Saturday, 18 October 2014

David Hall 1937 - 2014 The End of Television

I was saddened today to learn of the death of David Hall. David was head of Film, Video, and Sound at Maidstone College of Art when I studied there in the early 1980s; as an artist, a teacher, a writer, and an organiser, his influence on successive generations of video and installation art is profound and abiding. He was a true pioneer whose work was consistent in its integrity and rigour, in particular in its relationship to context, significantly television as site.  

I was in touch with David on a fairly regular basis until very recently, he inspired great respect and will be deeply missed.  By way of tribute I have reproduced below the review I wrote of his last major show, first published in Moving Image Review & Art Journal, Vol 2, No 1, 2013

see also
David Hall
REWIND
Luxonline




The end of television:
David Hall’s ‘1001 TV Sets (End Piece)’
Ambika P3, London, 16 March – 22 April 2012

In restaging and reformulating three major works from David Hall’s career, ‘End Piece…’ traces his key concerns across some of the most groundbreaking works of video art in the early 1970s and 1980s. While video art may well be the commonly used, generic name for this practice historically, its scope is both too narrow and too general to describe Hall’s oeuvre: his work is concerned mostly with video situated in social, participatory contexts, not only as an art proposition, but also as a means of exploring art’s role and status in society. The site where these concerns meet is television and Hall’s career, as exemplified here, encompasses that broadcast medium from its birth to its recent analogue death, from its broadest affects to its most specific applications and formulations.

Of the two smaller works in the show, Progressive Recession (1974) was, I assume, something of a revelation for the majority of visitors, including those, like me, who were aware of the work but had only seen it through documentation. This cannot prepare one for the profound revelation that participation in the work inspires. Its structure is deceptively simple: nine monitors arranged in a row of seven with one set at 90 degrees to the row at each end, a live camera on top of each monitor, feeding others progressively down the row, and with the two end monitor cameras feeding each other. This dry description cannot anticipate the discombobulating electronic hall of mirrors-cum-maze experienced when alone, or the complex technologically mediated mesh of social relations when the room is full of people. When the fourth monitor’s camera was showing its image on a monitor three ahead in the row, cognitive dissonance arose from the confusion of viewing another visitor’s face where one might plausibly assume one’s own ‘mirror’ image to be. Rather than reiterate a notion of a televisual public as a disembodied network of passive viewers experiencing a medium as individual consumers, this is something like a closed-circuit microcosm for the potential of a social space created by screen-based media. Hall was playfully inventing a possible alternative use for the live feedback of the image in video and partly anticipating more recent online developments such as Skype. The piece was lovingly recreated at Ambika P3 using vintage analogue video equipment, but the experience was fresh and utterly contemporary in the moment of participation; this in spite of the innumerable everyday encounters with public CCTV and screens in urban streetscapes, now, in the twenty-first century.

Progressive Recession, David Hall, 1974, installed in 'The Video Show', Serpentine Gallery, 1975


An often-reproduced image of the work’s first exhibition in ‘The Video Show’ (Serpentine Gallery, London 1975) shows a Girl Guide group interacting with the installation, a reminder that it always has been Hall’s intention to wrest the art away from an ‘elite’ audience towards broader conceptual and physical accessibility. [1] Progressive Recession might draw comparison with Bruce Nauman’s 1970 closed-circuit video installation Going Around the Corner Piece, in which visitors were always a few tail-chasing steps behind their images captured by apparently ubiquitous surveillance cameras. The work created a sculptural collision of interior space and surveillance. By comparison, Hall’s Progressive Recession is more concerned with spatiality and spectatorship, displacement and the problematic of the work of art, themes that re-emerge in TV Interruptions, Hall’s most notorious work. [2]

Interruption and Tap Piece from TV Interruptions, David Hall, 1971











TV Interruptions was exhibited at Ambika P3 in its recently reconfigured form as an installation. However, TV Interruptions has its roots away from the confines of the conventional art gallery: the original site of reception was Scottish Television in 1971. Famously, each short, black and white piece was broadcast over ten days, one each day, as part of a series of site-specific commissions. The works appeared, unannounced and unaccredited during the usual programming, and the TV audience, in those days representing a large proportion of the Scottish population, would certainly have been surprised if not shocked to see their television set apparently filling with water (Tap Piece), a static time-lapse view from a window of a cloudy sky (Window Piece), a burning TV set interrupted by a blank screen and the spoken word ‘interruption’ (Interruption Piece), or two figures within the same frame moving at markedly different speeds accompanied by an interminable bleeping sound (Two Figures Piece). As Hall himself has testified:


