewczuk, Dušica Dražić, Eden Lamaizi, Femke De Valck, Francisco Correia, Guy Verbist, Hadrien Gerenton, Iakovos Sierifis, Indigo Deijmann, Inge Coolsaet, Isaac Moss, Jana Van Brussel, Jonas Beerts, Julie Van Houtte, Julia Wielgus, Katia Rossini, Katoucha Ngombe, Kevin Gallagher, Kianoosh Motallebi, Laurence Alary, Mar Badal, Maryam K Hedayat, Mélanie Musisi, Natalya Ivannikova, Niels Van Tomme, Rafael Pamplona, Riet Coosemans, Sander Moyson, Stijn Schiffeleers, Viktor Simonis, Yoko Theeuws

This is rile
Chloe Chignell, Sven Dehens

argos thanks the board 
Johan Blomme, Katerina Gregos, Olivier Auvray, Suzanne Capiau, Tom Bonte

Cinema Nova, M HKA, CINEMATEK, VUB, KMSKB, Meemoo

WIth the support of Flanders State of the Art, Eidotech, VGC Vlaamse Gemeenschapscommissie, Vlaams Audiovisueel Fonds, Government of the Brussels Capital Region, Embassy of the Netherlands, Embassy of Slovenia, Instituto Italiano di Cultura