Artist : Adrian Piper
Title : Cornered
Date(s) : 1988
Website : www.ica.org.uk
Credit : Collection Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Bernice and Kenneth Newberger Fund. © 1988 Adrian Piper
Remote Control review by Max Liu
Remote Control, an exhibition at the ICA which features over thirty artists, examines television’s impact on our culture at a time when the medium is starting to look dated. The show coincides with the analogue to digital switchover but, as the Internet marginalizes more traditional media, the sets in the first room may soon look as obsolete as the hulking satellite controls which are displayed with them.
For those who hope social media is a bad dream (have you ever met anybody who wants to be on Twitter?) good, old TV starts to resemble an unlikely model of verity. But what we see is as agenda-driven and censored as ever and TV’s influence remains far-reaching. Take the woman who accompanied me to the ICA: as a child she appeared on a programme to talk about growing up without television. After watching her appearance at a friend’s house, she pestered her parents until they gave in and bought a TV. Remote Control is a timely reminder of how our habits, memories and perspectives are shaped by what and how we watch.
Viewing Gerry Schum’s Land Art - a slow 1968 TV exhibition which features, among others, Richard Long and Jan Dibbets - I stole glances at the next screen, where Kriwet’s Apollovision was playing. Both were interesting but the latter’s immediacy was better suited to the medium and, progressing down the line of screens, I was consistently distracted by the next one. This testament to dwindling attention spans was reminiscent of interminable, childhood afternoons, pausing on the high-street to gaze at whatever was on the muted TVs in Dixons’ window. Traversing multiple screens proved enervating, like channel hopping, because it was very difficult to view anything in its entirety. Fragmentation is a pertinent theme but, by the time I reached Lynn Hershman’s humourless Desire, Inc, the artist’s hectoring was irksome.
Adrian Piper’s Cornered, on the other hand, flaunts and subverts didacticism. The artist addresses the viewer but the piece, which sits in the ICA’s sunnier upstairs, isn’t confined to TV: the set is flanked by copies of her father’s birth certificate, an overturned desk (hurled by a riled viewer?) and the audience’s chairs are listed among the materials because: “This is not an empty academic exercise and it has everything to do with you.” It is identity politics, the ironies of discrimination, including the likelihood of our black ancestry. I was alone but, even if I’d watched Cornered on a big screen on the Mall, I would have still felt that Piper, who is steely and uncompromising, was speaking directly to my deepest complexities.
There’s a brilliant rubbishness about the way that Matias Faldbakken’s TV Sculptures use wood, cement and cardboard to remind us that watching television is only, as David Foster Wallace wrote, “staring at furniture.” Red Alert, meanwhile, comprises three vertical Apple monitors, filled with asphyxiating neon. Have they interrupted the schedule? The screen went black when President Kennedy was killed but does red mean we’re approaching the type of apocalypse that was risked during the Cuban missile crisis? In the decade-and-a-half since thousands lined the road outside the ICA to mourn Princess Diana, has blackout been eclipsed by infinite brightness and has the world become any less opaque? Red Alert doesn’t only deal in death and danger, the screens could be a warm place where something good might be incubated.
Television creates memories but it destroys them too, which is why the best thing about Martha Rosler’s photo collage of John Walker Lindh’s capture in Afghanistan is its title: Framing The Discourse. To the right hangs Taryn Simon’s pink-suited anchorwoman in an Alhurra TV studio. Remote Control is short on commentary but, if you have looked at Simon’s American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, you might know that Alhurra - which, in Arabic, means “the free one” - was established by the American government in 2004 and broadcasts to 22 Arab countries. It does not broadcast inside the US. Why not exhibit Simon’s images with the concise text that accompanies them in her books? There is a good, cross-gallery conversation between this photograph, Rosler’s FTD and Richard Hamilton’s Kent State.
Hilary Lloyd’s Moon was hard to watch and it’s hard to describe the disorientating experience of flicking your eyes between two screens, which, set apart on vertical stainless steel poles, speaks of the constant reordering the world. Mark Leckey might have touched on a similar idea in Felix Gets Broadcasted but it was Moon I thought about - the transience of vistas and the fluidity of perceptions, as I crossed the river at sunset that evening.