I went to an old gentleman’s club in Princess Street in Edinburgh and the TV was on, and Tap Piece was going to come on. They had a TV on all the time and they were all dozing or reading newspapers, and then suddenly the TV began to fill up with water and the newspapers dropped, they all woke up and looked amazed. They were disgruntled and then it finished, and they all dozed off again. That seemed to me to be actually quite a positive thing. It was the sort of the thing I was looking for, I think. (Hatfield 2005) [3]

Certainly, it was one of Hall’s intentions to bring to the viewers a demonstration of the TV as a physical object in the room, something the realism of the on-screen image sought to mask. TV Interruptions also disrupted the normalizing aspect of regular broadcasts and further extended the impact of the work into a wider social sphere through the interaction of viewers. One can imagine that viewers, whose options at the time were restricted to three channels, might have had conversations in their work places, or even down the pub, about the strange broadcasts they had seen the night before. This particular social aspect of television has now been largely diffused through a multiplicity and ubiquity of choice of digital channels, Sky TV, the Internet and so on.

The TV Interruptions broadcasts pre-date the TV ‘gallery of the airways’, initiatives such as Channel 4’s Eleventh Hour or Ghosts in the Machine (1982–1988 and 1986, respectively). Here, artists’ work was shown or commissioned to fill a slot of late-night airtime. While these broadcasts may have attracted new audiences for artists’ moving image work via a mass medium, they did so by recreating the habitus of the elitist space of the art venue on television. Hall’s imperative was to work against such elitism, in whatever social context it occurred, on earth as it was on television; his tactic was to deploy the artwork as a surprise intervention, not as a domesticated object of the gallery system.

This is the third time I have seen TV Interruptions represented as an installation (previously at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid and the ‘REWIND’ launch exhibition, Dundee Contemporary Arts, both in 2006) and I persistently find it problematic and perplexing in this configuration. The original was site- and time specific (TV as schedule, furniture, broadcast and broader social network), and each piece was produced and aired within 24 hours. If ephemerality and reception by an audience as a series of one-off, unexpected events is conceptually integral to the work, what is the implication of restaging it when that context is no longer and can no longer exist? For the installation, Hall selected seven of the original ten pieces that were broadcast; they were replayed on seven monitors positioned at roughly head height on plinths, arranged in such a way that it was impossible to view them simultaneously. Monitors obscured other monitors, individual pieces appeared in apparently haphazard order, so that one might have encountered Tap Piece, or Interruption Piece, not as self-contained single screen works of finite duration but looped, so encountered at any point near the beginning, middle or end. Hall may have inadvertently succeeded in making the discrete video works difficult to view within a conventional art context, but a question remains about the efficacy of this strategy. Whereas the original work, in context, created a productive problematic resonating far beyond the film/TV pieces as objects, here it became hermetically aesthetic. This incarnation of TV Interruptions is now about the problem of re-contextualizing a site-specific work in any art space anywhere, at any time. Furthermore, to undermine the resonance of each video by making them more difficult to appreciate seems to me to be a far less potent or provocative gesture than would have been the works’ original appearance in a broadcast context.

