The Transmission of Art by Television

August 04, 2010

“The transmission of art exhibitions by television is the beginning of an era when the public will be taught to appreciate great works of art, seeing them in their homes.”

This was the prediction made in a report written by one E. Robb for the BBC way back in 1933, less than a year after their first experimental television broadcast. For Robb, art on television meant pointing a camera at a painting or sculpture.

More than three decades later, a German filmmaker named Gerry Schum had a similar idea. In those days, West Berlin was cut off from the rest of West Germany by the Iron Curtain. In 1968 Schum wrote that “not only must works of art be flown into the city, also critics and visitors from West Germany experience difficulty in reaching Berlin.” Television, he realized, could allow artworks and visitors to be connected across such long distances and closed borders.

West Berlin’s plight is partly what inspired Schum to start an art gallery on television. Fernseh-Galerie (Television Gallery), as it was called, was a pioneering series of video art commissioned by Schum, including two broadcast exhibitions in 1969 and 1970. The first exhibition, Land Art, was broadcast on the public station Sender Freies Berlin (SFB) on April 15, 1969. Many notable artists contributed films that were then transferred to videotape, including Jan Dibbets, Richard Long, Walter de Maria, Dennis Oppenheim, and Robert Smithson.

My favorite piece produced by the gallery is Jan Dibbets’s TV as Fireplace. Between December 25 and 31, 1969, public television station WDR III in Cologne rebroadcast Dibbets’s video of a burning fire every night for three minutes. The logs were lit on the first night, and the fire grew in intensity before slowly dying on the last one. Perfectly site specific, Dibbets’s piece turned the home’s cathode-ray tube into a flickering fire for just a few moments at a historical moment when the TV set had gone a long way toward replacing the hearth as the focal point of domestic space.

Watching TV as Fireplace on YouTube would of course be completely different. Online video shatters the direct link that Dibbets made between physical viewing environment and moving image. Given that audiences may now watch videos on an iPhone at the beach or a computer at the office, is it still possible for artists to create this kind of dialogue between the physical space of viewing and the space on-screen?

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January 24, 2012 1:34 PM
I find dNASAb's concept of “finding the space between the image on the screen and the idea spawned in the mind of the viewer" very interesting. Albeit this space always existed it never was articulated in this way.

Jan Dibbets' "TV Fireplace" demonstrated that TV is a collective experience, even if viewers were separated physically, they were united, like prehistoric cave-dwellers, by a communal fire, as long as they were tuned into the same channel. This may still hold true when using the various devices usable today. The viewers attention continues to be divided.

It is crucial to see though that the internet contrary to popular belief is not a free space, its electronic highway technology is provided by corporations and other entities. Censorship certainly exists in various forms and many do not have access to it today. There is currently a struggle happening to maintain the freedom that does exist. Net Neutrality comes to mind.
August 21, 2010 7:17 AM
a decir verdad, no entendi mucho de lo que se menciona, pero esoy de acuerdo con el harte de el video y mas.
August 12, 2010 8:11 AM
I absolutely believe it is possible to create dialogue between the “physical space of viewing” and the space on the screen, given that we subtract the common notion of the screen, refine our idea of “physical space of viewing” and/or augment the screen through sculptural components or controlled video installations.

Video installation artist Jennifer Steinkamp “negates the common notion of the screen” in her work. Her video environments are totally immersive, and negate the screen by turning the vary “site” itself into the screen. It is also important conceptually for Jennifer to “embed” the viewer into the work. As the viewer interfaces with the environment they unavoidably become part of the projection installation. Which is absolutely a new way to create dialogue between the “physical space of viewing and the screen.” The statement above "appreciate great works of art by seeing them in your homes” could be redefined to be more forward thinking and conceptually relevant in this new paradigm: “appreciate great works of art by seeing yourself as part of them.”

The “physical space of viewing” has had an evolutionary shift in importance for me personally. I find the space between the image on the screen and the idea spawned in the mind of the viewer a much more exciting “site” than merely the space in which the viewer is contained with the screen. The space between the image and the viewer is filled with light + sound waves blossoming from the device; en-route to be reinterpreted via the mind as thought. Is this not the true space for the distribution of ideas, literally? This space is also an underutilized “site” for contemporary sculpture. I develop complex sculptural constructions, optical systems, and fiber optic networks in this “site”—the surface of the screen—in an attempt to create a dynamic inter-play between the illuminated three-dimensional sculptural components and the self-referential, two-dimensional animated video images.

Many other contemporary video installation artists and video sculptors' artworks strive to break free from these outdated conceptual frameworks through strict control of the delivery and distribution of their works. Artists like Bill Viola and Pipilotti Rist control every “aspect of the viewing space” of their video installations. And video sculptors like Tony Oursler, Alan Rath, Peter Sarkisian, and even Nam June Paik embedded these screens and/or video systems into their sculptures in an attempt to have complete control over how the video and screen is viewed. The screen is an integral part of the entirety of the sculpture.

There is still plenty of dialogue to be spawned between the “physical space for viewing” and the “space on the screen," we just need to look to the future for answers. TV as Fireplace, for example, was created in 1969. “What could fit in a room sized entertainment system then [1969], now fits into our pocket,” and if the theories of Ray Kurzweil continue to hold true, “What now fits in our pocket, will in 25 yrs, fit into a blood cell.” We have no choice but to be visionary, when the speed of evolutionary change can outpace the thoughts of common man.

4.Michael Connor
August 11, 2010 2:19 AM
Hi Lee, I wasn't trying to say that online video is limited to a small screen, but that it is viewed in a wide range of environments and on a wide range of platforms. I don't see this changing anytime soon. Jan Dibbets was able to predict what type of physical viewing environment his audience would find themselves in, and respond to this environment. An artist today working with online video may have difficulty making such assumptions.

I like atomic elroy's comment, which suggests that an online video may engage, Dibbets-like, with the platform on which it is viewed, whether this is a phone or a web browser.
5.Lee Wells
August 10, 2010 7:12 AM
Television, for as much as it did liberate the viewing of content still was heavily controlled and censored, even as the number of accessible channels grew through consumer cable and satellite services that expanded consumer media in the 80s and 90s, so did the advertising. Today digital media is able to bypass all national borders though free delivery systems such as YouTube. I feel that people are being very shortsighted in reference to the power and impact of this rapidly developing medium and in a very short period of time what we all know as broadcast television will be something only discussed in the history books. To me it seems the experience is controlled by three important aspects. First being the viewing devise, and second, the resolution of the upload and third, the connection download speed. A 320x240 pixel video looks great on an iPhone but very poor on my laptop, but since we can now upload videos in HD through most online video sites I can watch content on a 50 inch 1080i LCD screen with no problem. So this thought that online video is only to be consumed through small personal devises is to be short lived and has already been bypassed current technologies.
6.atomic elroy
August 05, 2010 1:52 AM
It makes it more difficult, as the TV as Fireplace piece used static fixed objects. A mobile compact screen does not lend itself to as many parodies. Perhaps a video of an incoming call?

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