While I was studying at the ANU School of Art in the early 2000s the photomedia department was going from strength to strength. And many of the graduates are still going strong. I Heart Television gets some of the band back together to kick off the year with a killer show at M16 Artspace. Belle Charter, Clinton Hayden, Erica Hurrell, Tess Stewart-Moore, Aki Nishiumi and Sam Townsend are on board and I’ve come along for the ride – take a read of my accompanying essay below. I’ve also gotta insist you read Sam’s own words on the matter, because that, my friends, is real <3.
Television saturates our lives, our homes, our most private spaces; Living rooms and bedrooms, in the background of lovemaking and family dinners, looming over hospital beds. It gives us something to love, something to hate, or at least something to talk about. Whether we espouse or rail against it, our individual relationships to television are diverse and complex. The six artists of ‘I Heart Television’ give us a window onto their own, revealing the multitude of associations possible.
Belle Charter has carefully extracted and dissected frames from TV news programming, in a freeze-frame antithesis of our usual viewing experience. In the age of 24-hour news, click-bait and crowd-sourced journalism there is little by way of sensitive editing or censorship. With the plethora of video imagery available, real lives are being used as pawns in a ratings game as our hunger for content grows without end. Any story will do – the more horrifying, heart-wrenching or unbelievable the better. By removing the sensationalised detail and tragedy from her cutaways Charter deconstructs television, reminding us of the humanity behind what we look at.
The construct of television is one that Aki Nishiumi knows about firsthand. Working for a TV station at home in Japan, she wrestled daily with the ethics of an industry interested in getting the best story at any cost, questioning the insidious effects of her work on a vulnerable public. Television, as she saw it, was a ‘wrong truth’, and she was complicit. Outside the studio, the naked sky became an escape, free of showmanship and agenda, where you aren’t being told what to think, to want, to buy; Any moment the burden on her conscience became overwhelming, Nishiumi could step outside and turn her face, and lens, skyward.
Of course the sky itself is not entirely freed from television’s influence, dotted as it is by satellites and brushed by transmission towers. A once awe-inspiring technology, television has become part of the fabric of our surroundings, despite its clumsy ugliness. We are only now coming out of a time where to own a television set meant finding space for a lumbering box and cabinet – as deep as it was high – within the most comfortable and intimate areas of our home. Cables upon cables linking from the TV to devices that allowed us to watch films, play games, and more cables still to worm their way up walls and to roofs, to the tangle of aerials and satellite receivers. In Tess Stewart-Moore’s suburban studies the omnipresence of this hardware is front and centre. Everywhere all of the time, yet rarely considered.
For most in generations X and Y, TV has been a part of life from the earliest days. While in later life some forgo a TV set, in childhood and adolescence the television is sacred, and plays a key role in the magic of youth. While the gloss may become worn in adulthood what does remain is the association with television as a device of comfort, company and familiarity, an object of memory and ritual. Through careful documentation of his personal collection Clinton Hayden recognises the power held by the graphics, songs and catchphrases of television from his youth. The associated ephemera stands as ‘a collection of talismans for imagination and wonder’.
The capacity for emotional connection to a television series and to a TV character cannot be overstated. These are familiar friends visiting in your home, you coming to know them over the course of weeks, months and years. Devotion to television is rewarded by real-life connections forged around an on-screen world – something to talk about around the water cooler at work, on Twitter, at dinner parties. In the digital age we are quick to identify our partners, friends and community through what it is they ‘like’, and quick to assert our own identities in the same way. Erica Hurrell notes that some assertions go further than others, documenting TV tattoos with her signature sense of enquiry.
More than the sum of its programs and channels television is a reality we’ve created to mimic life and be mimicked in return. Television is our world reader, lodged within our consciousness. As a way of trying to make sense of the world, it provides easy contextualisation for our daily dramas and life sagas. Samuel Townsend’s portraits hold double meaning by virtue of his titling, demonstrating the universal strength of association and surprising gravity afforded by an apt television reference. What may seem trite is in fact evidence of a thread that binds us together culturally, cross-culturally, forming a terrifyingly accurate roadmap of who we are, what we want, where we’re going, and most of all how we see ourselves.