We all spend lots of time with it… but what is TV? A dream machine for producing pleasure or a Pandora’s Box for releasing terror? A signal that grabs our attention or noise that drives us to distraction? A containment environment that envelops us, determining our thoughts and affects for its own economic ends, or a funhouse in which we play, manipulating its programmatic flow according to our own desires and aims? This show considers television in all of these ways—and more—as it explores TV as an industry, a consumer good (or “bad”), a collection of stories with their own forms and formats, and an object that generates viewer love and/or hate. Including work by video artists and media activists from across TV history who have addressed television, as well as some bits from television itself and fanvids from fellow television viewers, “The TV Show” not only examines televisual commodification and control but, importantly, also celebrates the creativity that television can yield—in its texts, in critical commentary, and in our own re-viewings and re-visionings.
“Videotape Study No. 3,” Nam June Paik and Jud Yalkut, 1967-69, video, b&w, sound, 4 min.
Often considered to be the first video artist, Nam June Paik produced Videotape Study No. 3 together with another video art pioneer, Jud Yalkut, as an intervention not only into “the body politic” but also into the very “body” of television. Made amidst tremendous political turmoil in the US, Videotape Study No. 3 critiques the actions of politicians, and the role of television in politics, by distorting the sound and image from televised news conferences in a “direct media intervention” that has been called “historically significant as well as remarkably prescient.” –Electronic Arts Intermix
“Semiotics of the Kitchen,” Martha Rosler, 1975, video, b&w, sound, 6 min.
In this send-up of the conventions of both children’s educational television and the TV cooking show, well-known video and performance artist Martha Rosler offers her own ABC lesson: one that uses televisual forms to comment on the terms—and tensions—of women’s labor in the home. Featuring an “anti-Julia Child [who] replaces the domesticated ‘meaning’ of kitchen tools with a lexicon of rage and frustration,” Semiotics of the Kitchen exemplifies Rosler’s interest in “mak[ing] art about the commonplace, art that illumines social life.”—MR
“Dottie Gets Spanked,” Todd Haynes, 1993, 16mm film on video, color, sound, 27 min.
In Dottie Gets Spanked, renowned filmmaker Todd Haynes offers his take on TV’s I Love Lucy as read through Freud’s writings on fantasy and sexual perversions. Exploring a young boy’s obsession with Dottie Frank, eponymous star of The Dottie Show, Haynes sensitively explores the ways in which categories such as public/private, masculine/feminine, inclusion/exclusion, work/leisure, and fear/fantasy are articulated by television. Originally produced for a PBS series on “Television Families,” Dottie Gets Spanked itself aired on broadcast TV and thereby participated in the televisual construction—and deconstruction—of such categories, suggesting the multiple possibilities that might emerge in the always exciting collision of viewer desires, familial dynamics, social norms, and television stories.
“Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman,” Dara Birnbaum, 1978-79, video, color, sound, 6 min.
A classic feminist remix, Birnbaum’s video appropriates and incessantly repeats “imagery from the 1970s TV series Wonder Woman [that depicts] the moment of the ‘real’ woman’s symbolic transformation into super-hero… radical[ly] manipulat[ing] this female Pop icon [in a manner which] subverts its meaning within the television text” (EAI).
Puerto Rican ID, Frances Negrón-Muntaner, 1995, video, color, sound, 7 min.
Originally aired on the 1996 PBS series Signal to Noise: Life With Television, this video by award-winning Puerto Rican artist and scholar Frances Negrón-Muntaner examines how television’s representations of ethnicity intersect with the definition of “real” and “fantastic” situations and “normal” and “alien” identities. By chronicling one woman’s shift “from watcher to maker,” it issues “a call for the production of alternative images.” –Signal to Noise
Excerpt from “Production Notes: Fast Food For Thought,” Jason Simon, 1987, video, color, sound, 5 min.
After spending a year working for a high-end TV commercial production company, Simon created this series of “production notes,” which provide access to company memos detailing the strategies and intentions of these commercials. What results is an “intimate journey into the kitchens of the American advertising industry, a powerful and uncommon exploration of the rigidly managed control system that lurks beneath commercial renditions of spontaneity, freedom and the good life.” –Stuart Ewen
“Anthrax,” Jason Vosu, 2002, color, sound, 2 min.
A commentary on how television handled the 2001 anthrax scare, which raised fears of “biological terrorism” to epidemic proportions, Anthrax is part of Vosu’s Babble series, which plays with the flow, segmentation, and repetition of TV news programming through “cut-up” and remixing techniques that help to “make strange” TV news’ conventions, thus allowing us to reflect on their operations, elisions, emphases, and ideological effects.
“All Smiles and Sadnesses,” Anne McGuire, 1999, video, b&w, sound, 7 min.
Oscillating between parodic critique and heartfelt emotionality, Anne McGuire’s version of the melodramatic soap opera “constructs a murky… world of endless, timeless, and placeless limbo, where the characters talk to each other entirely in clichés, bad poetry, and other contrite forms of speech—a short TV show in which nothing is resolved” (Video Data Bank). Featuring a remarkable monologue by the late underground legend, George Kuchar!
“Taiwan Video Club,” Lana Lin, 1999, video, color, sound, 14 min.
Made at the height of VCR use, Taiwan Video Club examines what Lin refers to as “a turning point in the history of consumer video in which stories that were once passed on from generation to generation mouth to mouth [began to be] passed on from VCR to VCR.” Focusing on her mother’s participation in “a self-organized community of Asian [immigrants] who trade videotapes recorded off Taiwanese broadcast television,” Taiwan Video Club approaches this “benignly illegal trafficking” as a practice of “cultural translation” that “unites club members to their native culture and common past.”
“Reverse Television—Portraits of Viewers, Compilation Tape,” Bill Viola, 1983-84, video, color, stereo sound, 15 min.
Esteemed video artist Bill Viola turns his exploration of video’s temporal and optical forms back onto the viewer. In Reverse Television, Viola videotaped 44 television viewers (ranging in age from 16 to 93) in their own living rooms or TV dens, then presented individual, 30-second segments during programming breaks across two weeks in late November 1983 on WGBH, Boston’s Public Television Station. By “invert[ing] the position and gaze of the television viewer… Viola essentially subverts the time and space of broadcast television, as the extended duration of these real-time portraits interrupts the spatial and temporal field of TV scheduling like edits” (EAI).