As most of us are probably aware at some point soon ‘they’ are going to be turning off the analogue TV signal and making the change to a purely digital one. It’s called the Digital Switchover. It’s also known, in the US judging from the spelling, as the “Analog Sunset”, which to me is a beautiful image. It reminds me of one of my favourite Silver Jews’ lyrics….’From the digital fountains to the analog mountains.’ I really like that line, in fact I’ve paraphrased it in the title of a sculpture I made called “Analogue Fountain” which was a Gysin Dreamachine-ish type construction. The ‘fountain’ to which it was analogous to was, of course, Duchamp’s famous urinal. I digress. For the purpose of this thought lets reverse those lyrics (sorry DC Berman) and pretend they said ‘From the analog mountains to the digital fountains”.
We are moving away from the television as a single monolithic structure that we all partake to a much more fractured, personally led experience. In the UK until relatively recently (we only got our fourth TV channel in 1993, with the 5th following in 1997) we have clung very much to TV as a shared social experience with the most popular shows remaining the same Soap Operas that have remained our favourites for decades. The only thing to rival these shows has been the recent rebirth of the talent contest in which we get to see our fellow country-folk publicly humiliate themselves.
Now I’m not trying to say that the digital switchover is a bad thing. I don’t feel that the sense of community or shared social experience that Television creates will be a great loss or that we look back upon and think “I remember when you used to be able to go out and leave all the doors open and only get 3 channels, with a bad reception”. I for one was incredibly happy when we got our first Freeview box, mainly simply because we finally got a decent picture on Channel 5, despite (or in spite) of the fact we live a few miles down the road from the massive mast at Crystal Palace. I now subscribe to Sky and find it quite hard to believe that I managed to live so long without live sport and the ability to pause the action at my merest whim. This is just an observation of the obvious fact that things are changing very quickly. We are rapidly becoming our own programmers, building our bespoke TV experience via satellite, the internet and hard disk recorders. This of course, will produce a related new phenomena of bespoke advertising, as our viewing profiles enable companies to target us directly but that is for another day.
The reason that this is in my mind is that tomorrow Alan Kane’s commission for the public art body Artangel goes on air. It’s called “Life Class: Today’s nude” and it will be broadcast on Channel 4 from 6th to the 10th July at 12.30pm daily. You can find out some more about the project here http://www.artangel.org.uk/projects/2009/life_class
I don’t want to try and describe the project or to explain what it means but let’s just say that that it is a live “Life Class” that will be broadcast as part of Channel 4’s daytime TV schedule. It sounds strangely simple put like that but of course its not. I believe that this work was commissioned at the same time as Roger Hiorns’ vastly ambitious sculpture “Seizure” which opened in September last year. That involved crystalising a whole council flat with Copper Sulphate! It is now July 2009 and Alan’s project is just getting ready to broadcast. The point being that whilst television is our favourite medium by far it is also the most difficult one to truly interact with. It’s not a reciprocating relationship. Perhaps the advances in technology are changing that but in a vastly different form that single, monolithic audience, made up of your friends and neighbours is disappearing. I’ve always thought that Television was the kind of holy grail for artists and a place that Art should really be given the opportunity to exist. I don’t mean programmes about artists (to see my own wretched example click here, oops), I mean actual artworks. I have a feeling that Alan’s project, which is one of a tiny number of such projects, could well turn out to be the final Artwork broadcast on what we have known until now, as Television. This possibility is not helped by the general economic climate, and the attached crisis in Television and arts programming. It feels appropriate, if this is the case, that it is Alan’s work that will occupy this place, as he is an artist who observes and captures those things that pass fleetingly pass before our eyes then disappear forever.
So make sure you catch it. I’ve set the Sky box.
(Ps. Alan Kane currently has an exhibition at Ancient and Modern in London.)