Since the ‘counter-cultural’ emergence of video, artists have wrestled with the institution of TV, both as opportunity and as threat. Broadcast Yourself: Artists Interventions into television and strategies for self-broadcasting from the 1970s to today is a carefully curated panorama which pulls out some key artists’ projects from the 70s through to the 00s, and hence covers a course of artistic endeavour in broadcasting through to narrowcasting. A pivotal model is Van Gogh TV’s attempt to transform the mass medium of television into an interactive one that reverses the relationship between a single broadcaster and many receivers. ‘Piazza Virtuale’ was an interactive television project that could be received all over Europe via 4 satellites during documenta IX in 1992. Here video documentation and original poster works convey the sense of chaos and frenetic enthusiasm over new media at the turn of the 90s.
The works for television are presented in the comforting environment of a reconstructed 70s living room with sofa, standard lamp, lurid wallpaper and coal-effect two-bar electric fire, characteristic of British working class homes of that time. In the USA however, one can’t imagine the uncomfortable experience of having your evenings’ viewing interrupted by Chris Burden’s TV ads, one of which, ‘Through the Night Softly’, 1973, portrays the artist naked, arms tied behind his back, slithering along a road at night over broken glass. Another displays bold and cryptic statements such as ‘Science has Failed’, ‘Heat is Life’, ‘Time Kills’—wonderful imprints on the eyelids to keep your dreams on edge. Thirty years on, these conceptual performance records retain a provocative edge, through the physical abuse of the body in the name of art, and the mental jarring of the artist/spectator relationship.
Ian Breakwell’s ‘Continuous Diaries’ were a series of mini television programmes broadcast by Channel 4 in the 80s. The recording of bizarre incidents and the celebration of the ordinary, help make these timeless art classics, accentuated by Breakwell’s ironic humour that seems to become more interesting with repeated viewings.
‘13th May 1984’ was shot on the day of the London Marathon which went past his studio and was broadcast the next day. In it, he undertakes a hilariously dry critique of the banality of compulsive mass jogging—truly ahead of its time! Breakwell requested that the pieces be broadcast after the pub’s close, in order to capture some of the audience in the right ‘mellow’ frame of mind. These pieces were part of a series commissioned by Anna Ridley, works made by artists rather than made about them, at an optimistic time when Channel 4 was opening its doors to the creatives who could potentially explore it—for a while anyway.
The project TV Swansong, 2002, was a homage to TV past, present and future, and remains a prime example of an artist’s initiative, in part socially engaged with a sharp curatorial approach that placed collaboration at its centre (project initiators were Karen Guthrie and Nina Pope and artists included Graham Fagen, Chris Helson, Jordan Baseman among others).
The project culminated in a publication and symposium, which gave an opportunity to consider the works again and discuss issues raised in a social format; some of this webcast, so there was both a live audience and an online one (www.swansong.tv).
This issue, alongside the consideration of the aesthetic qualities of online projects and the requirements of the social realm remain unresolved in the current politics of webcasting.
Malcolm Dickson is director of Street Level, Glasgow