As much as many of us try to deny the huge impact that television has on our lives, we can’t deny the power that media exerts over us. I will publicly admit: I am a sucker for those “Real Housewives” marathons and Lifetime movies. But if anyone ever calls me while I’m glued to the TV, I turn the volume off and pretend to be reading the latest “New York Times” or brushing up on my French.
Our lives become intertwined with popular culture and the media, and the rapid evolution of technology always changes the way in which society interacts with TV. For centuries, we have engaged with early forms of entertainment such as animated storytelling, Shakespearean plays, musicals, theatrical and operatic performances, only to name a few.
While television technology was developed in the 1880s, it didn’t gain prominence ‘til the early 1920s. Up until then, most of the world received information through newspapers, word-of-mouth and the radio. Our interaction with popular culture and the media coddled a more personal experience, which required physical contact rather than virtual. With the onset of television and technology, the gathering of information now consists of a further removed activity than personal interaction.
This shift, although we may not see it as significant but convenient, actually alters so much of who we are as a whole. While something inherently intimate comes from the up close and personal, positive aspects exist of technological advancements, too—a broader, international connection.
Courtney Johnson, professor of photography and director of the Art Gallery at the Cultural Arts Building on UNCW’s campus, shows interest in the world’s changing relationship with TV. When the world went digital in late 2008 and early 2009, Wilmington, NC, became the test city to see if going digital would work on a large scale.
“The way we respond to and interpret digital television is a huge societal shift,” Johnson says. “Analog TVs were almost a sculptural element to any room. The image wasn’t clear and it felt like it was a different world, a separate experience. As we’ve evolved with digital TVs and HD, it has become more realistic, like what we are seeing exists in the same space as we do.”
Johnson remains inspired by the work of Nam June Paik, a Korean-American artist who creates a variety of media and is considered the founder of video art. Participating in the Neo-Dada movement known as “Fluxus,” the artists blend different artistic media and disciplines from the ‘60s. Visual art, literature, music, architecture and design function as almost an anti-art movement. This means they want to create something which can’t necessarily be owned, bought or sold. Fluxus artists, like Yoko Ono, open up the definition of what art could be. Before his death, Nam June Paik used televisions to exploit their impact on the future. More so, he hoped to investigate society’s evolving relationship to them.
Reaching out to a variety of international artists—for whom she curated work in New York or met through Internet research—Johnson has culled her current show with views from across the world. Included in the exhibition is Finnish artist Pilvi Takala’s “Real Snow White” video, which has been seen in Amsterdam, Istanbul, and most recently at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris.
“The nine-minute video addresses the absurd logic of real versus fake fictional characters at the Disneyland theme park in Paris,” Johnson explains.
The show will display Cuban-American artist Juan Jose Griego’s interactive video monitors. “His performance encourages audience participation, as does Hong Kong-based Samson Young’s interactive touch screens,” she continues. “Burt Ritchie’s television line drawings render recognizable clips from television shows, while simultaneously merging into a tangle of lines as the time-based medium is translated into a two-dimensional representation.”
A New York-based artist, Simon Greenberg, will have VHS videotape dichotomizing the high-definition videographics and sound compositions by electronic media artist Phillip Stearns.
Also on display will be a sculpture made from televisions, radios and floppy disks by Jeremiah Jenkins. “It combines the technological and the natural world into objects at once nostalgic and bizarre,” Johnson notes. Jenkins’ “Inner Attainment” is an analog TV that has been covered with deer fur and antlers. Positioned high on a wall, the piece resembles a mounted deer head in a mountain ski lodge. This positioning of an antiquated TV as a deer head, references the idea that older, bulkier TVs have become/once were sculptural pieces, fixtures in every home. Now, though, they are simply antiquated forms of technology, found in a museum or mounted on a wall as a symbol of humanity’s evolution.
An entire sensory experience, the show opens October 3rd and runs through November 8th. An opening reception will be held the 3rd from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the art gallery.
Test City: Analog to Digital TV
The Art Gallery,
Cultural Arts Building at UNCW
Opening reception: Oct 3rd, 5:30 p.m.-7 p.m. • Hangs through Nov. 8th