Tuesday, February 17, 2015

TV in the Gallery

Looking at the presence of television in public spaces, Anna McCarthy (2001) argues that it blends in with the temporal organization of particular institutions and places. At the same time, it transforms the notion of waiting as ‘wasted’ or ‘dead’ time and uses it to transmit commercial or educational information in discrete and unintrusive ways. In an enormously productive move, she refrains from attributing uniform ideological effects to television and advocates a site-specific approach that takes into account the placement of the TV set, the function of a space, and the nature of the audience in different cases. 
Source: Guggenheim

Source: New York Times
While she deals primarily with commercial and medical establishments such as doctor’s waiting rooms and restaurants, I wanted to put her approach in conversation with the space of the gallery. Even though art galleries are not entirely free from commercial considerations, they structure movement and attention in distinctive ways. In contrast to academic discourse which has often de-valued television, the TV set has occupied a prominent place within the gallery in a way that emphasizes its formal qualities and highlights its physical frame. I’m drawn in particular to some of the works of pioneering video artist Nam June Paik (1932-2006), who extensively used the television as an aesthetic device. In his work TV Clock (1963), Paik puts twenty-four TV sets parallel to one another, each representing an hour of the day. They’re placed vertically on top of pedestals and the image on screen is compressed into a bar of light. (A short video on how he came up with this here.) The bar is angled differently in each set to reflect the movement of the hands of a clock. Interestingly, the flow of time is represented through the static television set to highlight the tension between passive consumption and a sense of active engagement. The work coincides with some of McCarthy’s concerns as the arrangement of the sets speaks to the way in which television structures temporality. But by inviting the audience to reflect on the fact of this ordering, Paik seeks to reimagine the possibilities of this new temporal structure. Moreover, by obfuscating the signal and distorting the image, he subverts the utilitarian and disciplining functions of ambient television. In some ways, Paik's work seems contiguous with McLuhan's focus on TV as a medium that exerts a cultural force which breeds its own ways of seeing, being and thinking.

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