Remote Control, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London


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As the television switchover springs us gaily into digital, that endlessly malleable world of glittering pixels, what is it that we are leaving behind us (aside from a mountain of outdated TVs)?

Remote Control at the ICA looks at artists’ experimentations with television and broadcast from the 1960s to today. One is met by Channel 4’s old analogue transmission hardware – huge hulking pieces of metal, the hulking stegosauri of the digital age, dragged into the gallery by Simon Denny. As stand-ins for what is suddenly an archaic form of broadcast, and as representations of the huge hidden machines that worked behind the colourful dancing lights in your living room, these relate well to a long bank of wall-mounted monitors, which runs along the inside wall. Starting with the landscape-based experiments of Barry Flanagan and Dennis Oppenheim from the 1960s, the cumulative interests that emerge strongly from this set of works relate to artists’ investigations of other hidden machines: the enormous powers of advertising and mass-media-encouraged consumerism. Richard Serra’s Television Delivers People (1973), delivers text-based phrases such as ‘The product is the audience’ and ‘the advertiser consumes you’, whilst San Francisco-based collective TVTV’s Adland (1974), sees them quizzing ad men on how they feel about pushing ‘feminine hygiene products’ on women. Though the flimsy headphones are terrible, it’s a strong selection of works. 

Also on view is South London collective Auto Italia’s brilliant series Auto Italia Live, originally broadcast live online, which is a series of set-based shows developed by artists, representing a more contemporary interest in TV broadcast: a new live episode will be filmed at the ICA in the coming months. Upstairs is an elegant survey of television’s aesthetics featuring Hilary Lloyd and Tauba Auerbach who treat the physical attributes of television as sculptural or pictorial, and a room featuring artists such as Harun Farocki & Andrei Ujica and Richard Hamilton, who analyse and consider television’s coverage of political events – the Romanian Revolution and the Kent State University shootings, respectively. Though the show has one or two omissions (Nam June Paik being the most obvious, or Alex Bag) and there is a slight lack of connection between the work of contemporary and historical work, this is an excellent, thoughtful show for a changing moment: a look at a troublesome, exciting shared culture that is becoming ever more diffuse. Here then, is an analogue line drawn in the sand.