Visual Sensations VJ competition

Report: Juha Huuskonen
Photos: Jenni Valorinta & Juha Huuskonen
(image urls contain the name of the photographer)

Visual Sensations was the first national VJ competition held in Netherlands and Belgium. Both countries have a vibrant VJ scene and the competition featured an impressive selection of performances which had been created with great skill and dedication.

The competition was a very ambitious project, consisting of 8 semi-finals in different venues around Netherlands and Belgium + the grand finale in Melkweg in Amsterdam. In connection with the final event in Amsterdam there was an exhibition (titled ‘Wonderwall’), VJ software presentations and a panel discussion (which I unfortunately had to skip since it was held in Dutch).

The Wonderwall exhibition featured work from pioneers such as Nam June Paik and the Vasulkas but also very recent VJ DVDs and music videos. The exhibition design worked very well - there were several rooms dedicated for a single piece of work (projected on the wall) and a tv-room where tv sets were placed so that people could either focus on one screen or quickly check out several ones (photos below).

VJ software presentations + Wonderwall exhibition

I appreciated the organizers’ decision to make selections through a series of semi-finals. This emphasized the fact that VJing is a form of performance which cannot be properly evaluated just based on the output on the screen (there have also been several VJ competitions which have been put together in this way - the selections have been made solely based on demo tapes). The grande finale took place in an ‘authentic club environment’, the Melkweg club in Amsterdam which was packed with audience and therefore hot and noisy …as it should be :)

I had been invited to participate the grand finale jury and therefore had to take a close look at all the performances. The breaks between the performances were very short - approximately 15 minutes - which was a challenge for the jury work, we had to spend all the minutes efficiently so that all five of us had time to tell our opinions and to give a ‘grade’ for each show.

Preparing for the show

I was told that in the semi-final competitions there usually had been a clear winner - one of the performances had stood out in its original concept and style. Therefore in the finale we had 8 very different shows which were extremely difficult to compare. All of them had some special qualities which other performances lacked. The process of choosing the winner became a process of trying to come to an agreement of what are the essential qualities in VJing and how can these be evaluated. Luckily there were several prices to give out so in the end the jury was able to make the decisions, quite a bit late from the planned schedule… but still on the same night when the audience was still there :)

The 1st prize was divided between SF&L and Drifter TV, the second prize went to mnk and the third prize to Resistance Electronique.

The personal highlights of the evening for me were….

- SF&L was using different liquids, tools and materials (overhead projector slides etc) to make an analogue video mix which was combined with a digital typography & VJ show… There have been liquid mixing shows around since forever (even before video technology was introduced) but in this case the special thing was the relationship between the digital and analogue world…. This performance reminded me of the whole genre of experimental typography scene which was very active in the nineties (especially the work of tomato)… The difference was that SF&L was doing this with live video instead of print…. And the show seemed to be mostly improvised, trying to establish a dialogue with the DJ…

- mnk was a very minimalistic show, using only black-and-white animations which resemble pictures you might be drawing on the sides of your notebook… For some reason I enjoyed this show a lot, especially the sound scape was fantastic… But I guess in its minimalism this might have been the least favourite show of the audience…

- Drifter TV had a very impressive show, a full cinematic animation experience which they must have spent ages working on… The show also had a strong (even though quite straightforward) story element to it, the earth being colonnised by outer space boy scouts… or something :)

What I didn’t like about the Drifter TV show was the fact that it was a very linear show, there was very little left for improvisation…. But there was one moment which I thought was very powerful - the performer made a grand gesture to press a key and on the screen the head of a boy scout was drowned in water… and was released only when he decided to release the key. This was repeated a couple of times and the performer was searching for a response from the audience - whether the audience wanted the boy to be drowned or not. This worked very well in linking the screen, performers and audience together…

- the organisation of imagination was also a very linear show but extremely well prepared, I think this was the best show in terms of professionally produced video material and editing…

- SXNDRX was a fight between a man and woman - the characters on the two screens were cursing to one another (and the two same characters were also on stage, using their laptops as their weapons)…. A nice and simple concept, surprising and entertaining…

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As a summary, all the performances were very well prepared and captured the attention of the audience… All the practical arrangements went smoothly and I think this was a good experience for everyone who was involved… Although I can imagine that there were (and maybe still are) a lot of discussions afterwards of who won and why and who should have won and why… Which I guess is always the case when prizes are given out in a creative context… It’s a bit superficial to give awards for the ‘best’ performances but on the other hand the competition element does give an additional edge to the event and I assume also helped in digging out some of the bright talents of the Dutch and Belgian VJ community.

PixelACHE Festival would like to thank Visual Sensations for a fruitful collaboration! In addition to the SF&L performance at PixelACHE 2005 we also featured a presentation from Annet Dekker (Netherlands Media Art Institute, Montevideo) who has done an extensive research on VJing (check out the VJ Culture article from Annet in the PixelACHE 2005 publication).


Visual Kitchen

the organisation of imagination


Subliminal Mess.


Resistance Electronique

Drifter TV

Competition winners: Resistance Electronique (top-left), mnk (top-right), SF&L and Drifter TV