Monday, April 06, 2009

Broadcast: Blurred Lines in Transmission

[1. Hostage (1994), Dara Birnbaum. Color video with six-channel stereo sound, interactive laser, four Plexiglass shields, & metal ceiling mounts; installation dimensions & running times variable. 2.The Amarillo News Tapes (1980), Doug Hall, Chip Lord & Judy Procter. Single channel color video with sound. 3. Video Tape Study No. 3 (1967-1969), Nam June Paik. Single-Channel black &white video with sound, four minutes. (Image of NYC Mayor John Vliet Lindsay). 4. Four TV Commercials (1973-77/2000), Chris Burden. Single-Channel color & black & white video with sound, 4:46 minutes.]

Since the late 1960s, artists have engaged, critiqued, and inserted themselves into official channels of broadcast television and radio. Indeed, this is the raison d'être of “Broadcast,” an exhibition at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery, which runs through May 2. From TVTV’s iconoclastic television broadcast on the floor of the self-congratulatory 1972 Republican convention to Gregory Green’s recent pirate radio station installations, artists have sought to examine or challenge the influence and power of TV and radio through various interventions into those systems. These interventions can range from the hostile—such as when Chris Burden took a TV host hostage at knifepoint in 1972—to the collaborative (as is the case with Christian Janowski’s 1999 project for the Venice Biennale. Other artists, such as Dana Birnbaum, appropriate media coverage while still others incorporate broadcasting conventions.

Whether through repetition and interruption of images with music, text, and flow, Dara Birnbaum appropriates media to subvert its ideology and embedded meaning. This is especially so in “Hostage” (1994), Birnbaum’s provocative work that takes—as its point of departure—the media coverage of the 1977 kidnapping (and resultant execution) of German industrialist and former SS officer Hanns-Martin Schleyer by the Rote Armee Fraktion insurgency. Tersely, “Hostage” asks what the appropriate role might be for media in a sensitive hostage situation in this installation that suspends subsequent monitors from the ceiling playing archival television footage of events related to the tragedy.

Travelling to Amarillo, Texas, Doug Hall, Chip Lord, and Judy Procter observed the business of news as “artists in residence” at KVII-TV. They accompanied Channel 7 Pro News reporters to the field and watched newscasts from behind the scenes—later taping their own version of the news in collaboration with the crew. This project clearly reflected their interest, as artists, in examining cultural institutions. In Amarillo News Tapes they observed and dissected what made news in a smaller market. In their respective roles as anchor, weathercaster, and sportscaster—and interacting with the real Pro News team on the set—they cast attention to the language and theater of television news. While humorous, their purpose, according to Doug Hall, was not to parody the news for its own sake but to examine its style and ritual, which is as much about fiction as it is about fact.

Considered to be the very first video artist as well as author of the phrase “information superhighway,” Fluxus participant Nam June Paik (1932-2006) has had the greatest influence on the artistic potential of video and television: He was among the very first artists to purchase Sony Portapak video equipment when it first came out in 1965. Creating some of the first video art with his shot footage, “Video Tape Study No. 3”—done with filmmaker Jud Yaikut—is a seminal work in which Paik distorted and manipulated footage from news conferences by embattled political figures President Lyndon B. Johnson and New York City Mayor John Vliet Lindsay. At the same time irreverent and technically crude, Paik challenged the authority of the broadcasts—inserting himself briefly into the footage by wagging his finger at the television screen. Paik even utilized television sets to make robots. His collaboration with Yaikut in “Video Tape” was just one of many in his notable career. He also engaged creatively with such figures as John Cage, Salvador Dali, Joseph Beuys, Laurie Anderson, Merce Cunningham, Allen Ginsberg, and Peter Orlovsky.

Merging radio technology and line drawing in a work referencing Radio Caroline, “12 Miles Out” ( 2005) resonates with the ethos with alternative, off-shore, and pirate radio—ranging from the juggernaut English-language service of Radio Luxembourg to the peace ship of Abie Nathan and “underground radio” in the U.S. during the high-water mark of the counterculture in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The titanic forerunner of both pirate and modern commercial radio, Radio Luxembourg’s English-language service began in 1933 as one of the earliest commercial radio stations broadcasting to the United Kingdom— effectively circumventing British law vis-à-vis the prohibition of advertising over the domestic radio spectrum and serving as a refuge for stars and shows—from the singer Vera Lynn to the comedy series “Much Binding in the March”—previously heard on the BBC but with whom the BBC had fallen out for whatever reason. With the most powerful transmitter in the world (1200 kW broadcasting on medium wave), Radio Luxembourg captured mass audiences in Britain with programs that made available various songs and forms of music not played over the BBC. Israeli humanitarian and peace activist Abie Nathan (1927-2008) founded the Voice of Peace radio station in 1973, which sailed outside Israeli territorial waters, broadcast 24/7 (mostly pop music) and promoted Nathan’s political activities (that included disaster relief in Cambodia, Bangladesh, Biafra, Colombia, and Ethiopia). Eschewing the loud-mouth babble and fractured U.S. Top 40 radio of the 1960s, DJs on the edge utilized the nascent FM radio band to air longer and less commercial music, more controversial material (including unorthodox coverage of the Vietnam War, political protests, social unrest, and the counterculture), and less restrictive programming styles. Thus “12 Miles Out” (wire, nails, radio transmitter, audio recording, and radios) must be seen in a larger context.

At the intersection of television and internet sources, Siebren Versteeg integrates and contrasts those sources in his examination of media’s filtering influences. In “CC” (2003), a mute TV screen displays a loop of six talking newscasters while a web-connected feed of blog entries stream underneath—literally and figuratively underlying the disconnect between what is presented on the screen and undermining the presumed authority of the evening news. Co-founded by Valerie Tevere and Angel Nevarez in 2001, the artist collaborative neuroTransmitter fuses transmission, sound production, and mobile broadcast design into conceptual pieces that investigate the politics, history, and power of radio—called “wireless telegraphy” in its infancy. In 2005’s “Frequency Allocations (in 3 parts),” neuroTransmitter explores the power of media conglomerates; re-articulates the role of radio transmission in various contexts, forms, and purposes; and considers new public possibilities for this medium.

Broadcast covers even more ground in this thorough exhibition. Important is the inclusion of performance artist Chris Burden, perhaps best known for his 1971 work “Shoot,” in which he was shot in his left arm by an assistant from a distance of approximately five meters (and for which he was taken for psychiatric assistance). After repeated rejections of Burden’s proposals for television programming, he took his interviewer hostage with a knife held to her throat during a live artist interview at Channel 3 Cablevision in Irvine, Calif., in February 1972. The result, “TV Hijack,” which combines two panels—three gelatin silver prints and photocopy on one mat board and three gelatin silver prints and one chromogenic print on another—is included with “Four TV Commercials,” a video with sound that aired on various channels in Los Angeles and New York during prime time commercial breaks. Today, in the midst of Clear Channel corporate hegemony and the Fox Terror "News," Broadcast is an important collection of works to absorb.


through May 2, 2009

Pratt Manhattan Gallery

144 West 14th Street, 2nd Floor

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