Made for TV is a two-day event in which artists come together to discuss and explore the history of broadcast art. Sam Mercer from Tethervision explains what it’s all about, and what people can expect.
How did the idea for Made for TV come about?
Since around 2010, we have been working on a project called Tethervision. It was a sort of research project on how artists could use TV to broadcast art, or make use of the tropes of TV – how artists used television in the 60s, 70s and 80s compared to what happens now. The internet, mostly through sites like YouTube, has re-invigorated people with the idea of broadcast. Many people feel they now have complete freedom over what they produce, and the costs still allow low budget work to look professional. We’ve since been inviting artists to create new work through this media. In developing Made for TV we wanted the content to mirror the form and its distribution.
The name of the event was, in many ways, the hardest part. This is the first time we’ve worked with an institution this closely. The name of the “talk show” we’re doing – As If comes from a quote from television-style works by General Idea (General Idea’s Test Tube, 1979, is one of six works being screened on the 14th June). Many of their performances were produced to appear like Television events, but they weren’t – they didn’t have a network to back or broadcast them, so their ‘broadcast’ was implied through the form.
Made for TV seems to be looking forward into the future, and back into the past at the same time, broadcasting grainy, eighties-style footage online, what do you think is the future of broadcast art?
In some ways we are looking back, but also forward to the utopian opportunities. There are also other sides to it. I could take out my phone right now and broadcast something live – and it would be in quite high quality. When you want to do something like film with more than one camera though, things become exponentially more expensive as there are more and more technical aspects to consider.
In the series from the Caretaker’s House, we we’re using second-hand vision mixers from the 1990’s – which were the best we could afford – but at the same time we’re using the most up-to-date form of distribution.
What would you say makes TV a unique medium for art?
I’m interested in the 50s and 60s utopian moment for TV. There were maybe only one or two channels – you’ve got the whole world watching – or so they thought and from a public perspective, new equipment was becoming available that gave the potential for anyone to create their own programmes. So you had groups like Ant Farm and TVTV in the USA producing amazing works which existed between artist and activist while others like Nam Jun Paik and in the UK artists like David Hall were producing work looking at the formal qualities of television. For me, it’s the distribution that makes TV an interesting prospect for artists, but also, in examining the idea of television being a mirror of society – creating the ideal scenarios for living, and the problem of being a form of communication with one person addressing many, where the many can’t reply.
When we started Tethervision, one of the main interests was looking into forms of internet TV, where everyone can have their own channel, and broadcast their own message – how is that different from the setting and appearance of a television set.
What do you think audiences should look forward to most?
The thing that I’m probably most looking forward to is seeing how the whole production works out. We’re used to controlling every aspect of a project, but with Made For TV it’s the opposite – most of the elements are being sort of outsourced. We’re working with three different collectives who have an interest in television: Vanilla Galleries, Superlative TV and AKGBtv. Everyone posts on a Google Doc, where ideas either grow through discussion, or are ignored and discarded. It will be interesting to see how this process will result in a fully-fledged production. Each of the speakers will be taking about a different aspect of the artists’ role in television but I’m especially excited about Johan Grimonprez coming to speak, as an artist and a filmmaker who I have admired for a long time.
In the screening, these films are being screened in The Space as if they were on TV. I’m looking forward to watching all of these again, for example Stuart Marshall’s film, The Love Show, which goes right into the process of making TV – it is a deep and complex exploration. What sort of topics can we expect to come up on the talk show As If? At the moment there are three different speakers. There will be crossovers between each of them. Kris Paulsen is looking at Guerrilla Filmmakers from around the late 60s. This was a time when the first portable video recorders came out. It was the first time people could become their own TV crews. The 60s obviously saw a lot of social change, and these groups set out to expose the TV networks. It was so new, and they were so young that they had access to all sorts, not being as threatening as a big TV crew. They went to both Democrat and Republican conventions.
Colin Perry looks at the late 70s and early 80s in the UK. He may be looking at The Berwick Group Collective, who made an incredible documentary called Night Cleaners. These are artists’ and filmmakers who strove for a socially aware, activist mode of broadcast – empowering normal people, particularly in the period Colin talks about, when VHS, the Thatcher government and Channel Four all emerged over a very brief span of time.
What do you hope people take from Made for TV?
There’s a very small, hidden history of artists who wanted to work with TV. People will be able to learn about this. Everyone is talking about the death of TV – a lot of questions about the production of TV are quite cynical. For me, I’m terrified and excited – the fact that it’s a pilot, and a question. It’s a question designed to provoke discussion and further exploration – hopefully people will do just that!