1001 TV Sets (End Piece), David Hall 2012, Ambika P3, London,
detail featuring Stooky Bill TV, David Hall, Channel Four, 1990


However, I have no such reservations about the show-stopping ‘1001 TV Sets (End Piece)’ (2012), a reworking of the installations made originally with Tony Sinden as 60 TV Sets (1972) at Gallery House, Goethe-Institut, London and 101 TV Sets (1974), at the Serpentine Gallery. Indeed, TV Sets evolved into an installation of such contemporary relevance that it is best considered as an entirely new work. It would have been as hard in the early 1970s to imagine the end of television as until recently it was to imagine the end of capitalism. [4] ‘1001 TV Sets (End Piece)’ was a spectacular time-based monument to the end of analogue television, which also manages to symbolically contain its inception and ghostly aftermath. The vast basement space of Ambika P3 was used to stunning effect. The visitor was met with the full impact of a sea of scavenged analogue television sets of different sizes and vintage placed roughly at irregular angles and screen up, spreading out across the huge floor space. As in earlier versions of the work, each television was tuned to one of Britain’s five terrestrial TV channels. The sound of the spectacle preceded the vision of massed televisions, the combined audio of the airwave spectrum relayed from hundreds of tinny TV speakers. The title of the piece is misleading: there were slightly fewer than 1000 because secreted among the televisions tuned to broadcasts were a number of monitors playing Hall’s 1990 Channel 4 TV commission Stooky Bill TV. On entering the installation, one became immersed in the spectacle of fractured, undulating light, the sound rising into the rafters of this one-time experimental industrial space. [5] Descending into the belly of the work, one could concentrate on the detail of individual televisions or stand back and bathe in the babble of the medium en masse.

 During the opening of the exhibition, I encountered a symbolic herald of the medium giving up its ghosts, when that most iconic emblem of British televisual culture, the sustained trumpet from the theme tune to Coronation Street, emanated from 200 or so TVs and seemed to float up and out of the installation, through the rafters of the space and into the night sky beyond. Clearly identifiable from the surrounding babble after several decades of repetitive familiarity, ‘Corrie’ is one of the few surviving television institutions that the original TV Interruptions are almost certain to have interrupted. As the United Kingdom’s longest-running soap opera, it has come to epitomize a base-line norm in British televisual culture and is an entirely appropriate last symbolic gasp from this graveyard for analogue television sets.

Television, as an amorphous presence that has for so many decades constructed a ‘virtual’ social space, was both symbolized and concretized here, while during the run of the show it finally became a medium fully remediated in a cross-platform digital afterlife, beyond its original technical and physical specificity. Allusions to death, ghosts and resurrection may seem hyperbolic and fanciful, but the real triumph of ‘End Piece’ is in its incorporation of analogue television’s moment of death as part of its deep technological structure. The exhibition of the work was programmed to span the complete switch over of television broadcasting from the analogue signal to digital information. Over the course of a couple of weeks, the image and sound of the TV sets were incrementally snuffed out and at the close of the exhibition the only audible sound was the hiss of white noise, while the only discernible image playing across the surfaces of the TV sets was the agitated snow of untuned signals. In this sense, television’s passage from analogue into digital remediation is complete; it is no longer confined to a distinct piece of furniture as TV Interruptions, or indeed the self-referential narrative by the then familiar face and voice of newsreader Richard Baker in Hall’s This is a TV Receiver (1976), might implicitly and explicitly have drawn attention to. [6] TV now streams alongside other digital media formats, which is to say all formats, across numerous technological platforms, from the cinematically spectacular widescreen plasmas on the living room wall, to the portable laptop, tablet and smartphone. The longer-term significance of television no longer being discreet and definable also derives from viewer behaviour, and use; henceforth habit will most likely determine the essential qualities of a medium as much as any of its technological factors. For the original TV Interruptions back in 1971, television occupied a dominant position in the immediate and expanded social sphere, as the single moving image medium rooted in the domestic domain. Now liberated from furniture, television has lost its dominance of the screen, any screen. Context, use and behaviour are fundamental and television is now viewed and interacted with live and on-demand, on and alongside the web, various social media, audio-visual communication services such as Skype, games, word processors, spreadsheets, to-do lists and so on; crucially this occurs everywhere where there are screens, which is everywhere. If the act of TV viewing is no longer largely spatially confined to the domestic context, where does this leave the expanded social space of television? Expanded social space itself is migrating onto networks and interacted through screen-based devices.

