Preview: Remote Control


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To coincide with the digital switchover in London, the Institute of Contemporary Arts will be holding an exhibition entitled ‘Remote Control’ which explores the impact of television upon contemporary culture.

The exhibition will contain works from a range of artists and their responses to television over the past five decades using different mediums including painting, drawing, sculpture and film.

ICA curator Matt Williams explained the reasons behind organising ‘Remote Control’: ‘The ICA has a long history of looking at artists’ engagement with technology that is marked by influential exhibitions such as 'Cybernetic Serendipity' in 1968.  'Remote Control' is the first of a new programme of themed exhibitions over the next 12 – 18 months which return to the founding principles of the ICA – those being to challenge traditional notions of art forms. Coinciding with the analogue to digital switchover and marking the end of analogue broadcasting, I wanted to bring together a range of international artist responses from different generations that show how television has influenced their practice and offer a look at new directions.’

Regarding the title of the exhibition the curator said: ‘I feel it evokes one particular idea (or critique) that people were being consumed or controlled and encouraged to consume or engage with material in a certain way – summed up in Jessica Diamond’s 'Eat Sugar Spend Money'. However, power shifts are interesting, whereas once artists looked to TV as a source for content and inspiration, now everyone can produce and broadcast by themselves.’

Among the artists whose work to be featured will be Julia Wachtel whose piece ‘A.K.A’ (1992) from her ‘American Color’ series will be on display. Her piece is made up of painted blocks of colour on a canvas with a silkscreen of a person from daytime television. She says: ‘My work is very much about how subjectivity is constructed, how we view ourselves and to a large degree what my work is focused on are the media constructions of that. We had certain talk-show hosts on television at that time that would interview people and it was a forum for people to expose themselves, crying. A lot of psycho drama and so that was where I called the person that I inserted into the painting itself.’  

Wachtel reflects on reality television now: ‘The distinction between private and public is disappearing as far as I can tell. People need to validate, on Facebook and this isn’t television specifically, but there are so many people writing, every hour posting some banal thought that they’re thinking. I think it’s all part of the same phenomena that our personal lives should be viewed by other people and validated by other people.’

In contrast there is Harun Farocki whose piece ‘Videograms’ (1992) was influenced by the fall of the Eastern Bloc. His work consists of archive footage from the Romanian Revolution of December 1989 and the occupation of Bucharest’s television station.

Farocki explains: ‘Even in a country in which typewriters were registered - in order to track back who ever would dare to write something against the regime - some private and half private video cameras were around. And as soon as the Ceausescu regime started to collapse, they were on the street.’

‘In East Germany communist power came to an end without a single shot. The strongly armed regimes in the entire Eastern Bloc surrendered without resisting. Only in Romania things were different. One spoke about 60,000 dead. That was a huge exaggeration - but some thousands were killed.’ 

On the role of technology today in capturing the Arab Spring, Farocki says: ‘The totally unforeseeable revolution in Egypt was carried out by many who knew how to make use of a social network or the cellular technology. No doubt, all these technical means helped the revolution. But physical presence is still needed. And it is still a miracle when hundred thousands or millions decide collectively they want a change.’

Indeed the medium of television has played an important part in our lives, since the first broadcast in 1928 in America, its influence and importance has grown. Along with its changing role in society, over the decades television technology has rapidly evolved.

The digital switchover involves changing from analogue transmitters to digital ones, increasing the number of channels that people will be able to receive from five to at least 15. The switchover is taking place gradually from region to region across the UK and will be happening in London on the 4th April. An old analogue transmitter from Arqiva will be on display at the exhibition for visitors to see this soon-to-be obsolete technology. 

Artist Simon Denny, who conceived of the idea of focusing a part of the installation around the analogue transmitter, shared his thoughts : ‘I think this is an amazing thing, the history of artists working and interacting with television and making works that renegotiate their relationship to television and redesign possible information networks and hardware. Also at the same time this changeover between technologies, this massive shift in the way that television itself is broadcast in London is also a really inspirational and important cultural event.’

Other artists who will be featured include Adrian Piper and her video installation ‘Cornered’  (1988) confronting issues of racial identity, Richard Hamilton ’s ‘Kent State’ (1970) that is derived from a photograph of a news broadcast of a series of anti-Vietnam protests. Fredericke Pezold challenges notions of female identity with ‘Mundwerk’ (1974-75). Meanwhile the art of Jessica Diamond, Mark Leckey and Martha Rosler will look at fame, pop culture and consumerism.

As part of the exhibition there will also be a series events called ‘Television Delivers People’ which will include talks, performance art and screenings.

‘Remote Control’, Institute of Contemporary Arts from 3 April – 10 June 2012 (020 7930 3647;