The Institute of Contemporary Art in London asserts that it is the centre for critical artworks and cutting edge contemporary culture. As the UK continues to adjust to the end of analogue broadcasting, the ICA presents a timely exhibition, Remote Control, to examine the impact of television and media on art.
Media permeates our contemporary moment. Today, television, film and video are uniquely connected with cultural and social changes; they alter how we receive knowledge, how we experience and record history, or which political agenda we hear. On a positive note, media allows a method of experiencing the world, of seeing new places, and encountering different cultures. More ambiguously, it helps us form opinions, socializes our behaviour, and directs consumerism. However, media has also provided the material and conceptual platform to engage artists for over 40 years.
This April, the Institute of Contemporary Art in London presents a survey exhibition of television as artistic medium to coincide with its switch from analogue to digital in the UK. Drawing from a star-studded roster of artists who bring together themes and issues relating to video, cinema, experimental film, theatre, performance, and the digital age of computers, Remote Control particularly prods at how television has impacted the visual arts.
Beginning on the first floor, the exhibition opens with the question, ‘What are the social costs of technological advancement?’ Lining one wall is an array of rarely seen archival footage on individual monitors, each video illustrating an artistic response to this question. Deconstructing its tropes and formulas, these artists have manipulated visuals and added sound to create artworks that interrogate the very medium they employ.
In the middle of this gallery stands impressive analogue transmission hardware as part of the larger installation by Simon Denny, calling attention to the now-obsolete mechanics of analogue broadcasting. Denny’s enormous wall drawing and an adjacent photo-collage complete his view of the digital conversion. Similarly, a striking work by Matias Faldbakken features in the interim spaces, his minimal tombstone-like concrete casts of televisions (2011) dotting the path to the upper gallery.
Red Alert (2007) by Hito Steyerl confronts the viewer as you enter the upper gallery. Using three Apple Cinema HD display panels to create a uniform red glow, these machines emanate heat like a living thing.
Another highlight in the upper gallery is Martha Rosler’s Framing the Discourse (For Daddy’s War) (2003), which depicts provocative images from the Iraq war, surrounded by etched media descriptions of events both seen and unseen by television viewers from the safety of their sofas. This work is a prime example of the desensitizing effects of a visually over-stimulated society.
The exhibition’s title Remote Control suggests an orderly experience of media – that holding the remote controller puts us, the viewer, in a position of power. On the other hand, one might suggest that television has taken on a life of its own, and now controls us. Consider that we plan our schedules around our favourite shows, purchase products the commercials tell us are cool, and imitate [fictional?] characters we see on the screen. Perhaps a relationship between viewer and television as depicted in the science fiction film Videodrome (1983) by David Cronenberg is now a feasible reality?
Though paying tribute to analogue film and television, the ICA is missing a critical edge within the exhibition. A message beyond an historical account of past issues concerning moving image production is lacking. Moreover, Denny’s is one of the few [if only?] artistic responses to the digital conversion on display. But for what it lacks physically in the gallery, the ICA compensates with concurrent screenings and events, such as a programme called Television Delivers People, borrowing its title from Richard Serra’s 1973 work. Perhaps the LUX/ICA Biennial of Moving Images will also fill this gap in the exhibition by exploring contemporary art production.
As the age of analogue comes to a close, this timely exhibition underscores a pivotal moment in media history. At the ICA, one witnesses a celebration of past engagements with a unique medium, giving evidence of how artists have previously engaged with, manipulated, and deconstructed television. Featuring early investigations of media technology as art, Remote Control reminds us that film and video are constructs that influencing how we behave in and perceive the world beyond the screen. These artworks also emphasize to what extent television has become a way of contemporary life, impacted our modes of thought, and given us a new vocabulary- signal, transmit, project – that is, perhaps frighteningly, space age and futuristic.
Words: Sharon Strom © 2012 ArtLyst
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