The art viewer is always asking, why can’t video artists make their video tape like real TV? The first answer is they simply don’t want to. They are trying to use TV to express art ideas instead of simply to sell products, the most common use of broadcast TV. The second answer is they don’t have the budgets, the staff or equipment to produce broadcast TV. Many of the ideas in artists’ video tapes are far more interesting than broadcast TV, but they suffer from a lack of technical support … Video art in the long run is not television. It’s the medium of television being used to express conceptual ideas about space and time.1
Quoted in ‘Video in perspective’, an essay written by Robert Newton for the publication accompanying Plug In and Switch On, an exhibition of Australian videos and video environments held at the National Gallery of Victoria in late 1978, Les Levine’s comments provide an interesting reference point for Transmission: Legacies of the Television Age.
television has been all but replaced by the personal computer, the telephone has been absorbed by the internet, and the ability to perform in and out of elegantly discrete or not so discrete portals of digital communication continues to shape and distort our conception of the individual.5
Further to this idea, art historian David Joselit has posed questions of the extent and politics of information transmission occurring today.
In a moment when we all make profiles (on Facebook, Netflix, Match.com, etc.) and profiles are made of all of us (through the movements of our iPhones, what we buy at Kmart, our web-browsing proclivities), the transmission of information is also a charged politicised site. Who has the right – or technology – to know what? Where can information go? How freely should it circulate?6
But if images start pouring across screens and invading subject and object matter, the major and quite overlooked consequence is that reality now widely consists of images; or rather, of things, constellations, and processes formerly evident as images. This means one cannot understand reality without understanding cinema, photography, 3D modelling, animation or other forms of moving and still image. The world is imbued with the shrapnel of former images, as well as images edited, photoshopped, cobbled together from spam and scrap. Reality itself is postproduced and scripted, affect rendered as after-effect. Far from being opposites across an unbridgeable chasm, image and world are in many cases just versions of each other.7
some sort of initiation into a freer exercise of one’s sensibility and other enriching associative experiences; in other words, it could be a big step toward another psychological and cultural dimension.10
makes possible the dissemination of various points of view and colour, [and] if creatively managed [has the potential to] change our entire political, social, economic, moral, and aesthetic environment, just as commercial television controls our entire environment now. The important difference is: commercial television is centralised, whereas portable equipment takes video out of the studio and into the mainstream …Television is politics.13
The most obvious difference between artists’ video film and commercial television as we know it lies in the structure, or what used to be called the ‘composition’ of these pieces. Here, a particular activity is usually presented in an open-ended situation where every part has approximately the same value.14
Television is a seductive medium because it reduces everything to a kind of media-hum, a blue glow of interchangeable information and content. Nothing lasts on television, nothing remains on screen for long, the image surface is unexamined, and the content is disposable. What remains are ideas: efflorescent, intangible, and inspirational.16
- Les Levine quoted in Robert Newton, ‘Video in perspective’, in Plug In and Switch On, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1977, n. p.
- Albert Abramson, ‘The invention of television’, in Richard Paterson & Anthony Smith (eds), Television: An International History, Oxford University Press, London, p. 9.
- Samuel Weber, Mass Mediauras: Essays on Form, Technics and Media, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1996, pp. 110, 116, 164, 122–3.
- Peter d’Agostino & David Tafler (eds), Transmission: Toward a Post-Television Culture, Sage Publications, London, 1995, p. viii.
- Gilbert Vicario, ‘Medianation: performing for the screen’, in in Wendy Watriss (ed.), Contemporary U.S. Photography, FotoFest Inc., Houston, 2010, p. 216.
- David Joselit, ‘Signal processing’, Artforum International, vol. 49, no. 10, 2011, p. 359.
- Hito Steyerl, ‘Too much world: is the internet dead?’, in Nick Aikens (ed.), Too Much World: The films of Hito Steyerl, Sternberg Press, Berlin, 2014, pp. 34–5.
- Dieter Daniels, ‘Television – art or anti-art? Conflict and cooperation between the avant-garde and the mass media in the 1960s and 1970s’, trans. Michael Robinson, Media Art Net <http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/themes/overview_of_media_art/massmedia/scroll/>, accessed 20 April 2015
- Marshall McLuhan & Quentin Fiore, The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects, produced by Jerome Agel, 1967, reprinted by HardWired, San Francisco, 1996, p. 24.
- Umberto Eco, The Open Work, trans. Anna Cancogni, Harvard University Press, Massachusetts, 1989, p. 121.
- Jacob Proctor, ‘All access: Simon Denny’s media archaeology’, in Jacob Proctor, Simon Denny: Full Participation, Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, 2012, p. 12.
- Dara Birnbaum, email interview with the author, 29 March 2015.
- Bruce Kurtz, ‘Video is being invented’, Arts Magazine, Dec.–Jan. 1973, p. 44.
- Annette Dixon, ‘Videotapes from New York’, Art Bulletin of Victoria, vol. 16, 1975.
- For definitions of the televisual, see Maeve Connolly, TV Museum: Contemporary Art and the Age of Television, Intellect Ltd, Chicago, 2014, p. 9.
- Susan Fereday, email to the author, 30 March 2015.