– Summer 2013

Televisual Objects: Props, Relics and Prosthetics

Maeve Connolly

Opening in early April 2012 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, the exhibition ‘Remote Control’ was scheduled to coincide with a significant moment in the history of television broadcasting in the UK: the commencement in the London region of the national switchover from analogue to digital signal. Although the switchover was framed as a transition rather than termination, Simon Denny’s installation Channel 4 Analogue Broadcasting Hardware from Arqiva’s Sudbury Transmitter (2012) presented the remains of analogue broadcasting in a vaguely ominous manner. Placed in the lower gallery, the obsolete transmission hardware dominated a section of the exhibition that included a series of wall-mounted monitors, displaying video works produced since the late 1960s.1 Even though the installation required viewers to sit close, printed signage warned exhibition visitors to avoid touching the transmission machinery on the grounds that it might be dangerous. By placing Denny’s hardware installation and the videos — many of which were devised for broadcast — in proximity to each other, ‘Remote Control’ both posed questions about the nature of televisual objecthood and drew attention to television’s ongoing reconfiguration as an object of artistic inquiry.

‘Remote Control’ is just one of several recent exhibitions responding to changes in the form and experience of television,2 but it is distinguished by a particularly strong emphasis on technological obsolescence, both in relation to broadcast infrastructure and television as a consumer object. In addition to the hardware installation, Denny contributed

  1. Simon Denny discusses his involvement in the exhibition in a video posted on YouTube by the ICA on 5 April 2012, available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hji65gFPbds (last accessed on 3 March 2013).

  2. Examples include ‘Broadcast Yourself’ at Cornerhouse, Manchester (2008); ‘Changing Channels: Art and Television 1963—87’, Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna (2010); ‘Channel TV’, a collaboration between Kunstverein Harburger Bahnhof, Hamburg, centre d’art cneai, Chatou, Paris and Halle für Kunst, Lüneburg (2010 11); and ‘Are You Ready for TV?’, Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (2010—11).

  3. For a discussion of works by these (and other) artists engaging with television in the 1950s and 60s, see Christine Mehring, ‘TV Art’s Abstract Starts: Europe, c.1944—1969’, October, vol.125, Summer 2008, pp.29—64.

  4. See Andrew S. Weiner, ‘Memory under Reconstruction: Politics and Event in Wirtschaftswunder West Germany’, Grey Room, no.37, 2009, p.98; and Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, ‘Readymade, Photography, and Painting in the Painting of Gerhard Richter’, in Daniel Abadie (ed.), Gerhard Richter (exh. cat.), Paris: Mus.e National d’Art Moderne, 1977, pp.11—58, reprinted in B.H.D. Buchloh, Neo-Avantgarde and Culture Industry: Essays on European and American Art from 1955 to 1975, Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 2000, pp.365—404.

  5. CRT, or cathode ray tube, was the technology used in the first television sets to be commercialised and the most common until the late 2000s, when it was supplanted by flat-screen television sets.

  6. See Sean Cubitt, ‘Grayscale Video and the Shift to Color’, Art Journal, Fall 2006, p.49.

  7. Examples include ‘Spellbound: Art and Film’ at the Hayward Gallery, London (1996); ‘Art and Film Since 1945: Hall of Mirrors’, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1996); and ‘Scream and Scream Again: Film in Art’, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford (1996).

  8. I have argued this in my text ‘Temporality, Sociality, Publicness: Cinema as Art Project’, Afterall, issue 29, Spring 2012, pp.4—15.

  9. See David Joselit, Feedback: Television Against Democracy, Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 2007.

  10. Raymond Williams, Television: Technology and Cultural Form (1974), London and New York: Routledge Classics, 2003, p.19.

  11. See Lynn Spigel, TV by Design: Modern Art and the Rise of Network Television, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008, p.88.

  12. See John Caughie, Television Drama: Realism, Modernism, and British Culture, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

  13. Examples of the second category include the televised performance This Unfortunate Thing Between Us (2011) by Phil Collins and the video In Camera (2012) by Liz Magic Laser, adapted from Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1944 stage play Huis Clos (No Exit).

  14. These exhibitions were on view, respectively, 9 October—17 November 2012; 18 October 2011— 9 January 2012; and 18 April—27 May 2012.

  15. See Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, New York, Toronto and London: McGraw-Hill, 1964, pp.41—42.

  16. Steven Shaviro, ‘The Universe of Things’, Theory & Event, vol.14, issue 3, 2011, p.6.

  17. M. McLuhan, Understanding Media, op. cit., p.314.

  18. Ibid., p.47

  19. Ibid., p.60.

  20. See Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media, Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 2000.

  21. Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, p.80.

  22. Ibid., p.75

  23. Ibid., p.80

  24. The exhibition, co-curated with Peter Weibel, took place at the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie, Karlsruhe from 19 March until 7 August 2005.

  25. See Alexandra Keller and Frazer Ward, ‘Matthew Barney and the Paradox of the Neo-Avant-Garde Blockbuster’, Cinema Journal, vol.45, no.2, Winter 2006, p.9.

  26. Barney coins the props used in his performances as a ‘family of objects’, see ibid., p.4.

  27. Ibid., p.8

  28. Ibid., p.9

  29. Ibid., p.11

  30. Trill-ogy Comp (2009) comprises the videos KCorealNC.K (section a), P.opular Sky (section ish) and Sibling Topics (section a); Re’Search Wait’S (2009—10) comprises Ready (Re’Search Wait’S), Roamie View: History Enhancement (Re’Search Wait’S), Temp Stop (Re’Search Wait’S) and The Re’Search (Re’Search Wait’S). The duration of the videos ranges from ten to fifty minutes.

  31. ‘Ryan Trecartin/Lizzie Fitch: Any Ever’ [press release], Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, 2 July 2011. Emphasis in the original.

  32. L. Spigel, Make Room for TV: Television and the Family Ideal in Postwar America, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992, p.99.

  33. Ibid., p.159.

  34. Ibid., p.175.

  35. For a discussion of cultural status in relation to serialized drama, see Michael Z. Newman and Elana Levine, Legitimating Television: Media Convergence and Cultural Status, New York and London: Routledge, 2012.

  36. For a discussion of Twin Peaks in relation to ‘quality television’, see ibid., p.42.

  37. Thanks to Tessa Giblin and P.draic E. Moore for drawing my attention to some of the works discussed in this article. This text forms part of a larger research project on television, supported by the International Research Institute for Cultural Technologies and Media Philosophy, Bauhaus-Universität Weimar.