Piazza Virtuale

Piazza Virtuale/Van Gogh TV


During the documenta 9 in 1992, Piazza Virtuale was on the air daily for 100 days, live via 3SAT, the Olympus Satellite, and on FAB Berlin. More than 15,000 active users participated in the program, and a total of more than 200,000 viewers saw each transmission. They conversed, wrote, painted, composed music, made contacts and threaded together a self-generating artwork. Live connections from and to many countries of western and eastern Europe, the USA and Japan made a worldwide on-screen dialogue possible.

Each viewer could phone the live program and interact with other viewers. VGTV invented a simple telephone interface that allowed the television audience to experience TV as an interactive medium, allowing the normally passive TV watcher the chance to control the program. In addition, Piazza Virtuale brought together groups of artists working in countries around Europe and Eastern Europe, in a program block Piazzettas. These artists were incorporated into the project as both remote participants, and as real, in person partners in Kassel, providing some their first Western experience.


The Ponton development team (from the European Media Art Lab in Hamburg) moved to Kassel in June 1992, and continued to develop program blocks throughout the broadcast schedule. Reactions to user participation was a continuous consideration, and blocks such as the ”˜Interactive Orchestra’, ”˜Virtual Studio’, ”˜Coffeehouse’, and ”˜Media Landscape’ were only a few of the interactive segments that were expanded and presented as a step by step process.

In this way, the Piazza Virtuale was a work-in-progress that did not end with the last day on air from Kassel. On the basis of the experiences made in Kassel, further programming was made at the Mediale festival over the Hamburg cable system, and in Japan with NHK.



Despite the lack of advertising or advance publicity, around 5,000 people phoned in the first day. Within Piazza’s first fifteen minutes on the air, Van Gogh TV faced its first case of abusive racism. A censor button was rapidly rigged up, but even this fix was quickly turned into a creative feature by callers who attempted to probe how far they could go without being kicked off.

The next day, 100,000 people called, and the lines remained consistently busy for the rest of the summer, at the end of which some 130,000 callers had gotten on the air, putting about US$1 million in connect charges into the coffers of Deutsche Telekom (DT), the German telephone company.

There were no journalists, talking heads, or moderators. Besides the BBS, viewers could control a camera inside Van Gogh TV’s studios (hanging from a robot mounted on tracks on the studio ceiling) by punching their touch-tone telephone pads, which appeared on-screen as navigational consoles. The wandering camera became an extension of the viewer’s eye, able to chase and interrogate the broadcast technicians and artists as they stepped gingerly through the thicket of equipment. And it was all live, broadcast on two satellites.

The DM2.5 million funding for Piazza came from the Austrian Government, the city of Hamburg, Electronic Data Systems, and DT. Apple and others donated equipment; ZDF donated 350 hours of satellite time.


- The Piazettas Graz and Vienna linked via ISDN, modem and slow scan picturephones.
- The Piazetta Nagoya (Japan) linked via satellite from Asia to Europe.
- The Piazetta Milano linked via ISDN, modem and slow scan picturephones.
- The Piazetta Moscow linked via satellite to Kassel.
- The German Piazettas, located in Hamburg, Berlin, Cologne and Bremen linked via ISDN, ISDN picturephones, modems and slow scan picturephones.
- The Piazetta Riga linked via satellite, modem and slow scan picture phone.
- The Piazetta Ljubliana linked via modem and slow scan picture phone.
- The Piazetta Zuerich linked via ISDN picture phone, modem and slow scan picture phone.
- The Piazettas Paris and Portier linked via ISDN picture phone, modem and slow scan picture phone.
- The Piazetta Prag was linked via modem and slow scan picture phone.


Dieses Projekt war ebenso erfolgreich wie umstritten. Zum einen war dies der erste größere öffentliche Feldversuch in interaktivem Fernsehen in Europa, vielleicht sogar weltweit. Die Gruppe zeigte, daß künstlerischer Pioniergeist Mangel an Resourcen ausgleichen konnte und daß die Künstler nicht nur an Ideen sondern auch an Realisationsvermögen bezüglich interaktivem Fernsehen der Industrie und den großen Networks um einige Schritte voraus waren.

Zugleich war dieses interaktive Fernsehen eine sehr hybride Angelegenheit, eine Mischung aus Telefon, Fax, Mailbox, Live-Kameras an öffentlichen Orten, Steuerung von Computerspielen über Touch-Tone Telephon u.a. Spielereien. Das Ergebnis, eine Kakophonie von Usern und Rezipienten, wurde oft als “Hallo-Hallo-Interaktivität” abgekanzelt. Derartig leichtfertige Kritik maß den Event nur an einigen hervorstechenden Symptomen und übersah, daß hier erstmals ein System realisiert wurde, daß es wirklich einer größeren Zahl von Usern ermöglichte, zeitgleich in einem elektronischen Raum präsent zu sein. Und die User dankten es, indem die diversen Einwählpunkte Tag und Nacht von vielen Teilnamewilligen blockiert waren.

Back to Van Gogh TV

Contributors to this page: 1.0 .
Page last modified on Sunday 16 of September, 2007 23:38:55 CEST by 1.0.