Art and television don’t have much of a relationship. There are programmes about art, of course, but even though video art is pretty common in galleries, there’s not much actual art on TV. To an extent, it was ever thus. But there are some interesting examples, and as the analogue switch-off approaches here in London, it seems like a good time to think about them, especially as the occasion is being marked at Ambika P3 with a timely exhibition of David Hall’s work.
Trained as a sculptor, David Hall turned his attention to experimental film at the start of the 1970s, ultimately becoming a pioneer artists’ film and video in Britain, and coining the phrase time-based media. In 1971, Hall was commissioned to make a series of works to be broadcast on Scottish television. This series of TV interruptions were broadcast unannounced and uncredited to what must have been a somewhat baffled audience.
Forty years after the event and in a very different television culture, it’s hard to appreciate quite what impact these works would have had at the time. But in the days of real-time viewing of only three channels these unexplained interruptions must have made for confusing viewing. In the present multi-channel environment, with so much more scope for experimentation, the inclusion of works like this on prime time, main channel television seems unthinkable.
Tap Piece, 1971
One of the things that I like about these works is the idea that though television signals are always susceptible to interference, this usually takes the form of a poor picture or snowy screen rather than an interruption by a completely unexpected signal with sharp but unexpected footage. And when a broadcast is interrupted it is by a news flash rather than an image of a television on fire in a field.
In 1993, Hall was commissioned by MTV to make a new series of TV Interruptions which were broadcast between programmes during 1994. Given the nature of MTV, with fast changing images, I imagine Hall’s interventions would have seemed less out of place, though possibly still somewhat confusing.
In End Piece, Hall’s exhibition at Ambika P3, all seven of the TV Interruptions (7 TV pieces) are on show as a single, seven screen installation. The works move from monitor to monitor, making a visual and aural confusion that suits the nature of the work and the context for which it was originally made.
The centrepiece of the exhibition is a major new commission – 1001 TV Sets (End Piece) – a significantly expanded version of a work first made forty years ago. As this is an installation that will change over the duration of the exhibition, all I want to say about it now is that it’s vast – as might be predicted, given the factual nature of the title – and well-worth seeing. I’m pretty sure I’ll be posting about it after another visit or two though.
David Hall: End Piece … is at Ambika P3, 35 Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LS until 22 April 2012. The analogue signal will be switched off on 18 April at which point 1001 TV Sets will hiss.