While this erosion of TV as a technical and social reality has been gradual and incremental over many years, it is now complete. While installed for a few brief weeks, 1001 TV Sets bore witness to the death of analogue as a kind of event that the medium performed itself. In this sense the work followed a common strategy of Hall’s work, that is, to set up a situation and let the rest unfold unaided, a process that applies equally to Progressive Recession and TV Interruptions, at least in the latter’s original form. Once analogue TV had given up the ghost in ‘1001 TV Sets (End Piece)’, another ghost of television remained in the shape of the ventriloquist’s dummy Stooky Bill, the first object ever to be transmitted as a television image, albeit to an audience of two, in the inventor John Logie Baird’s workshop in 1925. The image of Baird’s dummy continued to hector the post-analogue present on three of Hall’s screens for the remaining weeks of the exhibition after analogue broadcasting had dissolved into air.

David Hall on his B.E.A. Artists' Placement Group placement
filming cloud formations over the Swiss Alps.




The problem of the place and the space of TV is clearly something that has exercised Hall for much of his career; he may be recognized as something of a pioneer of video art in the United Kingdom, but it is the social and collective participation in what we might characterize as ‘the televisual’ that has preoccupied him the most. As we have seen, this social dimension is coupled with something of an anti-elitist determination to make work for situations and audiences outside the art bubble. Hall’s engagement with the social and industrial institution of broadcast TV is complemented by, and was perhaps developed through, his involvement in Barbara Steveni and John Latham’s Artists’ Placement Group (APG) in the early 1970s. APG’s intention was to place artists in industrial contexts, as ‘incidental persons’. The placements would have an open brief, and the artists’ roles were often left intentionally unspecified. In this context, Hall worked with British European Airways (BEA), and, as well as engaging in extensive negotiations with the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), he was nominated for a National Coal Board placement. He certainly participated in many discussions with various ‘Captains of Industry’, and the Scottish Television TV Interruptions project was occasionally presented as a placement. [7] 

Hall’s determination to re-situate art was informed by his understanding of television, one that followed Marshall McLuhan’s concept of broadcast media as an extension of social space, connected to both the lived realities and social construction of the quotidian environment; this is the context that the TV medium itself creates. These intertwine in the activities of making art outside the art world, which, with an audience ‘completing’ the work, bears all the hallmarks of participatory art. In Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship (2012), Claire Bishop identifies in participatory art a desire to overturn the traditional relationship between the art object, the artist and the audience, by producing situations that enable a return to ‘the social’. Bishop’s critique outlines a fairly conventional Marxist approach to the participatory advocating a dominant narrative of anti-passivity, designed to counter the predicament of people reduced to acting as a medium for the message, and ‘the masses’ paralysed by spectacle. In spite of its egalitarian ethos, participatory art leaves ‘Art’ in place as a category, but constantly flies into and across other disciplines, so that art and the social are sustained in continual tension. Bishop stops short of discussing interventional work such as Hall’s or taking into account the post-McLuhan, post-Fordist ‘space’ of broadcast media as a context for radical incursion. One might ask, in post-analogue media, are the terms ‘art’, ‘artist’, ‘audience’, ‘broadcast medium’, ‘context’ and so on, such easily separable, discreet categories? Are they not part of the more complex mesh that makes up ‘the social’? TV viewing may have been considered passive, as indeed art viewing may also be, nonetheless, each involves participation in the construction of context, then as now.

The works in ‘End Piece’ mark the passing of an analogue age when in artists’ moving image there was strict polarization in medium specificity between film and video. Subsequently, digital media technologies have been instrumental in breaking down such distinctions, as high definition projections surpass the image and sound quality of material film in the gallery space. Analogue video and film material, where they have been embraced by contemporary practitioners, are more often than not employed unproblematically. None of this is particularly surprising with the reach of moving image media into every sphere of life.

Uniquely, among artists of his generation, Hall’s practice extends beyond the hermetic concerns of the art bubble to probe the specificities of sites in the public mediascape and their attendant social relations. Hall does not simply conceive of broadcast television as a hegemonic institution to be subverted by artistic incursions into enemy territory; instead, he employs and explores televisual media as an extensible mesh, in line with McLuhan’s concept of media as an extension of human social relations. His televisual interventions and participatory works, unlike Nam June Paik’s, do not propose to take revenge on TV, [8] neither do they posture as radical subversion, but are more subtle and nuanced revelations, working uniquely through, with and within the deep ecology of an inextricably social mesh. 

