The combination is hot, at first sight. In the exhibition at Arts Santa Monica in Barcelona – in this beginning of autumn 2010 – we think, reflect and make questions on the convoluted and controversial relationship between Art and TV. TV / ARTS / TV is a multi-directional path that starts from the ’60s and ends to the present day: works that are now part of art history and current trials of young artists / researchers straddling art and new technologies, give life to a project that provides multiple points of view concerning TV medium.

A project that, as stressed by the curator Valentina Valentini, is a research, a survey, a question that arises from “a desire, a need and an instance of knowledge”. Since the early enthusiasms to the first suspicions; from illusions caused by electronic devices to the criticism of the instrumental and trade use of the medium; from the utopia of transformation to the arrival of the video; from the dark power of the “TV show” to the many strategies of counter-information……”Art & Tv” topic seems to offer many insights.

The exhibition, the research carried out and the theoretical discourse that we find behind it, show clearly this dual nature and this ambiguous relationship between television and art. This influence of one over the other, that is sometimes inspiration and sometimes corruption. The ambivalence of the means of mass communication, be it television from yesterday or Internet from the day running, is the most common and widespread feeling.

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The arts – especially the video – in this unequal power relationship, have launched their assault and highlighted the ambiguities of the TV production and consumption system. Unfortunately, generations of people were influenced by the television model of appearance and superficiality, to which art in its many forms can oppose important and illuminating, but still too weak, alternatives. A reflection on the medium and its functions, in this age “in which we’re all throwing the TV away from home”, is necessary and obligatory. I spoke directly with Valentina Valentini, director of TV / ARTS / TV at Santa Monica whom I thank for his availability, about the exhibition, the artworks exposed and the various considerations arising from the subject.

Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio:
Arts and Television: a dangerous and contradictory relationship…

Valentina Valentini: There has always been a suspicion, at least as a bias, from the art in relation to television, as there was a suspicion in the early 70’s by many visual artists about new technologies and video in particular. Not only by visual artists, but also by cinema. Umberto Eco in Apocalittici e Integrati photographed a position towards the mass media and new technologies that lasted for many years. The situation has changed in the 80s. We could say that a sort of instinctive revulsion is normal. Yet, when I started working on this research – the exhibition is the result of a research project, not just a selection of works and artists – I realized that was not always so.

If we read the Nam Jun Paik’s manifestos in the years ’69-’70, the ’68-’69 Fluxus ones, Richard Serra and especially many American artists manifestos or even the TV Manifesto by Lucio Fontana, we can see that television, for some artists, fueled an utopia of change. The Fontana’s manifesto, for instance, was signed by a number of artists who saw in television the opportunity to transform the relationship between the viewer and art. Let’s think about an experience like that of Gerry Schum in Germany in ’68, when he said: “Why do we still go to visit the exhibitions in the galleries? We have the television, let’s change tv in a virtual gallery”. On that occasion Schum commissioned to twenty international artists, a series of works conceived specifically for the television screen. Or, let’s think about the idea created by some artists in America who could manage some channels with programs for artists between the 70s and 80s.

Rereading the history of art through this relationship and this perspective, we discover lots of magazines with articles from the United States, stating: “Make your on TV, buy a light video camera, etc”. From these examples, a number of alternative practices were created that spread from counter-information to community TV, from cable TV and the artistic video to intelligent television. Practices, reflecting on how to penetrate the system to create holes in the network.

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Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio:TV can be defined as a controversial medium dominated by business interests and advertising. Does this exhibition wants to redeem television?

Valentina Valentini:Absolutely not! Television, like medium and system, has always been against the artists. If it opened some spaces, were only parentheses, fleeting and provisional. If we think about how many artists in Italy were given a commission by the television, there are very few and most of the time their works were not even broadcasted. Channal Four in Britain is perhaps the only one who stands out because it had fueled a series of directors, including film and video, broadcasting their works. But most of the time, in Germany, Spain, etc., there were very rare spaces opened by television. Artists have always been out of television programming.

So, here TV is not redeemed as a system and commercial production apparatus, whether public or private. It is redeemed because you are invited to rethink the medium and what utopias, hopes, experiences has also fueled through experimentation and production of video works. The video has been the conscience, the mirror, pointing towards the television. The video has parodied the genre, has sacked the TV, has used its archive to create different works, the scratch television, etc. From this point of view, TV as a system of production and consumption system, has fueled an interesting thought.

The television had a domestic use. So, some artists said: “We can let the museum, the art, the gallery in the houses.” At the same time, television was also related to the condition of spectatorship. So, Vito Acconci, Judith Barry and others, wrote essays about the viewers and the Tv consumers. These reflections, fueled by TV, must be watched right now, in a time when we’re all throwing the TV away from the houses.

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Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio:What are the influences between Art and TV?

