Reviews PerformanceReviews Published 13 April 2012

Remote Control

ICA ⋄ 3rd April - 10th June 2012

On digital convergence.

A. E. Dobson

The centrepiece of Remote Control is a room-sized bank of decommissioned transmission equipment.

A mass of tangled wires and cathode-ray oscilloscopes, the hardware harks back to an age of beer-mat engineering – of construction and repair using off-cuts and gaffer-tape. We can easily imagine the pictures that were passed through this coated copper: title sequences in lurid pastel tones; bright cardboard backdrops peppered with static interference; the all-pervading hum of something just about to drop off.

Above this installation by Simon Denny is a gigantic schematic of a television studio. Whether this refers to topography or procedure alone is unclear: the diagram is complicated far beyond the realms of legibility. Doubtlessly it once made sense to someone, somewhere; here and now, it evokes a sense of improvisation and pragmatism – of the accumulation of ad hoc solutions to problems solved long ago.

The patchwork edifice serves as a metaphor for the idea of ‘being and becoming’ – of the image, as well as its means of production, as an illusion whose meaning is the product of montage and juxtaposition. Nearby, on a wall of flat-screen monitors displaying rarely-seen artists’ films, we see the culmination of such efforts. We are reminded of just how clean and seamless the broadcast image can appear – how elements that are tenuously linked can become inextricable. Views or opinions, regardless of their validity, can hereby become normalised through gloss and repetition.

Remote Control clearly wants us to see though the charade and better understand the ideological power of television. The show’s name makes this abundantly clear, positing the viewer as a passive recipient of content. But the gallery is only partly successful as a site of resistance. There is plenty here to pique our interest, but the bigger ideas are seldom pursued in sufficient depth.

Among the more interesting pieces is Hilary Lloyd’s Moon (2010). Here, two monitors mounted at floor and ceiling are split to display multiple, simultaneous aspects of our closest celestial neighbour. The unity of this object becomes fractured – it is shattered into forty-two different but equally representative views. In a perverse twist, increasing our scrutiny makes the crux of the matter less accessible, not more.

Situated behind us as we contemplate the night sky, Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Television (1962-1983) also encourages visitors to consider the risks and limitations of reductive narratives. Pistoletto has painted a set of AV equipment onto the surface of a mirror, which apparently returns our gaze unmediated. The suggestion is, of course, that the audience is somehow a product of its culture. In the context of this space in the gallery, however, the simplicity and ‘truth’ of our projected image becomes altogether too much so – its simplicity is threatening. This is a nice bit of curatorship, teasing out alternative meanings and deepening the impact of an artwork in symbiosis.

Another highlight is Adrian Piper’s Cornered (1988). Piper sits before us via plasma- screen, vocally asserting her racial makeup and condemning the viewer for his or her assumed prejudices. Like Moon and Television before it, Cornered examines reductive notions of ‘identity’ by taking matters to the extreme – the artist’s categorisation of herself, and of us, feels increasingly void and sinister.

But the critique of mass communication is less sophisticated elsewhere. Martha Rosler’s Framing the Discourse (Daddy’s War) (2003) is a photograph of a subtitled TV news bulletin. Around the screen, filling the page, are the familiar soundbytes and slogans of New Labour’s war effort: “Axis of Evil”; “Homeland Security”; and so on. Their solid, orthogonal arrangement makes the words seem resolute and intimidating, though their content has long since been discredited. We don’t need to linger for the message to be made abundantly clear. Smuggled in amongst these are twee (and terribly passé) additions that attempt ironical commentary: “Licence to Kill.”

Yet the subject of war, post-Bauldrillard, should provide the most fertile territory for the ICA’s project. It is surprising that more of the show wasn’t given over to it. Instead, Remote Control raises so many issues that it fails to make a coherent argument and – at times – risks losing sight of its central theme. Nonetheless, the fascinating programme of talks scheduled to accompany the show may develop these loose-ends further.

Television Delivers People is a live programme of events and talks accompanying the exhibition. You can see the full line-up here.


A. E. Dobson is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Remote Control Show Info




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