In an era of the ubiquitous, increasingly mobile and dematerialized digital networks, all dedicated to mediating social relations across countless screens and cameras, a large number of television sets in a cavernous London space became a timely, spectacular and poignant celebration of Hall’s considerable achievements, and the demise of his muse.



References 
Bishop, Claire (2012), Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, London: Verso.  
Hatfield, Jackie (2005), ‘Interview with David Hall’, REWIND, http://www.rewind.ac.uk/documents/David Hall/DH510.pdf
McLuhan, Marshall (1964), Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, Cambridge: MIT Press.


Notes 
[1] "Jackie Hatfield: ‘There’s that great image of […] [Progressive Recession] with a Girl Guide group’.
David Hall: ‘I used that image because again I feel it’s quite important to show that that wasn’t your average dedicated gallery audience, it was just a bunch of kids, but they loved it’" (Hatfield 2005).


[2] As Hall has stated with regard to TV Interruptions: ‘I thought it was very important that it would create a problematic for the viewer, which I think is actually what art should do’ (Hatfield 2005).

[3] The reaction wasn’t always so benign, when he watched Two Figures with some TV engineers in a repair shop, at first, they were ‘all very enthusiastic’. However, the mood changed with the Two Figures piece:
"I remember it beeping and it went on and on and on. At the end of it, there was so much anger in their faces I had to leave by the back door. But again it just used all those expectations. If anything is more than 20 seconds, people lose patience, especially with television." (Hatfield 2005) 

[4] To paraphrase Jameson: ‘[…] it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism’ (Jameson, Fredric (1994), The Seeds of Time, New York, NY: Columbia University Press).

[5] Ambika P3 is housed in a concrete construction, a former testing hall built in the 1960s for the University of Westminster’s School of Engineering.

[6] Made for BBC2’s Arena programme, This is a TV Receiver featured Baker reading a statement denying that he was present, that it was his voice emanating from the receiver:
"This is a television receiver, which is a box made of wood, metal or plastic. On one side, most likely the side you are looking at, there is a large rectangular opening that is filled with a curved glass surface that is emitting light […] these form shapes that often appear as images, in this case of a man, but it is not a man." (quoted in Elwes, Catherine (2005), Video Art, a Guided Tour, London: I.B. Tauris, p. 31)


[7] APG’s activities were documented extensively in the recent exhibition ‘The Individual and the Organisation: Artist Placement Group 1966–79’ at Raven Row, London (27 September–16 December 2012), which included video documentation of Hall’s participation in discussions at APG’s ‘inn7o’ exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, London, December 1971, and other meetings, which included representatives of corporations such as British Steel and ICI. This documentation is also held at the British Artists’ Film and Video Study Collection, Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design.

[8] Paik is often cited as declaring ‘Television has been attacking us all our lives, now we can attack it back’.




Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Personal Electronics at Spoken Weird


Spoken Weird is a celebration of the spoken word curated by David Blamey, proprietor of independent publishing imprint Open Editions, for the London Art Book Fair at the Whitechapel Gallery. 

At Spoken Weird I will be presenting Personal Electronics, a spoken word performance with iPod. 

Personal Electronics is based on the reported experiences of victims of electronic harassment. Individuals are attacked in their own homes by remote lasers, electric fields, microwaves (such as the microwave auditory effect) and radar; rays are beamed at them, and magnets used to alter their minds; voice to skull technology is used to by-pass the ears to transmit sounds and thoughts into their heads. These phenomena are often accompanied by gang stalking, where victims are stalked or harassed in public by gangs of strangers, on the street, in cars, etc.

see also:
http://directobjective.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Personal Electronics
http://archive.org/details/personalelectronics_201305 

Also participating in Spoken Weird are David Blamey, Adam Bohman, Marco Cazzella, Maya Dunietz, Anouchka Grose, Sarah Jones, Bryan Lewis Saunders, and Tom White. 

Spoken Weird
16:00, 27 September
Whitechapel Gallery
77-82 Whitechapel High Street
London E1 7QX
 


more details:
http://www.whitechapelgallery.org/book-fair/2014-projects
https://www.facebook.com/events/1523888261180562/