Valentina Valentini: At the beginning, the project – which is on the TV and the arts in general – also included an investigation into disciplines like theater and cinema. How television stimulated production – call it alternative, transgressive, parody, criticism – of artists who used new technologies. But the project also analyze how television shaped some languages. In theater, and also in cinema, we can measure, understand and evaluate how some shows are profoundly shaped by television facility. It may be the comedy, may be the kind of conversational playing, may be the direct apply to the viewer: in each case, there are many elements that make you understand how the languages of television influenced, shaped and corrupted others languages.

Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio:Quoting a title from an Antoni Muntadas’ artwork: is video television?

Valentina Valentini:We could do a collection of slogans about television, from Bill Viola to Muntadas. In conceptual times, the title was the artwork itself. It is clear that, in the period in which Muntadas made that video, he pointed out the main difference between the TV, enslaved and sold, and the artistic practice that used the electronic device. But the second one was completely different because it aimed at the TV and because it worked in opposition to what were the mechanisms and conventions of television. So, the question of Muntadas is rhetoric. With a negative answer.

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Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio:Between Art and TV, what we find in common is the image. Gary Hill has spoken about the “image as a virus”. The image is the center of communication and TV is its first engine. Manipulation, distraction, illusion, the spectacle of everyday life: how Art is opposed to these devastating effects determinated by the image?

Valentina Valentini:Let’s think about an artist like Bill Viola, who is present in this exhibition only with the Reverse Television video work. Bill Viola slows images down. Artists have many different strategies. The most common is to slow the image down. If the TV speeds up, the artist slows down and displays the image. If the TV makes the word an image, the video – think about Gary Hill – does not use the word and enhances the image, even through the sound image, or enhances the word with the caption, as Godard did. If TV is a blurred flow, the video is stratification and thickness of images. If TV is the beginning, climax and end, the video is the breaking of the narrative mode, so the viewer must find a path into pictures that no longer have the linearity of the TV or cinema. No more scrolling in one direction: the concept of up, down, right, left has completely overturned. The image becomes a mosaic. The strategies, invented by art and video, are many indeed. Let’s think, for instance, about a British group of the 80s, Gorilla Tapes: as soon as Margareth Thatcher took the power, they used the TV broadcasting to completely changed the news through an assembly, making them appear quite different than the original TV message.

Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio:An exhibition that looks at the past and the future. From analog archeology to digital. What curatorial path did you build up?

Valentina Valentini:First, I work studying, doing researches, not thinking about those cool artists who are on the market or are friend of mine. About the history, it is a fundamental element of investigation to me. But I’m interested in that history, as Foucault said, in which there are breaks, in which there is no consequential of facts as badly teached in history textbooks. There is a story where there are black holes. The story I like is the one that raises questions and jumps. This exhibition is a question, where a sense of history is included. Then, meeting a young artist like Ivan Marino, came up with this idea of building a debate on the role of TV in the future and in this century.

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Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio:In the exhibition, there is a work dedicated to Dan Graham….

Valentina Valentini:Dan Graham is an American artist who works extensively on television, who makes some reflections on the role of television and video. He considers the video as a mirror, as a window between the inside / outside. It seemed to me so symbolically important to put him in the center of this exhibition. Production / Reception is a work that was never realized. He never realized due to economic problems, because in ’76 he had to install a cable television in a studio and in a family for long and send the shooting, night and day, on a third channel to make this work. It is a didactic work, illustrative of speculation and research of the artist: on the one hand we see how the information is packed and the other as it is received. In this way, aware of each other, we can mix the channels. I asked to Dan Graham if he wanted to realize the project here and now. For a couple of months we had the illusion that this idea could move forward. Then he retired and chose to leave his project unrealized. So I asked to two artists, Canecapovolto and Ivan Marino, to work on the project. In this sense, it has become a tribute to Dan Graham.

Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio:The exhibition moves from enthusiasm of tv as a medium, to criticism. According to you, it will happen the same with Internet and new audio-visual tools?

Valentina Valentini:It’s already happened. When Internet appeared, it seemed to brush up the same illusions created by the electronic devices, the light camera, etc. Illusions such as: democracy, freedom of information, creativity at your fingertips, access…

Also Internet is ambivalent. There are experiences like the Community TV, in which hybrid artists give tasks to the users of their website: let’s make a photo, sing a song, write a diary, etc. After that, the users who responded to these tasks, deposit their contents in the website so the artist can picks them up and transforms it as he likes. There are several examples of “relational” art which are very ambiguous.

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Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio: So, do you think criticism and distrust will ultimately prevail?

Valentina Valentini:
It is not just a matter of distrust. Also Walter Benjamin, one of the first theoreticians of mass communication systems, has always had an ambivalent thought. Film and photography approach the work, but destroy the aura. At a time when the display cuts off the ritual dimension, there is a loss. In this ambivalence, there is a loss and a benefit at the same time. Comunication in cinema, for instance, goes to affect the viewer directly. The viewer is targeted and the cum templum mechanism, the one of contemplation in which he/she decides the times of looking and decoding, is tampered. In any case, the technological devices contain this dual nature. They are neither positive nor negative, neither apocalyptic nor integrated.