Until June 6, the MUMOK in Vienna is showing Changing Channels, an exhibition (curated by Matthias Michalka) that investigates the different ways in which artists have used and reflected on television, from the 1960s to the 1980s. The catalogue contains essays by Manuela Ammer, Tom Holert, Christian Höller, David Joselit, Pamela Lee, Matthias Michalka and myself. My text is called "Chronovision", and it investigates television as a time machine.
"Television is video, video is television; they are part of the same technological dispositif. What is a video artist if not a television producer without a station at his disposal? The formal characteristics of much video art are hardly compatible with the dominant regime in TV programming, video art has developed its own modes of distribution, mostly based on tapes or DVDs sold in limited editions. However, television remained an object of fascination for artists—both abject other and ideal to be aspired to. If, as Martha Rosler has argued, video art was accompanied by myths revolving around its resistance to corporate TV, with an artist like Nam June Paik functioning as a mythical hero who '[freed] video from the domination of corporate TV,' and who 'has done all the bad and disrespectful things to television that the art world’s collective imaginary might wish to do,' it is equally true that there is a history of attempted rapprochements between video art and television that reads like an extended tragicomedy. In the collective imaginary of the video art world, television was both bad and good object, a tainted ideal to be rescued from its fallen state.
"In the 1970s, René Berger distinguished between macro TV (broadcast television), meso TV (local cable), and micro TV (video); at most, some artists managed to infiltrate and utilize the meso level of local cable TV, whose democratic potential was never fully realized. Some managed to establish a foothold in public television; Paik worked with American PBS affiliates such as WNET and WGBH, and Gerry Schum produced some programs for German television. However, in a symptomatic move Shum eventually retreated from macro to micro distribution, moving from the Fernsehgalerei Gerry Schum to the videogalerie schum. Even Warhol struggled for years to get his work on television, finally getting his own MTV show in the 1980s, in a format that hardly lived up to the promise of some of Warhol’s unbroadcast 1970s television projects. But whether it took place on a micro, meso, or macro scale, video art at its best pushed the logic of television to a point where the medium’s potential and its failings, its complexity and its contradictions are illuminated.
"In this text, the writing of history is not conceived as the amassing of positive facts, but rather as the tracing of failed acts, unrealized potentials, missed encounters—the reconstruction of what never took on the positive solidity of an unavoidable historical fact. This essay deals with some episodes in the hesitant history that is the dialogue between (video) art and television, and it does so precisely by focusing on the time-based nature of video and television. Television is the first medium that presented a potentially uninterrupted flow of images into people’s homes (and other places), penetrating daily life much more thoroughly than film had done. Television has often been analysed primarily as a spatial network, or in terms of a dialectic of network and object (the TV set as commodity), and when the temporality of television is theorized, the focus is often on real time and liveness—or on the ideology of liveness. This was already a crucial factor in Rudolf Arnheim’s 1935 essay on the new medium, in which he argued that TV can give us a feeling 'for what happens simultaneously in different places. For the first time in the history of mans striving for understanding, simultaneity can be experienced as such, not merely translated into a succession in time. Our slow bodies and near-sighted eyes no longer hamper us. We come to recognize the place where we are located as one among many: we become more modest, less egocentric.' Here, the focus is on the simultaneity that live transmission creates between different places, and the temporal dimension of this live connection is hardly considered; liveness and the resultant simultaneity are spatialized."