Transmission: Legacies of the Television Age

Transmission: Legacies of the Television Age
Maggie Finch
National Gallery of Victoria

The e-book published for the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) 2015 exhibition ‘Transmission: Legacies of the Television Age’ construes the ascendency that television has had on politics as an informative source, on society as a distributor of pop culture and consumerism, and as both a medium and an ideology, affording an awakening of a wider cultural psyche. Five years later, in a time of fake news and significant changes affecting Australian content on our broadcasting services, the publication is as ever relevant to contextualise the role of television in our lives and consequently in art.

Written by the show’s curator, Maggie Finch, the online publication is fused with multi-media elements such as TV static between turning chapters/changing channels and a ‘media-hum’ blue glow background. The scholarly text includes perspectives of curators, critics, sociologists, philosophers and features an interview with American video-artist Dara Birnbaum.

Installation view of ‘Transmission Legacies of the Television Age’ at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne from 15 May to 13 September 2015. Photograph: National Gallery of Victoria

Originally ‘many artists were critical of the medium and its ‘remoteness’, rigidity and one-way flow of information’, writes Finch, ‘while a notable few, such as Nam June Paik and Andy Warhol, embraced television’s global and seemingly utopian possibilities for communication’. Finch positions that television soon became a powerful source of imagery both in utility and to interact with. Video editing erupted into a new language for artists and ‘the opportunity to cut and break footage allowed for narratives to be disturbed and for a new and kinetic energy to emerge.’

The exhibition featured artworks by local and international artists, sourced from the NGV’s own extensive collection. Scrolling through the text, exhibited pieces such as sepia photographs from John Immig’s ‘Vietnam’ series (1975-76), psychedelic stills of Global groove by Nam June Paik (1973) and Darren Sylvester’s pantomime, silent video, You should let go of a dying relationship (2006) reflect on the form and content of television and video technologies marking the ‘transitions from analogue to digital broadcasting and the Internet, and the simultaneous shift from passive to active interaction.’

The publication, like television itself, offers new ways of thinking about time and space – ‘nothing lasts on television, nothing remains on screen for long, the image surface is unexamined, and the content is disposable. What remains are ideas: efflorescent, intangible and inspirational’. Reinforcing the notion that television can be a channel for dissemination of both the low-brow and the culturally sophisticated.

Installation view of ‘Transmission Legacies of the Television Age’ at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne from 15 May to 13 September 2015. Photograph: National Gallery of Victoria