Technology tower: Chris Marker’s Silent Movie

Chris Marker, A Grin without a Cat at the Whitechapel Gallery, 2014

Chris Marker, A Grin Without a Cat installation view

I guess it’s seeing the two within a week or two that means that Richard Grayson’s Nothing Can Stop Us Now reminded me in a way of Chris Marker’s Silent Movie which is included in the Whitechapel Gallery exhibition Chris Marker: A Grin Without a Cat. The connection is a simple but somewhat tenuous one: both works feature five monitors. In Grayson’s piece, these run in a horizontal line across the front of the space using the full width of the building. In Marker’s Silent Movie the monitors are in a vertical tower. The tower is a bolt together structure which is both the simplest solution to housing the monitors and also, in its industrial simplicity, somewhat constructivist in feel.

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Snow in April

David Hall, 1001 TV Sets (End Piece), 2012

As of Wednesday, analogue telly is a thing of the past. Well okay, it’s clinging on for a few more months in a couple of parts of the country, but for most of us in the UK old tellies either need to be attached to a digibox or it’s all over. At Ambika P3, David Hall’s End Piece … exhibition (part of which I wrote about here a week or two ago) is a fitting way to mark its passing. The centrepiece of the exhibition is the extraordinary, descriptively titled installation 1001 TV Sets (End Piece). With the analogue switchoff on Wednesday the work went from being a bewildering jumble of images with a cacophonous soundtrack to 1001 different types of snow. The sound is still loud but it’s a constant static now rather than the chaos of five competing television channels.

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Boxes of tricks

Nam June Paik, TV is Kitsch, 1996

As we lose the analogue television signal, the impetus to get rid of old analogue televisions is even stronger. The cathode ray tube makes them bulky and heavy next to the sleek lines of plasma and LCD televisions and the need to have an external box to pick up a signal adds to the feeling that the time has come. But that same bulk that seems so annoying in the average living room is key to quite a lot of art from the last few decades. The box is part of what can blur the boundaries between moving image and sculpture. In the case if Nam June Paik’s TV is Kitsch it is the physical presence of the television casings that gives the work its form.

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Art, subversion and soap opera

GALA Committee, Safety Sheets, 1996

The television interventions of the likes of Hall, Arnatt and Burden are things I always tend to think wouldn’t happen now, or at least not on mainstream television. But there’s this nagging doubt that say, but if those things aren’t possible, how did art – and pretty subversive art at that – sneak its way into Melrose Place (yes, Melrose Place, an Aaron Spelling production) as recently as the mid to late 1990s? It doesn’t sound likely. And yet, it happened.

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The art of advertising / the advertising of art

Chris Burden, Promo, 1976

For Chris Burden, best known at the time for difficult and dangerous performances such as Shoot (1971), television offered an appealing platform. His initial proposals for performance works having been turned down, his first television appearance was a 1972 interview that he – literally – hijacked to pursue his own agenda, turning the interview into a performance called TV Hijack. It’s not this that I want to write about though, mostly because I find the idea quite hard to contemplate but also because I find his subsequent strategy of buying advertising time rather more interesting.

Art isn’t usually advertised on television – the Damien Hirst retrospective at Tate Modern notwithstanding – and the idea of an artist working with the format of a 10 second advert is an intriguing one.

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We interrupt this broadcast…

David Hall, Interruption piece and Tap piece from TV Interruptions (7 TV pieces), 1971

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.

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